President Obama’s popularity in Israel is at an all time low for a US president. Only 4% of Israelis believe that the president is pro-Israeli, according to a survey published last week by the Jerusalem Post.
President Obama does not face elections in Israel so perhaps he does not need to be overly concerned with this statistic but in order for Obama’s Middle East peace plans to succeed, the Israeli public must have a “buy-in”.
Israeli society really does want peace, even if at the same time it expresses attitudes which are against making concessions to the Arabs, and in particular to the Palestinians. Israelis – like Palestinians – have lost confidence in peace processes and of hopes that there is a partner for peace on the other side. As the Oslo process lingered on far beyond the dates of the agreements and violence increased, people in the region and across the globe lost their patience and their belief that Israeli-Palestinian peace was possible.
The US position has always been that Israelis and Palestinians have to want peace more than the third parties do. Well, the people in the region do want it, they just don’t know how to do it and have lost faith that it is even possible.
The recent reports of increased law and order and economic growth in the West Bank brought a glimmer of hope to the Israeli public, but then came the Fatah convention which was perceived as backtracking to the days of Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist.
IT IS TIME to face reality – Israelis and Palestinian cannot do it by themselves. If President Obama is successful in creating the conditions for a renewal of negotiations, they will surely fail soon after they begin. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas will not get beyond the first substantive discussion on any one of the main strategic issues: security, borders, Jerusalem or refugees. It is not because they don’t want to – I strongly believe that both Abbas and Netanyahu want to bring peace and security to their people – they are simply not capable of seeing eye-to-eye on any of the main issues.
President Obama will have no choice but to advance the negotiations by putting the US’s own vision of peace with a detailed plan on the table. Certain fundamental elements,if included in the plan, will increase the certainty of Israeli public support. The problem, of course, is that these very elements would weaken the support for the plan on the Palestinian and Arab streets.
The following 10 points would bring balance and clarity that could help in ensuring public support on both sides:
1. For Israelis, the key is that the right of return will be to the Palestinian state and not to Israel. Some of the refugees could be resettled in areas that will be part of the territorial exchange in lands that were previously under Israeli sovereignty. There is a fundamental contradiction between the “two-states for two peoples” solution and the right of return to Israel. Acceptance of this principle removes the urgency of the Palestinian declaration that Israel is the State of the Jewish people (which in any event already appears in the Palestinian Declaration of Independence from November 1988).
2. Israeli acknowledgment of its part of the responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem and for the suffering of the refugees is the key to Palestinian acceptance of the right of return to a future Palestinian state. It would be helpful if a group of experts – Israeli, Palestinian and international – worked on designing the language that Israel could adopt to do this.
3. Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims must know that they will have sovereignty over the Haram al Sharif (Temple Mount) including the control of access to their holy places. They will agree to accept the limitations on construction, excavations and tunneling if Israel also accepts the same limitations.
4. Israel must have sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter and over the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Security arrangements must be defined and guaranteed in Jerusalem with the development of a bilateral model of security supported by international parties as well.
5. There must be a timetable with clearly-defined benchmarks for implementation. For Israel there must be a “performance based” approach alongside the timetable with the US determining performance accountability and monitoring the schedule for implementation.
6. The creation of a joint (Tri-lateral – Israel, Palestine and US) mechanism for combatting incitement and text books is essential. This should begin with an invitation to Washington of the two education ministers.
7. Security concerns must be addressed on both sides of the conflict, since the security of both are co-dependent and intertwined. One side’s suffering generates tomorrow’s aggressors on both sides. There is no such thing as mutually exclusive security – that is a hoax of the past. Hungry Palestinians means more brutal attacks. Terrorized Israelis means a faster finger on the trigger, and greater likelihood of dehumanizing treatment.
8. Since Palestinian security performance is central to the continuation of the process, the Palestinian security forces must be given the best chance of performing possible, more areas of the West Bank must be placed in the hands of the Palestinian security. It is time for the US to establish a tri-lateral joint command and operations room where Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation can be expanded and monitored at the same time.
9. Gaza is not part of the deal at the present time. The plan should include new government elections for the State of Palestine once it is recognized by Israel and/or the members of the Quartet. Participation in elections should be based on all political parties recognizing the State of Palestine within its recognized borders.
10. Regional support is also essential and the inclusion of Egypt and Jordan, at first, and then additional Arab states will give greater credibility to the plan on both sides.
These ten principles contain the keys for gaining the support of the Israeli and Palestinian streets for the peace plan.
President Obama should not be deterred by the noise that those who oppose peace on both sides make. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians really do want peace and if these principles are accepted, President Obama will be perceived as being pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian and pro-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.