Back to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? – Some basic truths
By Amb. Alan Baker
The buzz and expectation in anticipation of the soon-to-materialize American plan for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians obviously should not be underestimated. “We’re working very hard on it,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said of the Middle East peace plan on November 13, 2017.
Any genuine and serious peace negotiating plan should naturally be seen as a welcome alternative to the present situation of impasse in the peace process and the evident incapability or lack of bona fide willingness to return to a negotiating mode.
However, the American peace plan should not be overestimated or idealized by exaggerated media hype and political manipulation.
It cannot simply be naively parachuted into the Palestinian-Israeli reality without due and proper preparation of the ground. Otherwise, it is doomed to failure. To succeed, there is the necessity to correct many of the existing factors that are presently feeding an atmosphere of hatred, distrust, and suspicion among the political leaderships of the two sides, or more importantly, of mutual fear and mistrust among the respective general publics.
Thus, prior to any attempt to impose upon or to proffer to the parties and the international community any peace proposal, some “home truths” need to be recognized and corrected to establish a genuine and serious negotiating ambiance.
Truths that Are Self-Evident
First and foremost, the ongoing Palestinian diplomatic offensive against Israel, both locally and internationally, is incompatible with any putative claim by the Palestinian leadership that it desires peace with Israel or that it intends to return to any type of negotiating mode.
Virtually every statement by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas indicates rejection of Israel and is replete with senseless repetitions of the worn-out clichés that have no relation to reality.
Abbas’ denial of the 1917 Balfour Declaration and demand for a British apology, as absurd as it sounds, is nothing more than demagogy, reeking of a much sadder and sinister message of denial both of the historic rights of the Jewish people as well as of the very right of Israel to exist.
Even in his most recent November 2017 statement, commemorating the thirteenth anniversary of the death of his mentor Yasser Arafat, Abbas repeated the old and worn-out canards accusing Israel of being an apartheid state, of ethnic cleansing, and lamenting the impending danger to the “two-state solution.” He insisted on Israel’s accepting the Saudi Arab peace initiative, he demanded Israel’s withdrawal to the non-existent “1967 borders” including from eastern Jerusalem, and he repeated his oft-declared mantra objecting to the presence of any Israeli in the territories.
Abbas and his advisers know that venting these threats, demands, and false accusations, in addition to being unrealistic and obstructive, is incompatible with any purported readiness to return to negotiations on peace with Israel.
The Palestinian leadership knows that the central issues of borders, Jerusalem, statehood, settlements, and others are among the agreed-upon subjects for the negotiations on the permanent status of the territories. The Palestinians themselves agreed to this. They cannot be dictated or prejudged.
Whether there will ultimately be a one-, two-, or three-state solution – or whether there will be an autonomous entity, a federation, confederation, condominium, or co-emporium – is to be determined by agreement on the ultimate status of the territory. It cannot be prejudged by Abbas, and by the same token, not by Barack Obama, John Kerry, the European Union, the United Nations, or anyone else.
Wherever a future, agreed-upon border may be located between Israel and whatever Palestinian entity will be agreed upon, it will certainly not be the 1949 Armistice Demarcation Line (the “1967 lines”), which the Palestinian leadership is attempting, through repetition and indoctrination, to turn into an international boundary. This was rejected by the UN Security Council in its 1967 Resolution 242 in favor of “secure and recognized boundaries.” Negotiations on the border were agreed-to by the Palestinians themselves in the Oslo Accords. But Abbas and his people are still trying to rewrite history and law by dictating and prejudging the outcome of what is intended to be a central issue in a bona fide negotiation.
By the same token, dictating the outcome of the Jerusalem issue before any negotiations on it have taken place is gall, presumptuous, impudent as well as insulting to those leaders who are signatories as witnesses to the Oslo Accords, in which the Palestinians and Israelis agreed that “the issue of Jerusalem” is a final status negotiating issue.
Jerusalem was not included in UN Security Council Resolution 242, and its omission was deliberate, according to U.S. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, one of the resolution’s drafters.
While Israel has frequently suggested that the Saudi peace plan draft could serve as a basis for discussion in negotiations, this does not necessarily mean that the plan is a zero-sum proposal to be imposed by the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states.
Leadership Going in the Wrong Direction
Mahmoud Abbas, who is naively perceived by the West – especially the Europeans, even the United States, and some Israeli politicians and media — as moderate, sincere, and genuinely seeking peace, repeats that he and the Palestinian leadership openly, officially, and formally deny the very premise and basis for Israel’s right to exist. They insist on preconditions to any negotiation that they know are unrealistic and unacceptable.
