George Mitchel, Saeb Erekat and Mahmoud Abbas

The indefatigable peacemaker’s advice

We’ve had the opportunity to take a step back and analyze the failed peace process and come away learning many valuable lessons.

There won’t be many more opportunities to make it work. That is the growing consensus. Even if the public does not sense it, there is a real urgency; we must move toward reaching an agreement. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable. There are solutions to all problems. In addition to the multiple rounds of Track I negotiations that have taken place since Madrid in 1991, there have also been thousands of hours of informal Track II negotiations in which a couple of hundred Israeli and Palestinian experts have participated and have reached understandings and “shelf agreements.”

Many of the experts have been at this a lot longer than the official negotiators. We have had the opportunity to take a step back and analyze the failed peace process and come away with many lessons learned that are important to share so that chances of success are increased. Everyone is skeptical about this. The negotiators themselves do not have great confidence that an agreement is possible. They must lay down their pessimism, skepticism and negative attitudes. They must face the task of reaching an agreement, looking beyond the momentary snapshot of domestic political realities.

This may be the last chance to reach an agreement – there should be no other way to perceive the current reality. The job at hand is not to outsmart the other side or to get a better deal than the other side; the challenge is to reach an agreement that will build lasting relationships based on mutual interests that will improve the lot of both peoples living in this land. Failure to reach an agreement would be a crime against both peoples.

Everything is on the table – borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, mutual recognition, water, economy and any other issue that either side wishes to raise.

The agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs and that is why they cannot be negotiated separately. Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, assisted by George Mitchell, will have to produce a declaration of principles that will determine the general framework. Details can be dealt with in committees of experts, but the main issues need to be decided by the leaders.

NETANYAHU HAS already verbalized the main concerns for Israel – Palestinian militarization, control of external borders, airspace, electromagnetic spectrum and real recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Palestinians too have raised their main concerns – borders, settlements, real sovereignty and freedom from Israeli control. Jerusalem is a concern for both sides, but the issue on which there is the most extreme contention is refugees.

All these issues are interconnected. Borders cannot be determined without detailing security arrangements.

Borders and security arrangements lead directly to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the core identity issue, which leads directly to mutual recognition. Water and economics are both related to borders, control over land and planning, border arrangements and security. All these issues are connected to a timetable both for negotiations and for implementation.

The following are some principles and words of advice for the negotiators: • First reach a declaration of principles that frames all the core issues and accepts the idea that the agreement must be complete and comprehensive, although implementation can be incremental over an agreedupon time frame.

• Agree to include US monitors on the implementation of agreements, and US dispute resolvers. There will be disagreements all the time once the schedule of implementation is reached, so there must be a reliable and trusted “judge” who can determine how best to resolve them. The greatest confidence-building measure in any conflict is the implementation of agreements. No artificial confidence-building measures will ever repair the damage done when agreements are not implemented.

• Each side should prepare a document detailing all of its concerns and threat perceptions. Those documents are the real road map. They must be treated with absolute integrity. There is no room to argue about them; the challenge is to find solutions and ways to remove them from the list. All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.

Israel, though, must be told that there is more than one way to answer these security threats. The Palestinians must say they will accept all of Israel’s security threat perceptions and concerns and agree to all reasonable solutions while also being sure that the occupation of their lands will end and they will enjoy the maximum sovereignty possible. Likewise, Israel must accept all of the Palestinians concerns and threat perceptions and not argue with them but work with them and the Americans to find solutions.

• Don’t run away from the tough issues. There is an inclination to take Jerusalem and refugees off the table until the end. This is a mistake. There can be no agreement without Jerusalem and refugees. Putting off the discussion will not make their resolution more likely.

Putting them on the table from the outset will increase the level of seriousness that both sides display.

Both sides will say harsh things that will be difficult for the other side to hear. Both sides must make a commitment that they are not leaving the table just because they disagree. The American mediators must be firm on this point and must continuously translate the positions of both sides into a wider and more in-depth analysis of interests and needs that go far beyond the stated positions.

• The sides should agree to work with a “single-text” negotiation methodology. There should not be an Israeli text and a Palestinian text. The American team should take on the role of drafting the unified text, and that American text should become the focal point of the negotiations. The Americans should begin the task of drafting the declaration of principles already after the first few rounds of talks.

• The principle of “no agreement until all has been agreed” should be dumped. There are areas where reaching agreements on specific issues can begin to positively change realities on the ground and increase public support for the process. It can also help to prepare the public on both sides for some of the painful concessions that they will have to absorb.

If there are agreements on issues concerning borders, this will have a direct impact on some of the settlements that will be annexed to Israel. Once there is agreement on that, settlement building can resume within those areas. If there is agreement on areas where Israel will withdraw, those areas can be transferred to the control of the Palestinian Authority and it can begin development work in those areas. This does not have to wait until full agreement is reached.

• The issues of incitement, education and a culture of peace must be dealt with directly and immediately, and must be detached from the wider political discussion. Changing the public environment and discourse will have an immediate impact and demonstrate a real willingness and readiness to live together in peace. The last time this was attempted, during Annapolis, the committee dealing with a culture of peace trapped itself into linking progress to the broader political process, so when the political talks reached an impasse, the culture of peace talks ended.

Making progress on mutual agreements to review curricula and textbooks, to use publicly funded cultural institutions to foster a culture of peace, to confront accusations and problems of incitement on both sides will demonstrate that peacemaking this time is significantly more positive than at any other time in the past.

• Place mutual recognition in a “safe deposit box” entrusted to the American mediator. Palestinians will not recognize Israel upfront as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This simply will not happen – for them, it relates directly to the refugee issue and to the status of the Arab citizens of Israel. For Israel this has become a conditio sine qua non or “without which there is nothing.”

For the Palestinians it has become a nonstarter.

One of the ways to break this Gordian knot is to turn it into a deposit, just as Yitzhak Rabin did on the question of withdrawal from the Golan Heights. It would read something like “when full agreement is reached on all of the issues regarding Palestinian statehood and the end of occupation, the State of Palestine will be willing to recognize the State of Israel as the nationstate of the Jewish people, with guarantees of full equality for the Palestinian national minority in the State of Israel and the Jewish national minority in the State of Palestine.”

I HAVE much more advice to offer the negotiators, and I will do that in coming weeks and months on a regular basis through direct back channels. Some of those thoughts I will share here. I invite constructive feedback and additional thoughts from all (this is not an invitation for hate mail) – gershon@ipcri.org.

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

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About 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.