The Mideast peace process is now on the edge of collapse and the parties desperately are looking for a package of measures which would be the basis for extending talks beyond the original deadline at the end of April 2014. Ironically one could note that now talks are ongoing only to find whom to blame about failure of peace process.
The Obama administration’s efforts to impose a peace settlement seems to be a disastrous failure despite whether the negotiations formally break down or a face-saving formula is adopted which is nonbinding and incorporates sufficient reservations to make it meaningless. It seems that U.S. is preparing for a possible reduction of its involvement in the Israel-Palestinian peace process and Obama administration is taking position that Israel and Palestinians need to work through current deadlock themselves. Abed Rabbo (SG of PLO) might hit the nail on the head saying “We can’t return to the empty routine, a search for a framework for talks – this empty routine which is negotiating about negotiating,”.
Is it time issue a death certificate for the peace process or keep the facade?
The apparent breakdown in the American-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is a good time to re-evaluate basic assumptions of the diplomatic process. As reports about possible deal and even changes for deal differ it remains to see if there will be extension of negotiations or not. Even if formal meetings take place the peace deal in my opinion would be extremely unlikely. “The way it’s looking now, the talks as they were several weeks ago are no longer relevant. Last week’s package deal (offered to the Palestinians) is now off the table and Israel is preparing to return to routine dealings with the Palestinians as they were before the negotiations started nine months ago,” one official said. “As far as we’re concerned, the coordination on the ground with the different security forces continues, but the peace process is no longer relevant,” he added. (Source: YnetNews )
However Channel 2 reported that based on a source in Washington Israel and the Palestinians were close to finalizing a deal that would see peace talks extended by nine months. Also the head of the Arab League – Nabil Elaraby – said he was confident that Israel and the Palestinians would resolve the crisis soon and extend peace talks beyond April. (Source: The Times of Israel )
The Palestinians reportedly issued a long list of new preconditions for resuming talks — demands that Israeli officials privately dismissed immediately. These preconditions, according to the Ma’an news agency, included a demand for official Israeli agreement to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital; the release of 1,200 Palestinian prisoners including convicted terrorist chiefs Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat; a building freeze in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; granting Israeli citizenship to 15,000 Palestinians under a family reunification program; the termination of Israel’s security blockade of Gaza; permission to bar the IDF from West Bank Area A (areas under full PA control) for entrance to arrest or kill terror operatives; and increased Palestinian control in Area C (areas under full Israeli control). (Source: The Times of Israel ) However, according to Haaretz, Erekat denied that his team presented such a list, arguing instead the demands had been issued by Fatah officials, rather than the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation), and did not represent the official Palestinian negotiating position.
A potential deal which would extend final status negotiations between the two sides for a further year would include a Palestinian commitment not to make use of international conventions they have already joined and suspend additional applications for membership. In exchange, Israel would go ahead with the suspended release of the fourth group of 26 prisoners serving long sentences for terror offences agreed in July 2013, including Arab-Israelis. Israel would further release hundreds of additional Palestinian prisoners described as “high calibre,” and also agree to a quiet freeze on settlement construction. It is expected that the deal will include the release from prison of Jonathan Pollard, a former US intelligence officer convicted of spying for Israel 30 years ago.
After Israel initially postponed the fourth prisoner release, Abbas retaliated by resuming efforts to win further recognition of a state of Palestine, over Israeli and U.S. objections. Among Palestinians, lead negotiator Saeb Erekat recommended his government unify with militant groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. – to govern the Gaza Strip. Probably the PA would now continue their unilateral steps by applying to numerous other international organizations, including pushing for boycotts of Israel and seeking legal rulings against Israel via international courts in The Hague. Earlier the Palestinian leadership was planning to apply for member in 48 additional international treaties if peace talks with Israel failed. The immediate implications might be: international legitimization of the Palestinian appeal to the UN for recognition, with European backing, and a parallel intensification of the settlement boycott phenomenon – with it leaking across the Green Line – causing harm to the Israeli economy.
American legislators – in senate and Congress and both Republican and Democratic leaders – have expressed disappointment with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas’s latest move – applying for membership in United Nations organizations as the “state of Palestine.” Both said that the U.S. should seriously consider cutting aid – about $400 million annually from the US – to the PA if Abbas continues with the process. The PA’s applications are violating the agreed framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
From Israeli point of view if even three-state solution does not come true so then unilateral solution would be in my opinion the best option. To connect main blocs up to Israel will require a land swap of about 6% and 20-30,000 households will have to be absorbed back into Israel. That is doable as this has been almost accepted in previous talks at Camp David and Annapolis as well in Olmert’s proposal at last final status negotiations 2008. (More in PaliLeaks, land swaps and desperate search of peace )
Recently Mr Yoaz Hendel (chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategies ) offered his solution in his column in the Guardian as follows:
For the international community to remain relevant it must understand the restrictions and the available options. The most realistic practical option in the current circumstances is the drawing of borders along demographic lines. Most Palestinians (98%) in the West Bank live in Areas A and B, under the control of the Palestinian Authority. These areas are spread over 40% of Judea and Samaria. Most Israelis live in 12% of the West Bank in large settlement blocks.
