Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert

The test of leadership

The public mood regarding the US sponsored peace summit is quite negative. The leaders of Israel and Palestine are devoting time and energy to reducing expectations out of fear that the summit may not produce the agreement necessary to enable a genuine peace process to ensue. As we get closer to the summit it seems that public opinion on both sides is hardening with regard to concessions that are necessary to enable Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Israeli positions are hardening on territorial compromises and on the issue of Jerusalem. Palestinian positions are hardening on the refugee issue. These three issues are the core of any agreement and failure to find acceptable solutions will mean that an agreement will not be possible.

Based on everything that we know from previous negotiations, an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will have to fall somewhere in between the triangle of the so-called Clinton parameters the Taba non-paper and the unofficial Geneva Accords.

Translated into terms that we can all understand, the contours of an agreement must include the following principles:

1. The embodiment of the two-state solution will have to include the mutual recognition of the national, historic and political rights of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples to have a state of their own in the piece of land known as Israel and Palestine.

2. The Palestinian state will be established on 100% of the territory of the West Bank and Gaza with agreement territorial swaps – this means that the Palestinians will be able to claim that they will build their state on 22% of the land of the British Mandate west of the Jordan river. Furthermore, there will be no Israeli settlements where there is Palestinian sovereignty.

3. Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and Palestine including the division of sovereignty in the Old City. Palestine would have effective control over the Haram al Sharif or Temple Mount while Israel would have effective control over the Western Wall. Both sides would have to limit their sovereignty in a way that gives a veto power to the other regarding construction in the Old City and especially in the holy places.

4. The refugees will return primarily to Palestine. Israel would have to acknowledge its role and responsibility in the creation of the refugee problem. That acknowledgement would have to include some form of apology short of taking full responsibility. Individual refugees would be eligible to receive financial compensation for lost properties and for 60 years of suffering.

ALONG WITH these main principles there must also be recognition that:

1. Detailed negotiations for a full-fledged permanent status agreement would have to ensue immediately following the US summit with a time limit on the length of those negotiations.

2. Gaza would only be part of any agreement once Hamas either no longer is in control there or when Hamas accepts the three international conditions for recognition.

3. Once a framework agreement or a declaration of principles in reached, the sides must return to implementing all of their obligations within the road map including the dismantlement of all terrorist infrastructures on the Palestinian side, and the removal of all unauthorized outposts and settlements on the Israeli side.

4. The agreements must include commitments and plans for eliminating incitement and for instituting peace education programs on both sides.

5. There must be a time table and a mechanism for objective monitoring of the implementation of the agreements. The mechanism must also include a dispute resolution procedure that enables mediation and if necessary arbitration so that the process will not get bogged down in inevitable disagreements.

CAN ALL of this be done? Common sense and historical record says `no!` The reasons are many: the leaders are weak, the political systems are weak, neither side can guarantee a majority in support of the agreements, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under investigation, the core issues are too sensitive and the publics don`t back necessary concessions, etc. etc.

Each side will undoubtedly hold their cards very close to their chest and probably prevent the other side from knowing how far they are really willing to bend. In reality, there is very little room for real negotiations. The positions are so well known that the red lines of each side are so clearly defined.

Can an agreement be reached? The answer must be `yes!` It would be much wiser for the negotiators to work with all of their cards on the table so that they can think creatively about how they can help each other in winning public support for an agreement. There are certainly things that the Palestinian negotiators can do to strengthen Olmert`s public position as there are, similarly, many things that the Israeli negotiators could do that would strengthen the public position of President Mahmoud Abbas.

The negotiations would be a lot more fruitful and the end result much more positive if the two sides played for mutual gain rather than took a zero sum – `win-lose` approach. This is not just theory; this is the real world where the public psychology of the negotiations is just as important as the substance of the agreements.

It would also be wise for the two leaders to completely ignore public opinion polls over the next few weeks. They should understand that what they are doing in the negotiating process will shape public opinion and if they capitulate now to public opinion they will be allowing themselves to be manipulated by forces on both sides that are opposed to reaching an agreement. This is the moment of truth. There may be no such moments in the near future. Of course there are many risks involved but there are even more risks for both sides if they fail to reach agreement. This is the real test of leadership.

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

Latest posts by Gershon Baskin (see all)

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.