The devil ain't in the details

In this dialogue, the devil is in the big picture. Mutual recognition of rights to national self-determination is a key benchmark.

Trident R 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Trident R 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
They say the devil is in the details. Not always. With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, aimed at establishing peaceful and hopefully fruitful relations, the issues are well known, having been endlessly discussed in minute detail.
It’s true there are difficult decisions to be made, but Israel really knows what the Palestinians want just as the Palestinians are aware of Israeli needs.
In this dialogue, the devil is in the big picture. Mutual recognition of rights to national self-determination is a key benchmark yet to be entrenched. There is also the question of whether we will secure peace and, importantly, partnership or are we actually talking about a permanent state of non-belligerency.
Whatever the long-term aspirations, there are two cardinal points, arguably the only criteria, standing in the way of an agreement.
Firstly, both sides have to understand – not necessarily like but accept – that they are not going to get everything they want.
Israelis don’t need to demonstrate this awareness to the Palestinians, who know very well that Israel won’t get everything it wants. Similarly, Israelis already know the Palestinians will not get everything they want. The Palestinians, as do the Israelis, need to tell themselves this truth.
Israelis are there already: Israeli government policy includes the establishment of a Palestinian state on land to which Israel too has legitimate claims and around which the territorial aspects of the conflict revolve.
It is difficult to argue that the Palestinians accept this reality. Their statements and actions say they haven’t. Making a perhaps rash assumption that the Palestinians have accepted that they will not get everything they want, we can look to the second criterion.
Both sides have to be willing and able to implement whatever deal is agreed upon.
Israel meets the grade. Unhappy as some Israelis may be at one or another settlement of the conflict, Israel has demonstrated a willingness and ability, as a functioning state and thriving democracy, to implement complex and difficult decisions, be they in national security – agreements with Egypt and Jordan; military redeployment out of Lebanon and Gaza – or various socioeconomic programs undertaken over the decades.
Putting aside “willing” – an emotional term, and making a second assumption – that the Palestinians are willing – the question as to Palestinian ability to implement whatever agreement is reached is certainly in doubt.
Caught up in a bitter civil war over the past years, it is clear the Palestinian Authority has zero control over Gaza and no ability to implement anything there. This is before even assessing their ability to implement in the West Bank.
Think how dangerous it could be to identify the correct, appropriate agreement between Israelis and Palestinians and then kill it through the (Palestinian) inability to implement.
Some years later, when conditions are again ripe for reconciliation, will we have to identify a less correct, less appropriate agreement in the face of the discredited prior agreement? In the climate of instability and uncertainty that now characterizes the Middle East, we need to tread gently when asking people to take risks. Everyone in business knows risk must equal return. The higher the risk Israelis are asked to undertake the greater the return that inevitably must be offered. There is little room for error.
Until the Palestinians demonstrate, to themselves, to Israel and to the international community, that they can fulfill these two criteria, the return they need to provide Israelis is beyond what they could offer, even were they to give Israel 100 percent of what Israelis would ideally like – something which, by definition, is not going to happen.
Given that it is to our mutual benefit to reach an agreement, it is critical the Palestinians do move forward to fulfilling these two criteria – accepting that they too will not get everything they want and the ability to implement the agreement we both know will be reached through dialogue.

The writer is an Israeli diplomat currently posted back home in Jerusalem.