The proximity talks must include serious discussions on the core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees.
Under the public radar and due to extreme amounts of skepticism, George Mitchell’s mediation efforts continue without public debate or concern. The silence is because almost no one believes they will be constructive, and the media blackout imposed by Mitchell.
Four rounds of talks have taken place. The parameters have been set, the process has begun, and now it is time to get serious.
The proximity talks can produce agreements; this is how I think they should proceed:
• Intensive negotiations: Talks conducted twice a month are not going to produce an agreement. The best model for proximity talks is Camp David I between Egypt and Israel. Convening intensive talks, even if not face-to-face, in an isolated location for at least five days at a time is the way to move. The initial talks will not involve the principals – Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas – but the lead negotiators and technical assistants. The process must now move into an intensive phase.
• The parameters: The goal of the proximity talks is to advance a permanent-status agreement which will put an end to the conflict. The core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees – are all on the table. Israel’s preference is to deal with security prior to setting borders; the Palestinians’ preference is to first deal with borders.
It is essential to deal with borders so that we can put the issue of settlements to rest. Once a border is agreed to, Israel can continue to build in all the settlements that will be incorporated into it.
All of the core issues are linked and cannot be dealt with apart from each other. Palestinian leaders have said they will accept any reasonable Israeli demands regarding security. Their two main reservations are predictability – security arrangements cannot be left to the discretion of the sergeant at the checkpoint – and no Israeli military presence within the Palestinian state.
A SENIOR White House official made an unreported 24- hour visit to Jerusalem two weeks ago to explore with Netanyahu his constraints on moving forward. The main issue raised by Netanyahu was his demand that the eastern border of the Palestinian state be sealed hermetically from smuggling of weapons, ammunition and terrorists so that the West Bank would not turn into the Gaza Strip – a front line of Islamic terrorism against Israel. Netanyahu’s view is that only the IDF can ensure this but it is unacceptable to the Palestinians.
The paradigm of any security agreements must be that each side is responsible for its own security. In Oslo the paradigm was that the Palestinian Authority forces would prevent attacks against Israel, while Israel withdrew from territories that would come under PA control.
From the Palestinian point of view, Israel failed to withdraw from all the territories which they understood would be the basis for their state, and instead settlement building accelerated. In their eyes, the PA security apparatus became collaborators with the ongoing occupation, which explains the vigor with which those forces joined the second intifada.
From Israel’s point of view, the PA failed in its security mission by design and by ideology, and in response it withheld further redeployments. However you look at it, what happened must be avoided when reaching new agreements.
Palestinians must be held responsible for the security of their external borders. A multinational force led by the US must be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the security responsibilities of the parties. This force must also have the mandate and capacity to “do the job” if the parties fail to implement those obligations. A reasonable proposal, at least for the first few years, would be to integrate unarmed Israeli observers in specific positions along the eastern border of Palestine, under US command.
While dealing with security arrangements the discussion of borders must be advanced. Abbas has indicated to President Barack Obama that the Palestinians would be willing to consider enlarging the size of the territories Israel would annex to place the main settlement blocks under its sovereignty under the condition of territorial swaps on a 1:1 basis. So far Israel has agreed to the principle but not to the 1:1 formula. I have suggested to the Mitchell team that the talks delineating the border begin by Israel presenting a map of the “swap territories.”
• Delineating the border brings us to Jerusalem. The talks on Jerusalem should be separated into three different issues – the territorial dimension of the city outside of the Old City, the Old City and the Temple Mount/Haram al- Sharif. It should be determined from the outset that Jerusalem will be an open city, not one divided by walls and fences. Outside of the Old City walls, political division of the city is necessary so that each people will live under its own sovereignty.
Regarding the Old City, there are a number of possibilities for dealing with the less than one square kilometer.
Talking about Jerusalem will automatically lead to the discussion of the refugee issue. It is understood that there are trade-offs on the various issues to reach a package deal. There is a trade-off between Jerusalem and refugees where Palestinians get sovereignty over Palestinian Jerusalem and control over the Haram al-Sharif, which they effectively already control, (Israel will retain control over the Western Wall) and the right of return of refugees is mainly to the Palestinian state. The Palestinians transform the concept of “return to home” into “return to homeland” meaning the Palestinian state.
All the above is possible, but predicated on three main elements – that the settlement freeze continues beyond September 26, that the security situation remains calm, and security cooperation and continued Palestinian deployment continues concurrent with Israeli redeployment out of Palestinian-controlled areas and that after the November elections in the US, President Obama takes control of the process.
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.