Dear President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu,
Welcome home. You both did a fine job at the UN and represented the cause of your peoples’ struggle for existence and peace with great honour. You can both claim victory and come home to a hero’s welcome.
Much parallelism can be drawn from understanding the public opinion on both sides. Both peoples are convinced that they want peace and are even more convinced that there is no partner for peace on the other side. Both sides really have no strategic option other than reaching a negotiated agreement and know more or less what a peace agreement will look like, but neither side is willing to put a real offer on the table that could be accepted by the other.
After 20 years of a peace process we have ended up at a stalemate – with each side claiming victory. But what kind of victory is it when we all lose hope that peace can exist?
The Palestinian move in the UN, while far from successful, has made it quite clear that the overwhelming majority of the international community continues to support the “two states for two peoples” solution, and believes that this conflict needs to and can be resolved now. This is a victory for both peoples.
Palestine will probably achieve an upgraded status of non-member state observer in the UN, allowing it to apply for membership in a broad range of international organisations, institutions and conventions. Although this is greatly empowering and in some way does level the playing field, the real power the Palestinians will gain is the power not to play its new card.
Palestine’s membership in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice would be valuable. It could pursue a set of legal actions against Israelis and against the State of Israel that could be most unpleasant and would certainly do great damage to the possibility of resolving the conflict through negotiation.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, you have always emphasised that you firmly believe in reciprocity and mutuality in relations between the parties. Here is the perfect opportunity for this principle to be put into practice. Palestine will offer to freeze all legal actions against the State of Israel and all boycotts, divestments and sanctions for one year while negotiations take place, and Israel will offer to freeze all settlement building during that same period.
In order to make this opportunity more feasible, several tactical improvements to the negotiations will improve the chances of success. First, it is possible to immediately agree on parts of the border where the separation barrier has been constructed on the Green Line. In areas where there are no conflicts, indicate that on a joint map.
Next, Israel should develop a map of the areas inside sovereign Israel that it is willing to swap in exchange for areas that it seeks to annex. Palestine should develop its proposal for those settlements or settlement blocs that it is willing to have Israel annex.
Integrate those two maps, crack out the numbers and see what progress has been made.
When exchanges are agreed on, Israel would be allowed to continue building in those areas that remain within its control. In keeping with the principle of reciprocity, when the Palestinians agree that a specific area will be annexed to Israel and building there can be resumed, Israel should then immediately relinquish control over equal territories within the West Bank which are designated “area c” (which constitutes 62 per cent of the West Bank) and allow Palestinian building, development and control to begin there.
Israel should be prepared to explain, in detail, all of its threat perceptions and the ways that it proposes to meet them. Israel should be prepared to listen to alternative security proposals put on the table by Palestinians and other leading military and security experts around the world. Solutions should be explored and examined honestly and in good faith. The Palestinians do not have an interest in a breakdown of security after they have established their state with Israel’s agreement, or in becoming a frontline base for Iran.
Abbas also has a keen interest in having a regime in Gaza that will support and adhere to a negotiated peace treaty. A wide majority of the people of Gaza supported Abbas’s move to the United Nations and were equally moved by his impassioned appeal and the reception he received from the community of nations. A majority of people in Gaza do not support Hamas.
You both know that you must return to the table and that real, good-faith negotiations must take place to resolve this conflict – which is resolvable. This is a historic moment. It is possible to reach agreement within one year and there are no better people than you to do it.
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.