Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu

Negotiating about Negotiations

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For the past two weeks I have traveled cross-country in the US speaking in synagogues, churches, mosques and universities. My message to my audiences has been one of hope. I have met Jewish communities in deep division. I have found communities (Jews and non-Jews) in deep conflict between those who define themselves as “pro-Israeli” and those who are “pro-Palestinian.” Some of the organizers who brought me to speak used my presence to enable these two groups to speak to each other, because the divide over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has removed civility from their ability to communicate.

In my talks I have said something that has shocked many, as it seems so remote from the current comprehension of events in our region. “Peace,” I said, “could actually be closer than ever before!”

I say this because never before has it been clearer what the parameters of Israeli-Palestinian peace are, and never before has the global consensus on those parameters been so overwhelming.

Binyamin Netanyahu’s recognition of the need to make peace within the two- states-for-two-peoples framework has propelled the possibility for this to become reality. Netanyahu’s reservations must be addressed. The threats are real, and therefore real solutions to them must be developed to enable Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and from the Palestinian parts of Jerusalem.

The answer to the potential security threats of the Palestinian state is not the continuation of the occupation. It is time for us to all recall that the Jewish liberation movement, Zionism, was not about conquering Arab land and imposing our occupation on another people. It was about liberating the Jewish people from the shackles of dispersion and liberating their creative spirit to create a society and a state based on the Prophetic values of justice and common good.

MAHMOUD ABBAS has declared that he will not run in the next Palestinian elections. I personally sent him my best wishes and hope that he changes his mind. We have not heard if he also intends to resign from the other positions that he holds, most importantly as chairman of the executive committee of the PLO. It is in that capacity that he negotiates with the State of Israel. As a member of the generation that founded the PLO, it is more than symbolically important that he lead the movement of Palestinian liberation toward the final struggle of achieving real statehood and peace with Israel.

Both sides have once again conveniently fallen into the trap (that they themselves create) of negotiating about negotiations. Perhaps the overenthusiasm of the Obama administration, which so much wants to achieve progress here, has, without being fully conscious of those dynamics, placed the trap itself. President Barack Obama has had more urgent and pressing matters on his narrow shoulders which directly concern the welfare of the US than almost any president before him. Obama and his administration have to deal with the global financial crisis, health care reform, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, threats regarding the future of Pakistan and Iran, and only after that comes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it is time for Obama to make some real time for confronting his strategy on this conflict.

Obama said in Cairo that resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict is a US national strategic interest. It is in fact an international strategic interest. As such, it cannot be left to the veto of the Israelis and the Palestinians any longer. There is no chance that the Israelis and the Palestinians will reach any bilateral negotiated agreement, therefore it is not only a waste of time and precious energy on negotiating the negotiations, it is a waste of time to make efforts to bring the two parties to the table right now. They have serious homework to do before coming to the table, as do the leaders of the Quartet.

THE QUARTET, led by the US should:
1. Give the parties six months to present their own versions of a peace treaty taking into account all of the issues, needs, interests, threat perceptions and means for dealing with them.

2. Spend three months integrating the two treaties into the Quartet parameters. If there is no plan from one or both parties, the Quartet will still draw up its own plan.

3. An additional six months will be spent negotiating on the means to implement the plan. Differences between the parties will be resolved through bridging proposals put on the table by the Quartet.

4. The Quartet will make preparations for the creation of an international force led by the US (without US troops) containing a military, a policing and a civilian monitoring force (under the command of a US general) and with a US administration, with the participation of EU troops, Russians and others. The force will be stationed in the Palestinian state and will facilitate the Israeli withdrawal from Palestine and provide security guarantees for both states. Security can no longer be entrusted to bilateral arrangements as it was in the past. The security discourse must be advanced from the idea that Palestinians are providing security to Israel. This is rejected by both sides. The new discourse must be one of mutual security. There will be no security unless both sides feel secure from the threats of the other.

5. Even after Israeli withdrawal, there is a possibility that there will remain a law- abiding Jewish minority in the Palestinian state and this is a good development. The rights and treatment of the national minorities in each state should be linked to each other.

6. A UN Security Council resolution detailing the parameters of peace, of Palestinian and Israeli statehood and full Palestinian membership in the UN comes in at this stage.

7. The next Palestinian elections are held for the government of the state of Palestine and not for the Palestinian Authority.

8. The West Bank-Gaza link (tunnel, bridge, sunken road or a combination) will be constructed at this stage – as soon as possible and brought to about one kilometer of Gaza until there is a change in the political situation in Gaza. In any event, the peace treaty is based on the West Bank and Gaza, and will apply to Gaza as soon as possible.

9. The economic siege on Gaza must end because it is empowering Hamas and weakening the allies of peace.

There are many more details which must be included, but the space for this article is far too limited for that.

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