CAIRO: Creating a political climate conducive to the advancement of the peace process is an important but daunting task, particularly as the international consensus for establishing a Palestinian state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders is being challenged by aggressive Israeli expansionist policies, as well as ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem.
In fact, we do not actually have a peace process which would imply an agreement on common parameters, with a sustained negotiating process attempting to resolve the differences and developing mutually agreeable solutions. The policies of the present Israeli government are in contravention to the whole concept of “land for peace”, which is the cornerstone of Security Council Resolution 242, the 1991 Madrid Arab-Israeli Peace Conference, as well as all the Arab-Israeli agreements that have been signed. Furthermore, these policies also contradict the international community’s standing position on two capitals in Jerusalem as well as the basis for resolving the Palestinian refugee problem. And testimony to Israel’s blatant disregard for international law and humanitarian norms is its criminal act of piracy on the high seas against the humanitarian civil society led relief efforts for Gaza just this week.
In this generally negative environment, we have regressed even in terms of form to practices reminiscent of the 1949 Rhodes Armistice Agreement with indirect talks now between the Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinian divisions, needless to say, hurt Palestinian negotiating posture. However, the Palestinian Authority, which is mandated to negotiate with the Israeli government, remains committed to a two-state solution and peace with Israel based on the pre-1967 war border.
Ironically, if the “political climate” were to be judged by the positions of the majority of the stakeholders and the situation on the ground, we are not really that bad off. The Palestinian Authority, members of the Arab League (as expressed in the Beirut Summit Peace Initiative), the International Quartet (including the United States, which is the strongest supporter of Israel), and according to opinion polls the majority of Palestinians and Israelis are all committed to a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 war borders. Hamas and other organizations on the margin of the Palestinian and the Israeli body politic remain opposed, but they are essentially outliers to the process anyway. It is also noteworthy that Khaled Meshal just told American television Journalist Charlie Rose that if Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders, “Palestinian resistance” would end. Therefore, in fact, the Israeli government is the only mandated negotiating stakeholder that has not abided by the basis for negotiations.
The general political environment or “climate” — if judged by the level of violence against Israelis (a false biased concept to start with) — is also not really that bad. Last year witnessed fewer acts of violence against Israelis than any previous year, including cross border rocket attacks. This year has also seen an efficient reestablishment of Palestinian authority organizational structure and security apparatus under the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad—commendable achievements that have been acknowledged worldwide. Therefore, irrespective of Palestinian divisions, the environment created by facts on the ground is actually quite conducive to engaging in the peace process, at least from the Israeli perspective which has over the years repeatedly emphasized that it cannot negotiate under the threat of violence. Regrettably, however the level of violence has increased against Palestine.
The challenge before the international community is grave and greater than some perceive. We are on the verge of destroying the very foundations that have governed the peace process since 1968. It is paramount that we openly face these challenges in order to prevent further regression, and get the parties involved to exercise the political will necessary to move forward.
Personally, I am extremely skeptical about the prospects for success of the recently initiated indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israelis. The policies and practices of the present Israeli government simply leave no reason for success. However, irrespective of my personal skepticism, given that the Palestinians and Israelis have agreed — at least for the time being — to engage in these indirect talks one must do the utmost to help, even though this requires much wishful thinking and Middle East miracles.
For anyone who has followed Arab-Israeli negotiations in the past, it is self-evident that while most initiatives are inspired by events in the region they never come to closure without third party assistance, particularly but not exclusively, from the United States. The Egyptian-Israeli agreement, the Oslo Process and the Jordan-Israeli Agreement are all cases in point. Arabs and Israelis are unable to conclude agreements without the presence of a third party. This is ever so true now with the issues between the Palestinians and Israelis being ideological, existential, interlinked, emotional and passionate, issues that relate to permanent settlement (Jerusalem Borders, Refugees and Security).
