Mohammed Yasser Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa and Gershon Baskin

DeRisking Peace: The future of Israel and Palestine

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Gershon Baskin provides insights into some of the lessons that we must learn from the failures and successes of the past and proposes that we can learn from those failures and repair the damage resulting those mistakes.

Note: This is the complete text of the five parts of “DeRisking Peace that was published between June 1 and June 29 2016

After years of failed peace processes and non-implemented agreements, the entrenchment of hatred in both societies is very difficult to eradicate.

With the sudden renewed talk about the possible relaunch of peace negotiations, it would be wise to do some more serious thinking about the lessons we should have learned from previous attempts.

There are no iron-clad guarantees of success of peace treaties between nations and peoples in conflict, even after years of negotiations between them. There are iron-clad guarantees that conflicts unresolved produce more suffering, death and destruction. Peacemaking carries risks; not making peace involves much greater risks. That is why I persist and insist that Israel and the Palestinians move back into peacemaking modes of operation, and why I have spent so much time and effort over the past decades trying to learn from the lessons of our earlier experiences and those from other conflict zones. Learning the lessons of the past means mainly figuring out how to de-risk future peace processes because the most fundamental aspect of renewing peace efforts must be placed on issues of life and death – individual security and national security, for both sides.

Individual security and national security must be mutual and the central core to any future agreement. Without security, there can be no agreement on any other issue.

This is the complete opposite of the zero-sum game – either both sides lose or both sides gain. For peace to be real, both sides have to ensure the security of their people and their nation. In my view, because of the centrality of security and the certainty that every other aspect of any agreement between the parties will rise or fall on this, there is no possibility to sub-contract security out to a third party. No foreign soldier should have to risk their life protecting our peace if Israelis and Palestinians are not willing to do this together. Israelis and Palestinians should not have to deposit their security in the hands of others.

Israel doesn’t trust the Palestinians to provide security for Israel, and nor should it. The Palestinian likewise have no trust in Israel promising to provide security for Palestine.

The only way to ensure a long-term presence of Israeli security technology and personnel across the border is for there to be joint Israeli-Palestinian security mechanisms.

The only way to ensure that any Israeli security apparatus remaining within the Palestinian state is not a continuation of the occupation is for that apparatus to become jointly controlled and operated. There must be joint command and control within specific geographic locations and with specific tasks. This does not replace the separate security personnel and mechanisms on each side. I am not suggesting merging the IDF with the Palestinian security forces nor disbanding it post-peace. The essence is that the primary cornerstone of the peace agreement is joint security obligations with detailed mechanisms.

These joint mechanisms will be especially crucial in Jerusalem – the capital of both states, which must remain an open city. A third party can assist in these mechanisms to resolve disputes and to ease their development, but the burden of security responsibility must be shared by both parties together.

Recognizing the regional threats, it would be wise to develop wider regional security mechanisms as well – first along the Jordan River between Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

Then along the Israel-Gaza-Sinai border – joint security mechanisms with the Egyptians and the Palestinians in Gaza (predicated of course on the understanding that no agreement will be implemented in Gaza unless the regime that controls Gaza is full party to that agreement).

The second most fundamental cornerstone of any future agreement is that making peace must involve the people and not just the governments. Translating that into reality on the ground means that peace must have a positive and real impact on people’s lives and that people must be engaged in peacemaking. The peace treaty must be directed toward enabling and encouraging people to work together, to trade, invest, study, research, to enjoy each other’s culture and more. Peace must mean building bridges and not more walls, fences and barbed wire.

Security arrangements at first may require that physical boundaries be built into the agreements, but there must be an agreed process for the removal of those barriers to the greatest extent possible and as soon as possible. The better the security reality over time, the more the walls can be lowered and the barriers removed. There will never be peace if people feel that they are living in cages, even if those cages are sovereign.

Included in the people-centered peace making must be directed efforts by the governments on both side to encourage and enhance a culture of peace and a determined fight against incitement and the culture of hatred.

After years of failed peace processes and non-implemented agreements, the entrenchment of hatred in both societies is very difficult to eradicate. The removal of threats and fear will be the first step in that direction. The governments have a lot of tools at their disposal to foster a culture of peace. It begins with leadership serving as an example and must follow through with the allocation of real resources for its success.

When Israelis and Palestinians eventually get back to the table to negotiate a permanent-status agreement, ending the conflict and implementing the “two states for two peoples” agreement, it is essential that the quality of the agreement be much better than all of the previous, interim agreements. It is essential that we learn from the errors of the past and even other conflict areas that have gone through peace processes. In Part 1 of this series I related to the fundamental elements of personal and national security and the need to develop joint security mechanisms with the Palestinians rather than depending on third-party peacekeeping forces, as is the present thinking among many who are pushing for the renewal of the peace process.