This is nothing more than a poke in the eye for all those who continue to blindly insist on seeing him as a serious partner for negotiation.
The Palestinian leadership cannot claim internationally, on the one hand, that it is willing to negotiate and live in peace with Israel, while at the same time openly denying the very right of Israel, the other party to any bona fide negotiation, to exist.
They cannot pretend to be open to reestablishing a neighborly relationship with Israel while, at the same time, deliberately discouraging any existing efforts at normalization of relations with Israeli bodies and persons through undermining joint projects and intimidation and threats to both Palestinians and Israelis. Their “denormalization” policy is anathema to any idea of developing good neighborliness between the two peoples for their mutual benefit.
Palestinian attempts to manipulate and turn the International Criminal Court into their own kangaroo tribunal for complaining against Israel and labeling Israeli leaders as war criminals are legally flawed and incompatible with the court’s own founding statute. These attempts are totally incompatible with any genuine desire to get back to the negotiating table with those very same Israeli leaders whom they seek to label as criminals.
Their extensive efforts to abuse one of the most serious and professional UN specialized agencies dealing in education and culture, UNESCO, for one purpose only – to undermine and falsely rewrite history by exorcizing any Jewish connection to the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, Hebron, and Bethlehem – is a further scandalous example of their utter abuse of the international community. This exploitation has irreparably prejudiced any professional credibility that UNESCO may have had. The organization has become irreparably compromised and politicized by the Palestinians.
The UN Human Rights Council, theoretically and ostensibly one of the most serious organs of the UN intended to combat the most grievous human rights violations throughout the world, has been completely compromised, lost any moral stature, and become a body devoted almost exclusively to Israel-bashing.
Cynically joining the international police organization, INTERPOL, with the declared aim of generating arrest warrants against Israelis, is the latest Palestinian ploy to undermine a respected, professional organization for their narrow partisan political purpose, without any compunction as to the professional credibility or reputation of the organization.
The Role of the International Community
The Palestinian manipulation and abuse of the international institutions to further a policy of delegitimization of Israel within the international community is not compatible with any idea of returning to a peace-negotiating mode. By the same token, the tendency of the international community to “coddle” the Palestinians and to submit to their every initiative against Israel, and, out of political correctness, to refrain from criticizing acts of terror and violence against Israel, not only sends the wrong signal to the Palestinians, but is perceived to be an expression of support.
If the international community shares the aim of a return to negotiations, it must refrain from their habitual Israel-bashing resolutions, declarations, and criticism.
The Palestinian-generated international BDS campaign aimed at harming and undermining Israel economically and culturally through boycotts and social propaganda is a further example of the very antithesis of any genuine intention to seek a peaceful mode of co-existence. Its ultimate aim is the delegitimization and isolation of Israel. The initiation and encouragement of boycotts and sanctions, as well as the international concurrence with the BDS campaign, are hostile actions that cannot co-exist with any bona fide negotiation.
If Abbas and the Palestinian leadership genuinely intend to return to a negotiating mode with Israel, they cannot continue to undermine the legitimacy and integrity of Israel and its leaders.
They cannot continuously and systematically alienate the Israeli public through incitement to terror and violence, false accusations, and hostile propaganda in violation of their Oslo Accord commitments. Continued misuse of international funding for payment of salaries to families of suicide bombers and convicted terrorists is tantamount to incentivizing and rewarding terror. It cannot be seen as compatible with bona fide peace negotiations.
They cannot blatantly and openly violate their commitment pursuant to the Oslo Accords to “resolve all outstanding issues relating to the permanent status through negotiations” (Arafat letter to Rabin, September 9, 1993) by attempting to bypass negotiations and to impose a settlement through the United Nations and other organizations.
Thus, the Palestinian leadership needs to show a genuine will to get back together with the Israelis and prove to the Israeli public that there exists a basis for neighborly relations that could be mutually beneficial to both sides.
Such action would restore their international credibility and clout which they have irreparably lost; it would restore the trust of the Israeli public in them and place them in the position of a serious negotiating partner.
Modes of Conduct for Approaching Peace
To restore trust, Palestinian leaders need to commit themselves to certain basic modes of conduct that will smooth the negotiating ambiance and restore some modicum of good faith.
Such modes of conduct must include the following 10 principles:
Restoring good faith and demonstrating genuine willingness to resolve all the negotiating issues must be a sine qua non for any proposal to return to a negotiating mode.
Without this, there would be no inclination among the Israeli general public to support any governmental decision to enter into a renewed negotiation process.
The U.S. officials putting together their “peace deal” should take this issue very seriously if they have any hope of succeeding where others have failed.
Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.