History has shown us Israelis and Palestinians that we have good reason not to trust each other, so why should we now? Because we should see this as a challenge and not a doomed fate.
The entire world knows what an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement looks like. Our leaders know, most of the Israeli and Palestinian people know, US President Barack Obama, special envoy George Mitchell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Quartet envoy Tony Blair, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon – they all know it. There are no secrets. This is the most researched conflict in the history of conflicts and there are more detailed plans on how to resolve even the minutest of details in this conflict than any other.
Collectively, those of us working for peace over the past 20 years have conducted thousands of hours of meetings between Israeli and Palestinian experts on every aspect of the conflict. The best universities in the world have convened Israeli-Palestinian peace projects and presented their findings to the international community and to the local leaders.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams have explored every possible issue in depth and have identified all of the red lines of each side.
Time is running out. Options for resolving the conflict that exist today may not be there tomorrow. Our main problem is that until now this has been a failed peace process.
One of the ironies is that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians say that they want peace. They say they are ready to make painful compromises. But they also both say there is no partner on the other side.
History, thus far has proven them right.
Objectively speaking, Israelis and Palestinians have no good reason to trust each other. Both sides have proven to be terrible partners. Both sides have breached, substantively, all of the agreements that they signed. Sure, each side will place more responsibility on the other side than take responsibility for its own breaches. So why should we trust each other? We shouldn’t – is the answer, but that is our challenge and not a curse of a doomed fate.
We have no choice but to make peace.
Any other option is catastrophic. Our very survival and existence as a nation – both nations – depends on our ability to make peace. The survival of the Jewish people in our land, of the Zionist enterprise in its entirety is based on our ability to extricate ourselves from the occupation of the Palestinian people and to make peace on the basis of two states for two peoples. The fate of the Palestinian people and their survival as a nation is based entirely on their ability to demonstrate that they are responsible members of the community of nations and that they are committed to living in peace with their Jewish neighbors on the basis of two states for two peoples.
There is no other solution to the conflict.
Whoever says he has another solution is fooling himself and others. Yes, there may be federative or confederative possibilities in the future for varying degrees of cooperation and open borders, but all of those options grow from the two-state solution and not before it or instead of it.
SO WHAT must we do now? We must enter this process with the working assumption that we don’t trust each other. We don’t expect each other to fulfill our most basic obligations. That is simply the reality. If this is the case, developing a peace agreement cannot be based on a bilateral process which is predicated on mutual trust, and no amount of artificial confidence-building measures will create that trust. After years of failure, violence and suffering, new trust can only be based on the actual fulfillment of obligations and commitments agreed to in the context of treaties. But if we don’t trust them and they don’t trust us, how can we possibility proceed? We must insist that there be a reliable third party who will monitor implementation and verify that all aspects of all agreements are being fully implemented.
We must insist that the reliable third party be able to act immediately when there are breaches. It must be able to call the parties to task, to demand explanations and to insist on implementation. It must act with full transparency so that the public on both sides knows what their governments are fulfilling and what they are not doing. We must insist that the reliable third party has the capacity and the authority to resolve disputes in real time, before they blow out of proportion.
Not every single dispute needs to rise to the level of a cabinet decision, as it did in past situations.
We need to insist that Obama get directly involved and that direct negotiations mediated by Mitchell take place immediately and intensively. We need to insist that the mediator put bridging proposals on the table because we know each other’s red lines, but we will both wait until the last minute before we expose our own. We need the mediator to conduct cooperation based negotiations, not competition based negotiations where the emphasis is on problem solving and not “your losses are my gains.” We need a good agreement, we need an agreement that both sides can live with, we need an agreement that the leaders of both sides will support enthusiastically and not present as a bad deal to their people.
GETTING TO the agreement will be hard work. We need both leaders to look directly into the eyes of their people and to tell them the truth.
Netanyahu must state clearly that the Palestinian state will be established in about 96 percent of the West Bank. We will give the Palestinians land inside of Israel to account for the 4% of the West Bank that we will annex as part of the agreement.
Some 80% of the settlers in the West Bank and east Jerusalem will remain where they are and will be part of the sovereign State of Israel, but some 20% will have to relocate – either to the annexed lands in Judea and Samaria or to Israel.
Netanyahu must say to the Israeli people that Jerusalem will be the capital of both countries. We will have sovereignty over the Western Wall and they will have sovereignty on the Temple Mount, but they will agree not to dig or to build there, nor will we tunnel underneath. We will trust God to change the arrangement, if need be, when He decides to send us the messiah. Until then we will recognize that the Muslims have control there and we do not.
Abbas must look in the eyes of his people and say we will not return to our lost homes inside Israel. Our return will be to our state. Our mission is to build our state and to create the first real democracy in the Arab world. Palestine will be a model state using the latest technologies and have the best school system in the Middle East.
Palestine will be prosperous and all Palestinians will be invited to share the dream and to build the state. We will share Jerusalem with our Jewish cousins, our Israeli neighbors and we will resolve all disputes through diplomacy not violence.
And both states will dwell in peace.
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.