One of the most difficult aspects for Israelis and Palestinians to agree on are what are called the “narrative issues.” These are those set of issues which relate to identity, history and national essence. The lack of agreement on these issues thus far has been the flashing red light held onto by those who claim that “they will never make peace with us.” When Palestinians say, “We will never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people” or “we will never give up the right of return” it signals to most Israelis that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. When Israelis say, “All of the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel” or “all of Jerusalem is the united, undivided, eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” this signals to Palestinians that there is no Israeli partner for peace.

My experience in dealing with all of these issues with Israelis and Palestinians, at the highest levels as well as at grassroots level, has taught me that there are solutions to every single concrete issue in conflict between Israelis and Palestinians which could be acceptable and workable for both sides. There are technical, political and structural solutions for every single issue in conflict, including borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees. Dealing with narratives and genuine reconciliation takes a lot longer and requires putting to bed those issues in conflict which are much more pressing and concrete. Both sides will probably have to postpone full satisfaction of all of their narrative-related demands for later stages.

For Palestinians to accept the moral right of the Jewish people to a nation-state in the Land of Israel, or for Israelis to accept their part of responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem and the Nakba will take a lot more time than it will take to conclude an agreement. The process of dealing with the above central issues to the roots of the conflict can only begin after an agreement is reached on all of the core issues at their base, concrete level. For example, the Palestinians have agreed to recognize Israel and to make peace with Israel and will be prepared to declare the end of conflict without having to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It would help a lot if they would do that prior to signing an agreement, but they will probably refuse. They may be forced to do that, but if it is not sincere it will be a cause of resentment and not a means of building reconciliation. I have discussed this issue with Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, and I know that there are ways that this core issue of recognition can be dealt with – but after agreement on borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

I know that there are solutions to the refugee issue without the Palestinians having to declare that they have given up the right of return. That will never happen because this issue more than any other is the core of Palestinian identity. It is wiser for us to accept that than to fight it. The right of return is seen as an individual right of each refugee and not a collective right that can be given away by any Palestinian leader. The Palestinians need to know that each refugee will be given a choice.

Most Palestinians know that there is no real option or possibility to return to their original homes. But there will be some symbolic number of Palestinians that will be given the possibility to come to Israel, along with other countries that will offer places for Palestinian refugees, and other options as well, including financial compensation for people who lost real property. Palestinians need to know that Israeli acknowledgment of its part of the responsibility for the tragedy that happened to Palestinians who became refugees will come with time, and not at the moment of signing an agreement.

Implementable agreements on the core issues that will positively impact realities on the ground for both sides will serve as the best corridor to confronting the narrative issues. Pushing them to the front will only postpone any agreement. Actions are more important than declarations.

The declarations must be made with true intent.

I do not suggest removing them from the agenda, but I do suggest that we begin to relate to them as part of the post-peace agreement process.

We all have bad memories from the previous agreements signed by the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Six agreements were signed in total (Declaration of Principles, Paris Protocol, Agreement on Gaza and Jericho, Interim Agreement, Wye River Memorandum and the Sharm e-Sheikh Agreement) and all of them were breached. Breaches were substantive and committed by both sides.

Beyond many of the weaknesses of the agreements themselves, the lack of effective mechanisms for monitoring and verifying obligations and the absence of workable conflict resolution mechanisms ensured failure of the peace process once goodwill and basic trust were no longer present.

The Declaration of Principles (1993) which formally started the peace process between Israel and the PLO was based on a lot of naïve goodwill and hope. The basic premise or rationale was that we would delay confronting the core issues in conflict until trust had developed between the parties. So negotiating borders, Jerusalem and refugees was postponed for an agreed period of up to five years while subsequent agreements were supposed to create the machinery for working together and building trust. I counted 26 joint Israeli-Palestinian bodies created by the agreements covering virtually every aspect of life and interaction between Israelis and Palestinians.

These interim agreements never stated explicitly the “endgame” of two states for two peoples. Likewise, the agreements never stated explicitly that Israel could not continue to build settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Both of these issues were taken as assumptions that were held by people on both sides without ever agreeing on them.

Palestinians understood that the Oslo peace process meant that they had accepted a Palestinian state on 22 percent of the land between the River and the Sea. They believed that Israel understood that it had agreed to a Palestinian state on that small part of the land when Yasser Arafat gave a letter to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that said, “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security… The PLO considers that the signing of the Declaration of Principles constitutes a historic event, inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability. Accordingly, the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.” The Palestinians never imagined that they would have to negotiate their state from the 22% that they thought was theirs.