The remaining 48% of the territory has 100,000 Israelis and an equal number of Palestinians. The Palestinians’ territories should be upgraded to the status of demilitarised state with interim borders and continuity based on A and B. The large settlement blocks can be annexed to Israel, and as result of that the disputed territory would be immediately halved.
It is not a permanent solution, but it would be progress. If the money from the various pro-peace organisations were to be invested in the Palestinian education system, encouraging support for democracy, it would be possible to restart negotiations in a generation. If the international community can let go of its attachment to the phrase “an end to the conflict” who knows – maybe we will have a glimmer of a practical peace on the ground, which would improve the chances for a comprehensive peace in the future.
Indeed Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett has urged PM Netanyahu to turn his back on the failed negotiations and annex portions of the West Bank. In a letter to Netanyahu, Bennett requested “to have a session as soon as possible on an alternative plan (Plan B) to begin the process of applying Israeli sovereignty on areas in Judea and Samaria that are under Israeli control.” The economy minister listed some of the blocs he wants to annex, including Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, the settlements of Ofra and Beit El and more. These areas are home to 440,000 Israeli settlers, Bennett argued, and only tens of thousands of Palestinians, and would therefore not cause a demographic crisis and undermine the Jewish majority. Bennett compared the process of absorbing these areas into Israel to the incorporation of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, and the Golan Heights during then-prime minister Menachem Begin’s reign. (Source: Times of Israel )
Annexation the main (settlement) blocs from sc Area C to Israel in my opinion means inheriting the arabs: Israel would be obligated – while excluding mass population transfer as option – to give the Arabs full citizenship which would change the demographic balance. Palestinians could then have full autonomy in areas A and Band most parts of area C. While the situation is not ideal, until the Palestinians agree to full peace with Israel, they could build capacity of their society as well be welcomed as neighbors in the Israeli economic system – participating in Israel’s commercial and creative life.
Negotiating about negotiating or minor points
The whole April so far has been mostly empty talks about wheater to negotiate after April or not. In addition issues outside this formality have in my opinion been only secondary ones. From my point of view the core issues are borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security. The dispute over recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is only secondary one and simply hides that chasm.
Recognizing Israel as ‘Jewish State’ has been from Israeli side a core element in peace deal as from my point of view it is only unnecessary and empty phrase. The Palestinians have already recognized the State of Israel de facto, through Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat and then by PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas. In addition, the Arab peace initiative also officially recognized the State of Israel, as have Jordan and Egypt, which signed peace treaties with it. Moreover, Israel has no need of specific recognition by any country or entity. “‘Jewish state’ was resolved in 1947 in resolution 181, where there are more than 30 mentions of ‘Jewish state’ and this in my opinion should be enough. Even if that kind of formulation would be in agreement so what is the worth of this kind of lip-service without any commitment from PA side.
Speaking about settlements one should note that besides allowing to build new homes in disputed territories Israel also tries to remove some illegal (according Israeli law) constructions and outposts. Last example was on 8th Apr. 2014 when Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers met with violent resistance from extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank as they moved in to destroy four illegally constructed buildings in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. Hundreds of settlers participated, throwing stones, burning tires, blocking roads, and damaging IDF vehicles. An IDF post in the area to protect the settlement was also attacked. The soldiers responded with riot dispersal methods. According to reports six soldiers and four settlers were hurt in the clashes. Yitzhar is a small mainly Orthodox settlement with a population of just 1000, situated just south of the Palestinians city Nablus in the northern West Bank. It is known as one of the most extreme settlements, and its residents have a history of clashes with IDF forces and local Palestinians. (Source: Bicom )
The Mideast peace process with or without Kerry
(Kerry) has come to us determined and is acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and a messianic feeling – (he) cannot teach me a single thing about the conflict … The only thing that can save us is if (he) wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone … The security plan is not worth the paper it is written on.” (Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon)
In wider perspective I have some doubts if the negotiations with PA will have real impact to the Mideast peace process. One should remember that with the exception of Fatah, all PLO factions were against the resumption of the peace talks under Kerry’s terms. These factions include the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Peoples’ Party, in addition to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. With this background the options of President Abbas and PA are quite limited.
One possible scenario could be a partial – temporary – deal; a gradual deal that would require neither dividing east Jerusalem nor an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, despite fears that any partial agreement will end up constituting a permanent arrangement the partial deal not necessry solve any core problems.
Failure with the Mideast peace process might be the last nail to Kerry’s Nobel Peace Prize coffin. “He doesn’t understand the situation on the ground,” Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said, adding that Kerry’s motives were illegitimate, “messianic” and “obsessive.” Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl echoed Yaalon’s sentiments, saying that the secretary was “delusional” and “detached from reality.” At the same time, the Palestinians view Kerry as someone incapable of pressuring Israel and getting results, deeming him irrelevant.
