Gershon Baskin shares several insights into the lessons that should have been learned from decades-long attempts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Some of us have been at the attempts to reach Israeli-Palestinian agreements for decades. There are actually some lessons that have or should have been learned over the years that will prevent us from making the same mistakes again. Have no doubt that we will make new mistakes, but we can still make real progress toward reaching an agreement and break out of this deadlock of “no partner” which is deeply held on to on both sides of the conflict.
The following are some insights I am happy to share with you:
1. The goal is to reach an agreed “end game” and a long-term implementation plan. One of the failures of the past is that in the absence of the end game, the field is open for the extremists to set the course. Implementation will have to take a long time and performance and defined benchmarks will have to be measured and monitored, but knowing the destination is a prerequisite for success. Interim agreements stemming from an end-game strategy are possible. Interim agreements without the end game is simply a repeat of the failed Oslo strategy.
2. The territorial partition must be guided by the principle which enabled the peace process from the beginning – the Green Line is the basis – meaning 22% of the land for Palestine, 78% for Israel. The Green Line is not a holy line – both sides of the line are Eretz Yisrael and both sides of the line are Palestine. Territorial swaps are necessary to cope with the changes on the ground which have taken place over the past 50 years. The Palestinian state must be willing to accept a Jewish minority that accepts Palestinian sovereignty and Palestinian law, even if almost no Jew decides to live there. Likewise the principle that future relations will have to be based on cooperation across the borders and not on high walls and stronger fences.
3. Security is an essential fundamental element of the agreement, but security will not be achieved by continuing Israeli control over the Palestinian territories.
Security must be based on Israeli and Palestinian commitments to build cooperative joint security mechanisms which are bilateral, and trilateral with Jordan on one side and Egypt on the other. There must also be regional security pacts and mechanisms extending the security umbrella regionally to those states that share common threats from Islamic State and Iran and Hezbollah.
US boots on the ground in Israel or Palestine is not the answer and should be avoided. The responsibility and burden must be placed on the parties themselves and together. The US needs to provide assistance, both financial and technical, in addition to facilitation of the development of the joint mechanisms and cooperation, dispute resolution and monitoring and verification of proper implementation of agreements and obligations.
4. Gaza should not be seen as an obstacle in reaching agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. Gaza should be included within a strategic plan of agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and the US. In any agreement, the implementation in Gaza will not be possible until the regime that controls Gaza agrees to the terms of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But keeping Gaza out of the mix makes it impossible for the Palestinians to agree. There is nothing that should prevent the agreement that Gaza will be part of the Palestinian state, when it is possible. Changes are taking place within Hamas and the reaching of an agreement between Israel and the PLO on the two-state solution will potentially greatly accelerate political changes taking place there already.
5. Rapid economic development must be included in the agreement and advanced even before an agreement is reached. Prosperity on Israel’s borders is a stabilizing element and can be advanced significantly even now.
One of the urgent needs is to allow the Palestinians to develop large parts of Area C under full Israeli control.
Dealing seriously with issues of movement and access of goods for the Palestinian market has been researched and proposals have been on the table for years – it is time to implement them in full force. Likewise, it would be very wise to reconnect the economy of Gaza to the West Bank and the rest of the world. Israel controls the borders and all goods going in and coming out can still be checked fully by Israel – but it is time to let business take its positive course.
6. There is no chance for an agreement without including Jerusalem. Jerusalem must be the capital of the two countries. Jerusalem must remain an open city with free access to it by all and all holy places must be respected by all, for all. The US can lead the way toward understandings for Jerusalem by announcing that the US embassy will be moved to Jerusalem, but will serve as the embassy to both Israel and Palestine. I know this is difficult for many to swallow – but that is the only way to have Jerusalem recognized by the entire world as the capital of Israel. Israel will continue to be sovereign over all areas where Israelis live in Jerusalem, but the Palestinians will become sovereign over all of the Palestinian areas. Special arrangements can be reached regarding the holy places based on current status quo arrangements, but even those can be expanded once political agreements are reached because there is no law in Muslim Sharia which prevents non-Muslims from entering mosques outside of Mecca. The issue of the most holy of places in Jerusalem is more political and about control than it is religious.
7. The refugee issue must be on the table and must be negotiated. There is little chance in any agreement of anything more than a symbolic return by very few Palestinian refugees to the sovereign State of Israel. The bulk of refugee resettlement, mainly of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria, will have to be to Palestine.
Most Palestinian refugees living in Jordan will probably remain in Jordan. Many countries, including the US, should offer limited possibilities for Palestinian refugees to immigrate and resettle.
An international fund for Palestinian refugee resettlement should be established and generously supported by the US and by Israel, among many other countries.
And it is important to find the acceptable way for Israel to express genuine sorrow for the suffering the Palestinian refugees have experienced. Palestinians should also be willing to express their support for Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries to receive compensation for their abandoned property.
8. Lastly (for this piece), fostering cultures of peace is something that must be done from the beginning and throughout the process with the same urgency as dealing with security. Incitement and the breeding of hatred and racism are a cancer that destroys from within.
Fostering a culture of peace, dealing with textbooks and the media and confronting social and traditional and public figures who incite hatred and violence directly and aggressively with the assistance of the US and the international community are all urgently necessary.
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.