Israel never imagined that it would have to face the kind of violence and terrorism that emerged from the Palestinian territories after it signed the Oslo agreements.

It never imagined that Palestinian forces, created to fight terrorism, would use those weapons against Israel.

A large part of de-risking the process in the future will have to be the inclusion of clear, explicit and defined mechanisms for monitoring and verifying the implementation of all agreements. The lack of trust between the parties means that an acceptable third-party monitoring and verification mechanism will have to be agreed upon. The implementation of the process will have to be divided into clear, definable stages linked to risks that the parties will take upon themselves. Moving from benchmark to benchmark will be based on clear verification of the implementation of treaty obligations.

All agreements will have to be a lot more explicit than before. The agreements will have to be based on lack of trust. Negotiating without trust is a lot more difficult, but the agreements negotiated are likely to be better for both sides and not based on naïve wishes but on measurable results.

Furthermore, it would be most beneficial for the end result if both sides were to consider what they could do to ensure that the other side has a lot to gain by the agreement, and not only to focus on their own “wins.”

Negotiating from the perspective of beating the other side or scoring more points is ultimately counter-productive.

Therefore, focusing on solutions to issues in conflict can be a lot more rewarding than winning the argument and fulfilling one side’s positions to the highest degree. Neither side can, in the end, give up on their primary interests and needs, but many compromises are possible on almost all of the issues that will produce a better result for both sides after the agreements are implemented.

The ultimate end goal in a negotiation in conflict situations is to change the relationships between the warring parties, not to continue the conflict by other, less violent means. Both sides must win and that can only be done by setting the negotiations as a framework for both sides to work on solving the issues in conflict between them together.

The large majorities for peace that existed in the past on both sides of the conflict in support of a two-state solution have considerably dwindled with the continued failure of the Oslo process. Politicians on both sides are very cautious about committing themselves to a genuine peace process, knowing that any possible agreement will involve considerable concessions that they fear their political coalitions and parties will not accept.

I am often asked in my lectures in Israel and around the world “how could a public consensus possibly be built around a peace agreement with the Palestinians – surely it’s impossible?” There is no doubt that this is of great concern for the politicians themselves, but also for diplomats and leaders outside of Palestine and Israel. I have repeatedly been asked by foreign leaders how any Israeli leader could have the support of their coalition for a real deal with the Palestinians. Surely, the deal has to be de-risked for the leaders as well.

There are about 30 percent of Jewish Israelis who are likely to vote against any peace agreement with the Palestinians. These include almost all of the settlers – even those who will remain in their homes under Israeli sovereignty as part of a deal. It also includes a majority of the national-religious camp inside of Israel proper, and the traditional, more secular hard Right. That still leaves 70% of Jewish Israelis and probably at least 80% of the Palestinian citizens of Israel who would most likely vote “yes” to a peace agreement.

Any peace deal will be brought to a referendum in Israel or to new elections. The people of Israel will vote on whether or not to support a peace agreement. Any prime minister that agrees to a deal will likely only do so with the backing of the national security establishment – including the chief of staff and a majority of the generals, the head of the Mossad, the head of the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) and other senior national security experts and officials. It is unlikely that any prime minister would arrive at an agreement on all of the core issues without the core of the security establishment being involved in the negotiations and without their support. Assuming such support, it is highly unlikely that a referendum or elections would bring about negative results.

The majority of Israelis will support any peace agreement brought to them by the prime minister.

This is why I believe that the distance between where we are and an agreement with the Palestinians is leadership.

The very best negotiations that have ever taken place between Israelis and Palestinians have been when they were alone in the room.

This is what happened in Oslo, in Taba, and between prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The worst negotiations have been when there was an American mediator in the room – Camp David, Senator Mitchell and John Kerry. The tendency of Israelis and Palestinians when the American mediator is there is for them both to talk to the American and not each other. But the conflict is between Israel and Palestine and must be resolved by them. It is time to stop waiting for others to come to the rescue – we must rescue ourselves from ourselves.

The parties should agree on Terms of Reference (ToR) for negotiations because without agreed ToR failure is almost guaranteed. It would be best if the parties could agree on ToR by themselves but, if not, the international community could be helpful, as it is now trying to be. The ToR should be general and something along the lines of: direct bilateral Israeli- Palestinian negotiations will be conducted for the purpose of reaching a permanent-status agreement between the State of Israel and the to-be-recognized State of Palestine. The negotiations will cover all of the permanent-status core issues including borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security. The negotiations will also cover issues concerning economic and trade relations, border management, natural resources including water, and means to foster a culture of peace.

