An Imposed Solution – perhaps the only way to move forward
Six months have passed since the Obama Administration has taken over. It has been an amazing six months and the achievements globally are quite impressive. President Obama’s impact on the entire world has been dramatic and impressive. I just returned from a trip to Indonesia where I spoke as an expert at a United Nations conference on Palestine. I entered Indonesia on an Israeli passport and was warmly welcomed by the Government and by the press there. This is a sign of change that I credit to the Obama Administration openness policies.
Enough time has passed for the Obama team to have completed their assessment of possibilities for the Israeli-Palestinian track. I would like to offer some insights based on my 31 years of day-to-day engagement and expertise on this issue. Secretary Clinton’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman yesterday and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech (and the Palestinian negative reactions to it) should provide enough evidence that what I have to say is correct.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech did show some signs of change and progress (and it is unfortunate that the Palestinians did not see that). One could conclude that the speech points to the fact that it is possible to apply positive and constructive pressure on the Prime Minister. I caution, however; against believing that the Prime Minister can change to the extent necessary to make real achievements in the peace process with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has already gone about as far as he is capable of going.
The opportunity for making a strategic change in the Israeli-Palestinian relation is here and now, despite the fact that it cannot be done by traditional means. There is close to zero chance of a bilateral negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreement at this time given the political constellations both in Israel and in Palestine. It is a waste of time and even dangerous to try to resume a negotiated process that will lead to open-ended negotiations with no real progress. In this region, we have already proven over and over again that we love to negotiate. We love peace processes. What we don’t like is making tough decisions. Another set of bilateral negotiations is a waste of time. Don’t be tempted to believe that you can add something new to the equation that was absent in the past. There is no chance of agreement at this time and even getting to the negotiations will demand the full-time attention of Senator Mitchell. Both sides speak of no pre-conditions and both sides have put down pre-conditions that cannot be bridged easily. It is dangerous, because, as we have seen in the past over and over again, a failed and frustrating negotiation process can easily end up with another round of violence.
The Obama administration can, however; push forward with a strategic plan that will change the reality on the ground and will move the process forward with great speed. My modest advice is based on several assumptions:
1. The solution to the conflict is known and accepted by almost the entire international community
a. “Two states for two peoples” based on the June 4, 1967 lines with agreed territorial exchanges. The territorial dimension is the 22%-78% formula (of land between the Jordan River and the Sea)
b. Jerusalem will be the capitals of both States (based on the Clinton parameters)
c. Palestinian refugees wishing to return will return to the Palestinian state.
d. The best way to remove Hamas from power is by the same way it got into power, through the ballot box (but only once conditions are right on the ground – meaning when there is a real plan for ending the Israeli occupation).
e. Economic peace is a myth; no one will invest under conditions of continuing occupation.
2. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians agree to the above solution and want the conflict to end, but do not believe that there is a real partner for peace on the other side.
3. If there was a real chance of ending the conflict on the above terms, the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rally around it, even against their own political leaderships.
4. The Obama administration has the support of the international community to use international diplomatic tools that have never been used before in this part of the world.
5. Even if my advice is followed, beware of the “wild cards” in the deck which can change the entire strategic reality on the ground – in the Middle East it is often the unexpected and the unplanned which determines the reality.
One further assumption on which my entire strategy is based and if this assumption is incorrect, the entire scheme is without value: The US is willing not to use its veto on the Israeli-Palestinian question against the will of the entire international community.
This strategy is based on changing perceptions of reality and thereby changing reality itself. The “two States for two peoples” solution has been determined. Even if the government of Israel may be reluctant to recognize this reality and it hard for the Prime Minister to utter the words, there is no other solution to this conflict. This is the solution that was proposed on November 29, 1947 by the United Nations (Resolution 181) and on that basis Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion declared independence and even based Israel’s international legitimacy on that UN Resolution. It is time to go back to where it all started – the United Nations. It is time to implement the principles of that very same resolution. The following are the basic elements of the plan:
1. President Abbas and President Obama conclude (in secret or in public) that the State of Palestine which was declared (in 1988 and recognized by 104 States) on the basis of UN Resolution 181 exists. The United States will now recognize that State. It can be stated that there are provisional borders or borders that need to negotiated or resolved with the assistance of the US and the Quartet. It should be reminded that Israel too is a State with provisional borders or with unresolved final borders and it doesn’t prevent other States from recognizing it.