At the very least steps should be taken by the international community to assert and reaffirm the basis for the negotiations. This will serve to facilitate the process as well as safeguard against the erosion of the tenets for peace if it were to fail. A reiteration at this juncture of the basis for negotiation by the International Quartet (US, Russia, EU, and UN), the Arab League, the Non-Aligned movement, the Islamic conference movement, etc., should include that:
(1) The two-state solution will be based on the pre-1967 borders, as well as whatever mutually agreed upon swaps of lands which do not significantly change these pre-1967 borders; (2) Security arrangements between Palestinians and Israelis should safeguard both parties against attack or the threat of attack by either side, as well as surprise attacks from third parties. Security can neither be ignored nor become a justification for continued occupation; (3) The city of Jerusalem should encompass the capitals of Palestine and Israel — each with sovereign rights. Nevertheless, special cooperative arrangements must be developed with regards to religious sites and necessary municipal services; (4) The achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem is to be “agreed upon” in accordance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
Needless, much of this is redundant. However, given regressions over the years —including the assurances given by President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Sharon and recent statements by the Israeli government and outliers on both sides — I believe a reaffirmation in public messages sent to the two negotiating parties by their different stake holders would be useful.
International community and UN
As the four month deadline set by the the Palestinians comes to a close, the two parties Palestinians and Israelis should be requested to submit a status report to the Security Council or the General Assembly. If they see justification for continuing the negotiations they should continue while reaffirming their commitment to a two-state solution according to pre-1967 borders without necessarily going into detailed negotiating positions. The objective of this process is not to ask for a mandate for negotiations, but rather to keep the parties and the international community reaffirming the two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders, and to widen international recognition and consensus for establishing a Palestinian state on that basis. Furthermore this would reaffirm that consequently the international community should feel duty-bound not to recognize any measures by Israel across its pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem.
On the other hand, if the report submitted by both or either negotiating party indicates that the indirect negotiations have failed, we will obviously have reached a very serious and dangerous impasse, one that not only reflects the failure of the peace process but threatens the whole basis for Arab-Israeli peace. The international community should be seized by this matter. In those circumstances I believe that:
(1)??The Security Council should adopt a resolution reaffirming the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state on the basis of the pre-1967 war borders, including East Jerusalem; (2) This can be coupled with a call upon the Palestinian and Israeli authorities to negotiate a peace agreement between the two states; (3) Furthermore, the Security Council and/or the General Assembly should also recommend that states adopt national legislation recognizing the Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders; (4) an endorsement thereafter from the United Nations General Assembly would be useful; (5) The status of the Palestinian representation at the United Nations and its different organizations should be further enhanced formally.
In parallel to these political policy efforts it is imperative that the international community and the United Nations provide utmost material support for the state-building efforts being pursued by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and that they call upon Israel to facilitate the exercise of the authority of the Palestinian institutions. However, institution-building cannot replace negotiations nor is it sustainable in the absence of a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, because ultimately, these institutions cannot reach their full potential under Israeli occupation, nor should the Palestinian institutions be perceived as the implementers and enforcers of Israeli dictate.
I am not a believer that civil society can deliver what governments cannot. And frankly I often sense that we burden civil society with political failures of governments rather than benefiting from where their strengths are. I would suggest therefore that civil society, be that in the occupied territories, in the Middle East or internationally, focus on the following:
(1) Highlighting the legal basis for the two-state resolution and the meaning of resolution 242 of the Security Council; (2) Providing a more detailed picture, of how far Palestinian Israeli negotiations had actually reached in the past. In this respect unofficial compilations and studies of the Taba negotiations and the AbuMazen Olmert negotiations with wide spread distribution could be highly beneficial in indicating to the public on both sides how close negotiations were, even if they were not conclusive and irrespective that there may be some imprecision or error in these compilations; (3) Highlighting and explaining the 2002 Arab Peace initiatives, because greater clarity on these points will indicate that peace is actually possible and that it would result not only in conflict resolution but in regional peace between Israel and the Arab world as a whole; (4) Shedding light on the suffering of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and in Gaza generally.
The road to a Palestinian Israeli peace will be arduous and the probability for success diminishes by the day as the tenants for peace are eroded and further obstacles are created on the ground. It is time now to confront the “real” challenges head on or risk witnessing the end of any real prospects for peace based on a two state solution, Palestine and Israel.
Nabil Fahmy, is the former ambassador of Egypt to the United States. He is the Dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy (GAPP) at the American University in Cairo.