The negotiations should not be open ended and should have a target date for their conclusion, however, this too is problematic because the tendency in difficult negotiations with a deadline is to wait and leave the tough decisions to the very end. This usually ends up creating bad agreements that continue conflicts rather than resolving them. Instead, the parties should commit to allocate the necessary time for intensive negotiating sessions last three to four days each time with no more than two weeks between sessions. They should commit to remaining in negotiations until all of the issues in conflict are resolved.

Another important element which should be integrated into the negotiations is the principle that what is agreed is agreed and can and should be implemented even before full agreement is reached. Previous negotiations have failed because (among other reasons) of the idea that nothing is agreed until all is agreed.

Each small agreement, successfully implemented, assists in reaching larger and more difficult agreements.

The Middle East in the past years has witnessed the collapse of four states – Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Terrorist groups and organizations have emerged and morphed into increasingly dangerous manifestations, waging their war around the world and not only in our neighborhood. The Islamic State organization has threatened the regimes of many of the countries that surround us and the Iranians pose a constant threat not only to us but to their Arab neighbors as well. Hamas, committed to Israel’s destruction, is rebuilding its forces in the south and in the north, while Hezbollah, another organization committed to our destruction, has battlefield experience and some 100,000 rockets and missiles pointed at us. This is a dangerous period for Israel, but in this time of crises and threats there are also opportunities.

The most obvious is the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of March 2002. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has finally opened the possibility of engaging the Arab world on the basis of the API, but has still not said so explicitly.

From my discussions with leaders from the Arab League and with some of the authors of the API, I know that the Arab League never intended the API to be a “take it or leave it” deal. It was always intended to be a proposal to incentivize Israel to resolve the core of the Israeli-Arab conflict – the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

As changes have occurred in the region since its issuance, the main Sunni Arabs states have indicated to Israel, indirectly and directly, that the contours of future peace have also changed. This was first indicated several years ago when Arab leaders said that they, like the Palestinians, accept the idea of equal territorial swaps, recognizing that Israel would not withdraw exactly to the Green Line. Furthermore, no (existing and functional) state in the Arab League today would apply any pressure on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria.

Even if, after understanding this, Israel is still reluctant to state that it accepts the API as the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, there are still steps that Israel could take that would advance the chances of peace and enhance Israel’s security and the region’s stability.

It is clear that Netanyahu does not believe in a bilateral deal with the Palestinians, even though he insists on bilateral negotiations with them, without other international involvement as proposed in the French initiative. Israel has peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan that have remained in place and fully implemented, even through some very difficult times. President Abdel Fattah Sisi of Egypt has already indicated Egypt’s willingness to assist Israel and the Palestinians to make peace. Israel’s security cooperation today with Egypt and Jordan is a key element of this part of the region’s security and stability.

The development of a negotiating and peacemaking framework which would encompass Israel, the PA, Egypt and Jordan could serve as the best possible platform for de-risking peace and creating regional frameworks for security, stability and economic development. The creation of the regional quartet, as I began proposing during the Summer 2014 war, would serve the interests and national security needs of all four. Israel could take the initiative for the creation of this regional quartet. If desired, Israel could request that the US serve as a convener, but the parties should agree that this quartet will be directed and run by the four parties directly, without outside intervention.

The agenda would be the creation of regional mechanisms to strengthen security, stability, economic development and peace. It would also entail resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Furthermore, a renewed peace process must become people-focused. Engaging citizens of Israel, Palestine and the region in aspects of peacemaking is the best guarantor of the success of the process. Peace must pay and the people on all sides of the conflict must have a stake in its success. Our experience from the onset of the peace process after the Madrid Conference in October 1991 was that too few non-officials were engaged in cross-boundary opportunities. Too much of the profits of peace making were distributed to too few people, the source of the infamous “peace industry.” The sarcasm of that name and cynicism for which it stood indicate the negative attitudes that were transmitted to the broader publics regarding the whole process itself. To de-risk peace will require putting a lot more effort and thought into designing means for common citizens on both sides of the conflict to engage each other positively. The people-to-people aspects of peacemaking cannot be an afterthought, as it was in Oslo, but must be a central pillar of what making peace means.

I have tried to provide some insights into some of the lessons that we must learn from the failures and successes of the past. When Israelis and Palestinians talk about possibilities for a renewed peace process, there is a sense that we are doomed to fail, because that is what we have done until now. I propose that we can actually learn from those failures; we do not have to make the same mistakes again. We will make new mistakes and we will have to learn a lot more quickly than in the past how to repair the damage resulting those mistakes.

I am confident that we will eventually get there, because not doing so is an act of national suicide, which I believe neither side wishes for. Peace makers are by definition optimistic people. I am optimistic because I believe in the future of Israel and Palestine.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
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.
Gershon Baskin