2. President Abbas will submit a request to the Security Council for the State of Palestine to be granted full membership in the United Nations. Without a US veto, the request will receive the necessary 9 of 15 votes within the Security Council (probably even receive the full 15 votes). The motion will the pass through the required 2/3 majority of the General Assembly and the State of Palestine will become a full member state obligated by the UN Charter.
3. At that moment, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will become the occupation of one Member State of another and will require a new Security Council Resolution that will supersede 242 and all other resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
4. The main elements of the new Security Council Resolution would be the re-confirmation under international law of the “two States for two peoples” solution. Here the direct reference to the wording of Resolution 181 (a State for the Jewish people) would be helpful vis-à-vis those in Israel who demand recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or as the State of the Jewish people. It would be most helpful if the US would help the Israeli government to accept the formula “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and of all of its citizens”. The Resolution would also set the principle that Jerusalem is the capitals of both States (based on the Clinton parameters) with the contested Holy places under some kind of international guardianship. The refugee issue would also have to be brought in and finally the resolution has to set up the process for turning all of this into reality.
5. The implementation process would have to include several elements – the Resolution would state the principle that the international community is prepared to use Chapters VI and VII of the Charter to deploy international forces (military, police and civilian) to supervise the Israeli withdrawal from Palestine and to provide real guarantees for Israel’s and Palestine’s legitimate security concerns (as the Prime Minister stated in his speech). The Resolution should request from the Quartet to work with the parties over a six month period to arrive at a plan for Israeli withdrawal to agreed borders with a time table and a plan for creating two capitals in Jerusalem. The plan could have an implementation timeline of several years. If the parties refuse to participate, the Resolution could also the Quartet to present its own plan to the Security Council within the six month period or longer.
6. There is no illusion here that the Government of Israel will simply comply. There will be considerable opposition to this entire process. What will happen is that the real debate in Israel will begin and there will be the first real chance since 2000 to rebuild a peace camp. Based on the above assumption regarding the majority that exists (in principle) for peace, this process will enable that majority to mobilize.
7. Likewise, on the Palestinian side, with this process in motion, the Palestinians will hold elections for the President and Parliament of the State of Palestine. The prerequisite for participation in those elections is the recognition of the State of Palestine and the new UN Security Council Resolution (which granted membership to the State based on adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter – e.g. being a peace seeking nation – non-violence, etc.).
An addition to the plan which could be quite helpful (which I have already communicated with Dan Shapiro) is a deal in which Israel would agree to release Marwan Barghouthi who would lead the Fatah party in the election and Jonathan Pollard. I have been told by sources very close to the Prime Minister that he would agree to this deal. The benefits are clear to the success of this process.
There are “wild cards” in the deck – an Israeli invasion of Gaza, Israeli attack on Iran, President Abbas passing away, etc. These are almost uncontrollable. What is more controllable is setting up this process which would re-arrange the strategic map of the region. If the Obama Administration is really committed to working towards the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the conclusion of your team must be that “business as usual” means results as usual! We must focus on getting beyond bilateral negotiations in which both sides have consistently used their veto to sabotage the process.
Yes, this is a form of an imposed solution, but it is the agreed upon solution that the entire world supports and the majority of the people here support. There must be a public “by-in” on both sides, but that is only possible when both sides can see the end game clearly placed in front of them. The United States must be committed to use its influence and political might to provide the international guarantees for the security of both states and both peoples. There is no doubt in my mind that the moderate states of the Arab league in the region will fully support this process and provide their financial and political backing for it. The European Union is also guaranteed to support and to provide personnel on the ground (military, police and civilian) to back up the process with the mechanisms and modalities to monitor and secure borders, prevent importation of explosives and weapons, etc. and to support the process with real financial resources. Russia, China, Turkey, Japan and other important nations will also provide their backing and support. The United States could further provide concrete and visible positive results of the process stating that once set into motion, the US will open its Embassy to both States in Jerusalem and calls on all of the nations of the world to do so as well. Israel will finally have a recognized capital in Jerusalem!
This issue needs leadership, ingenuity, creativeness, boldness and determination. This is what we expect from the Obama Administration. We don’t want more of the same. We want and need a real change. This is the moment for making history.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.