Ismail Abdel Salam Ahmed Haniyeh and Mahmoud Abbas

The leadership vacuum

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Gershon Baskin thinks that the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement are well known – all it would take is an Israel government courageous enough to sign up.

IN ONE word, the distance between where we are now and peace is leadership. It is, of course, a rare commodity required on both sides. Ending apartheid in South Africa took not only the greatness of Nelson Mandela, it also needed the leadership of Frederik Willem de Klerk. It seems that we lack both a Mandela and a de Klerk.

What we do have is two decades of negotiating experience and thousands of hours of professional “track two” meetings of officials and non-officials from both sides mapping out all possible areas of agreement and disagreement on every single issue in the conflict.

When the parties eventually get back to official negotiations, and they genuinely want to reach agreements, the realm of the unknown is minute. The challenge of reaching agreements, knowing what we know, is much smaller than the difficulty of implementing them. The really hard work will begin the day after agreements are reached.

Any possible Israeli-Palestinian agreement will include the following: Signing the accord entails the end of the conflict. A Palestinian state will be established and recognized next to Israel on 22 percent of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The Palestinian state will include Gaza, but the agreement will not be implemented in Gaza until the regime there agrees to all its terms. There will be two capitals in Jerusalem, which hopefully will remain an open city. The overwhelming majority of Palestinian refugees who want to come home will find that home in the State of Palestine, and financial compensation will be available to those with property claims. The Palestinians will not declare that they have given up the right of return, but they will affirm that UN Resolution 194 on the refugees has been fulfilled. Jews will be allowed to live in the Palestinian state under Palestinian sovereignty and laws, but nearly 80 percent of the settlers will remain in their homes under Israeli sovereignty as part of the territorial swaps that will take place. There will be an extended Israeli military presence in the Palestinian state, including along the Jordan River in the framework of a joint security mechanism with the non-militarized Palestinian state. The peace process and agreements will include robust measures to foster a culture of peace and combat incitement, including in text books.

In the final stage of the process, there will be agreement on the issue of recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, coupled with guarantees of full equal rights for Israel’s Palestinian minority. The implementation of the agreements will be monitored by a US-led monitoring mechanism, and will be carried out over several years.

The above description of what an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will look like includes some of the key lessons that should have been learned from the failure of the process so far. It includes both sides’ key demands and where agreement is possible.

Nevertheless, the question remains: how does a majority of the people on both sides agree to these terms, when it seems that previous majorities in support of a two-state solution are on the decline? Here, once again, it is mainly a question of leadership, and mainly (albeit not exclusively) of Israeli leadership.

The leaders know that Israel today faces no existential military threat. They also know the only existential threat is the almost 50- year one-state, bi-national reality between the river and the sea. How much longer can Israel continue to define itself as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people in this one-state creeping Palestinian majority condition? We can fool some of the people some of the time, we cannot fool all of the people all of the time – especially ourselves. If we don’t take action to change this reality, we cannot be both the nation state of the Jewish people and democratic. This is the existential dilemma facing Israel today.

Do we have a partner for peace in Palestine? That is a big question with no definite answer, although opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog’s pre-election exchanges with the Palestinian leadership suggest that we do. But it all begins first and foremost with a government decision that we want a partner, and that we are willing to sign a peace agreement on something akin to the basic terms described above. If we truly want an agreement, there is no other choice.

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