President Donald Trump’s statement during his recent press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he resurrected the probable US backing of the two-state solution is reason enough to reexamine the possibilities for its viability. Netanyahu responded by questioning the meaning of “state,” emphasizing that the existence of a Palestinian state should not endanger the existence of the State of Israel. If there is any viability to renewed discussions about a two-state solution, it must be predicated on the initial agreement to negotiate the core issues which include borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security. The prerequisite for negotiations of mutual recognition was partially fulfilled with the exchange of letters between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. In retrospect, it is worthwhile to revisit this issue as well.
Mutual recognition, from the Israeli point of view, must include the right of the Jewish people to their own nation-state. From the Palestinian point of view, this kind of recognition must not minimize the rights of the Palestinian minority of Israel consisting of 20% of Israel’s citizens. Palestinians (correctly) note that the recent Nation-State Law does exactly that.
The recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people must also not compromise the ability to openly negotiate the refugee issue.
Arafat’s letter to Rabin stated, “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” That was perhaps acceptable in 1993, but it falls short of Israel’s demands today.
Israel, on the other hand, never recognized the Palestinians right to a nation-state of their own. In 2005, prime minister Ariel Sharon, speaking in the United Nations, stated, “The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel does not mean disregarding the rights of others in the land. The Palestinians will always be our neighbors. We respect them, and have no aspirations to rule over them. They are also entitled to freedom and to a national, sovereign existence in a state of their own.”
This statement by Sharon was never constituted as a government decision. The Israeli demand for recognition must be coupled with an Israeli acknowledgment of recognition of the State of Palestine as the nation-state of the Palestinian people. Recognition of the State of Palestine does not constitute a recognition of final borders. Israel has been a state for more than 70 years with provisional borders. Once there is mutual recognition of Israeli and Palestinian national rights, the two parties will be more able to negotiate their permanent borders.
Netanyahu’s position that the Palestinian state should not endanger Israel’s existence needs to be examined in more depth. What are the existential threats to Israel emanating from Palestinian statehood?
What are the security threats to Israelis that would exist from Palestinian statehood? There are no existential threats to Israel from Palestinian statehood. There are existential threats to Israel, which defines itself as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people from the non-resolution of this conflict. Already today some 50% of the people between the river and the sea are not Jewish and do not enjoy democracy and the whole territory is controlled by Israel. There are security threats to Israelis from Palestinian statehood that need to be addressed and resolved.
The current eastern border of Israel, and the future eastern border of the State of Palestine, is not Israel’s main security border to the east.
The Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994 created joint security mechanisms between Israel and Jordan that maintain the security of that border. The stability of the Hashemite Kingdom is an Israeli security concern. The collapse of the Hashemite regime could pose a real threat to Israel, opening the possibility of a foreign or internal domination that is opposed to peace with Israel and could enable foreign armies from the east to enter Jordan. As long as the Hashemite Kingdom is secure and the Israeli Jordanian security arrangements are working, the military threats from the east are minimal.
In all previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Palestinians had accepted that the Palestinian state would be non-militarized. In one of the rounds of official negotiations there was a six-hour discussion on the difference between “demilitarized” and “non-militarized.” The semantics are not particularly important when the bottom line remains the same. The Palestinian state would have no real fighting force against Israel – no air force, no artillery, no ballistic rockets and missiles. A more relevant discussion should be on the mechanisms for monitoring and the verification of the agreements in general and specifically on the security-related aspects of agreements. The Palestinian security forces must remain committed to combating terrorism from within. There must be ways for Israel to verify real Palestinian compliance.
Continued Israeli control over Palestinian territories or continued Israeli military presence in a Palestinian state is essentially the continuation of Israeli control and domination – in other words, the continuation of the occupation. This is not possible in the framework of peace.
One proposal that has come up in negotiations includes the deployment of an international peacekeeping force. Some have proposed that NATO be responsible or that US troops be deployed on the borders between Israel and Palestine and on the Jordan River and perhaps also patrolling the territories of the Palestinian state. This is counterproductive and incongruous with the idea of real peace. First, no one can protect Israel better than Israel. Second, if Israel and Palestine do not take direct responsibility for securing the peace, there will be no peace. The idea of some form of continued Israeli presence in a Palestinian state for an agreed period of time is possible only as a Palestinian sovereign decision as part of the formation of joint security mechanisms with agreed-upon mandates, areas of responsibility and functions.
The role of agreed-upon third parties would be within the monitoring and verification mechanism of the peace treaty. Here a US-led monitoring and verification force would be extremely useful. They would not be responsible for implementing the agreements; they would be responsible for monitoring and reporting publicly on the implementation of the agreements by both parties and helping to resolve disputes that arise in real time.
To make these mechanisms effective and genuine, the parties would also have to agree to a performance-based process that links Israeli withdrawals and elements of Palestinian implementation to commitments being met and fully implemented by both parties.
Third-party monitors and verifiers would have to have free and unobstructed access to all areas of both states. The implementation of agreements by both sides will be better enforced when both parties know that there is fair and impartial monitoring and verification of what they do and what they don’t do. This was completely absent from the Oslo agreements and should be a key lesson learned from the failures of the past.
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.
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