“We need you, even if we find it hard to admit.”
Welcome back, Mr. Secretary. I am quite sure none of the leaders you will meet on this visit to Israel and Palestine will say “thank you,” so I will say it on behalf of all of the people of Israel and Palestine. We need you, even if we find it hard to admit.
We hope that you will finally be putting your bridging proposals on the negotiation table because it is time for the negotiations to get really serious. It is clear once your proposal is on the table, the talks will be focused on it. Being the most serious side in the negotiations it is quite clear that you and your team have worked very hard on putting down concrete solutions that maximize the needs of both sides while balancing the conflicting demands.
I am sure you know this, but I will say it anyway: the hardest part is getting the two sides to move away from their positions in favor of providing real answers to their needs and interests. The parties have locked themselves into positions, often for reasons of internal politics, and in doing so they forget to really focus on their needs and interests.
You know that both the Israeli and the Palestinian publics are very skeptical about these negotiations. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians believe it is possible to reach an agreement. Both sides are convinced that there is no partner on the other side. Both sides are convinced that their side is a partner. Both sides make public statements and actions which are not very helpful in reaching peace because they are playing small politics focusing their attention on their own constituency rather than rising to the task of being statesmen. You have no choice but to ignore that self-defeating behavior at this time, because the two leaders are only a reflection of their own people and they too don’t believe that an agreement is possible. So just keep on doing what you have been doing, you be the responsible adult at the table, you demonstrate the seriousness needed to reach an agreement. Be hard on the leaders; don’t get all soft and wishy-washy. We need your firmness and determination.
The agreement reached will be a balance of needs and interests. It will bring about the end of Israeli control over the Palestinians and will give birth to an independent sovereign Palestinian state next to Israel. The final map will be based on the June 4, 1967 lines with agreed-to territorial swaps. The Palestinian state will compose 22 percent of the land area between the river and the sea. The Palestinians will get their state with pieces of land which are today inside of Israel and a majority of settlers will remain in Judea and Samaria in the annexed areas.
The agreement will be implemented over years. The Palestinians will agree to Israeli military/security presence within the framework of joint patrols under Palestinian command, as a reflection of Palestinian sovereignty.
Israel’s security needs will be balanced by the Palestinians’ need for genuine sovereignty and for ending Israel’s control over them. The Palestinians will make a sovereign decision not to have a militarized state. The Palestinians will control their own borders deciding for themselves who and what will enter, but they will make a sovereign decision to allow for international inspectors to monitor those borders.
They may even agree that Israelis can be part of the international monitoring mechanism and if they don’t, they will agree to some kind of fail-safe mechanism that will allow for Israeli review of problematic cases of entry of goods or people, as existed in the Rafah agreement.
With more than one-third of Jerusalem’s residents being Palestinian and entire parts of the city being Palestinian, Jerusalem will be the capital of both countries. I hope that you insist that the city remain open and physically undivided, because that is the only way that Jerusalem can exist and thrive. As a Jerusalemite who loves Jerusalem, I don’t want to see my city divided into pieces with walls and fences.
The only walls in the city should be those around the old city.
We will need the help of the United States to help us both create joint security forces in Jerusalem so that the city will be safe for all who live there and come to our wonderful city. The Old City can be under shared sovereignty or divided sovereignty by demography or some form of international management under the authority of a joint Israeli-Palestinian council. There are various workable models.
Regarding the Holy Sites, under real peace we can formalize the current arrangements where the Muslim control the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and the Jews control the Western Wall. All sites should be open for all. The Temple Mount is Holy for Jews and the Western Wall is holy for Muslims. All people should be allowed to pray wherever they want as long as they don’t do so at the expense of others. This is a political issue, not a religious one, and the religious leaders of the Holy Land should come up with suitable answers together, after peace is established. They will have a key role to play in turning peace into a reality.
It is then that the moderate religious leaders of the area and the world will need to step up and be counted. Israel’s Jerusalem will be the eternal undivided capital of the state and of the Jewish people and Palestine’s Jerusalem will be their eternal undivided capital. When that happens, Jerusalem can become the capital of the world symbolizing the ability to go beyond conflict and create a city which celebrates its diversity.
The Palestinian refugees will be given a choice of options for their future with the best one being return to their state and receiving fair compensation for their property loss and their suffering. Other countries have offered in the past to absorb Palestinian refugees and I believe that they will once again make that offer. Israel too will offer to accept a symbolic number of refugees under a humanitarian family reunification scheme. All of the refugees must understand that those who choose the Israel option will become Israeli citizens, under Israel sovereignty and law, paying taxes to Israel and perhaps even serving in the military or non-military national service.
Israel and the other countries offering to accept refugees will select those who applied and not all who apply will be able to get their first option. But all Palestinian refugees, always, for all time, will be able to become citizens of the State of Palestine. When you succeed in reaching an agreement, you should know that we the people, the majority of Israelis and the majority of Palestinians, will vote “yes” in the referendum.
So, please don’t give up. Keep on pushing. And once again, welcome back!
Gershon Baskin is co-chairman of IPCRI, Israel-Palestine: Creative Regional Initiatives (IPCRI), formerly known as the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, a nonprofit think tank that combines research with peace-building actions and advocacy across Israel and Palestine. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew, and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press in English.
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.