From my point of view FM Kerry’s commitment to the success of the diplomatic process and the time he has invested in solving the Mideast problem, regardless of the other unresolved conflicts (Ukraine, Syria, Iran…) in the world, should to be appreciated. Regrettably, the U.S. intervention has only exacerbated the situation and even undermined the chances of low-profile interim progress and economic cooperation. One way to continue the Mideast peace process could be to dig the archives and pull out two or three documents bearing the signatures of various Israeli prime ministers, including the present one, dust them off and implement them. Fulfilling the existing agreements could completely change the skeptical and even gloomy mood hanging over the diplomatic negotiations. The United States, which was an active partner in formulating these documents and which provided them with its imprimatur, cannot absolve itself from them. (More e.g in Al-Monitor )
The peace settlements between Israel and Egypt and Jordan were achieved because both parties sought to come to an accommodation. The U.S. did not then seek to impose solutions. It only became involved as a facilitator and honest broker after both parties had taken the initial steps and invited them.
Three State Solution(s)
One interesting approach for replacing two-state solution is a new kind of three-state solution proposed by Georgetown University lecturer Ori Z Soltes few years ago. In his article A Modest Proposal: The Three-State Solution he uses the experience of India and Pakistan. Having primarily Muslim Pakistan divided into two parts by primarily Hindu India proved disastrous for decades, until finally the two Muslim states were disconnected from each other, leaving one as Pakistan and the other as Bangladesh. Why not do the same with non-Israeli Palestine?
According Mr Soltes, this proposal would eliminate the main logistical complication pertaining to the communication between the two parts of the Palestinian state. The notion of creating a land corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, with a free flow of people and commerce between the two, seems ill-conceived as an on-the-ground practicality. It effectively cuts Israel in half: how do Israelis then flow from north to south of the corridor? There have been other proposals, for extensive connecting tunnels or bridges, but these, too, are a logistical challenge. Moreover, two separate states for Palestinians would accord more realistically with a key current political reality: Hamas controls Gaza and the Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank. Creating two separate states would allow each to develop according to its own plans.
The three-state solution would make it possible for Israel to focus toward normalized relations with the West Bank, PA-led Palestinians; and on defense measures with regard to the Gazans. The possibility of Hamas being voted out by the Gazan Palestinians themselves would increase. But the potential isolation might also increase the incentive for Hamas to accept peaceful co-existence with Israel.
The idea of Mr Soltes is different than that three-state approach, which I have propagated a half decade. There Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty. From my point of view this solution is both pragmatic and doable and now more actual than ever as two-state solution is more and more utopia and road map towards it has been death for years. (More in A Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation Is On The Move and The Three-State Option could solve Gaza Conflict )
The three-state solution essentially replicates the situation that existed between the 1949 Armistice Agreements and the 1967 Six-Day War. Beginning in 1949, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip, Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and no Palestinian Arab state existed. In 1950, Jordan officially annexed the West Bank and granted the Arab residents Jordanian citizenship.
A monthly peace index, last published in March by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, found 69 percent of Israelis “somewhat don’t believe” or “don’t believe at all” that the negotiations will lead to peace. A poll conducted last month in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research showed that about three-quarters of those surveyed believed chances for establishing a Palestinian state in the next five years are “slim or non-existent.” (Source: The Jerusalem Post )
An face-saving win-win deal now could be following: The Palestinian Authority terminates their U.N. bid, Israel withdraw their plans for economic retaliation, the Palestinian prisoners who were going to be released are released, the U.S. releases convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, and possibly the Israelis make some muted statement about restraint on construction in disputed territories in the future. Each side would be able to state that had it not been for their tough actions, a deal would have been impossible.
The crisis in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians has shaken up the Israeli political scene. The stability of the governing coalition has once again come into question, with Yisrael Beytenu’s leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, saying that he would prefer new elections over the release of more terrorists, and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) calling for the formation of a new government comprised of the Left and haredi parties without holding new elections.
Publicly all sides want the peace talks to continue, but also know that they will not lead to anything. Negotiations and attaining a peace agreement that will, in the short-term, prevent regional violence and isolation of Israel, and in the long-term avoid a binational state with a Palestinian majority, are essential interests of the State of Israel. It is therefore believed that, just like in previous rounds of gestures to the Palestinians, Netanyahu will manage to reach a series of silent understandings with them and attempt to win their approval for a quiet freeze in settlement construction, rather than engage in a demonstrative release of terrorists. Such a scenario would grant Netanyahu another half a year of quiet and enable him to maintain the diplomatic status quo. In the end, however, even this six-month grace period will end, and Netanyahu will no longer be able to avoid anymore making political decisions and then the outcome might be that Netanyahu will be forced to make the necessary changes to his coalition.
In my opinion the situation now is leading Israel toward a de facto binational future toward one-state solution and this might be the worst option for both sides. If negotiations now fail so I think that unilateral moves might not be so bad idea. If three-state option can not replace the buried two-state solution so then the way forward for Israel seems to be annex the main settlements to Israel, finalize the security fence and wait if and when the Palestinian side and international facilitator want negotiate about some details based on this reality on the ground.
An excellent background information in concerning the guidelines on European funding of Israeli entities in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”:
ECI Open Letter to Ashton April 2014