We all have bad memories from the previous agreements signed by the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Six agreements were signed in total (Declaration of Principles, Paris Protocol, Agreement on Gaza and Jericho, Interim Agreement, Wye River Memorandum and the Sharm e-Sheikh Agreement) and all of them were breached. Breaches were substantive and committed by both sides.
Beyond many of the weaknesses of the agreements themselves, the lack of effective mechanisms for monitoring and verifying obligations and the absence of workable conflict resolution mechanisms ensured failure of the peace process once goodwill and basic trust were no longer present.
The Declaration of Principles (1993) which formally started the peace process between Israel and the PLO was based on a lot of naïve goodwill and hope. The basic premise or rationale was that we would delay confronting the core issues in conflict until trust had developed between the parties. So negotiating borders, Jerusalem and refugees was postponed for an agreed period of up to five years while subsequent agreements were supposed to create the machinery for working together and building trust. I counted 26 joint Israeli-Palestinian bodies created by the agreements covering virtually every aspect of life and interaction between Israelis and Palestinians.
These interim agreements never stated explicitly the “endgame” of two states for two peoples. Likewise, the agreements never stated explicitly that Israel could not continue to build settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Both of these issues were taken as assumptions that were held by people on both sides without ever agreeing on them.
Palestinians understood that the Oslo peace process meant that they had accepted a Palestinian state on 22 percent of the land between the River and the Sea. They believed that Israel understood that it had agreed to a Palestinian state on that small part of the land when Yasser Arafat gave a letter to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that said, “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security... The PLO considers that the signing of the Declaration of Principles constitutes a historic event, inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability. Accordingly, the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.” The Palestinians never imagined that they would have to negotiate their state from the 22% that they thought was theirs.
Israel never imagined that it would have to face the kind of violence and terrorism that emerged from the Palestinian territories after it signed the Oslo agreements.
It never imagined that Palestinian forces, created to fight terrorism, would use those weapons against Israel.
A large part of de-risking the process in the future will have to be the inclusion of clear, explicit and defined mechanisms for monitoring and verifying the implementation of all agreements. The lack of trust between the parties means that an acceptable third-party monitoring and verification mechanism will have to be agreed upon. The implementation of the process will have to be divided into clear, definable stages linked to risks that the parties will take upon themselves. Moving from benchmark to benchmark will be based on clear verification of the implementation of treaty obligations.
All agreements will have to be a lot more explicit than before. The agreements will have to be based on lack of trust. Negotiating without trust is a lot more difficult, but the agreements negotiated are likely to be better for both sides and not based on naïve wishes but on measurable results.
Furthermore, it would be most beneficial for the end result if both sides were to consider what they could do to ensure that the other side has a lot to gain by the agreement, and not only to focus on their own “wins.”
Negotiating from the perspective of beating the other side or scoring more points is ultimately counter-productive.
Therefore, focusing on solutions to issues in conflict can be a lot more rewarding than winning the argument and fulfilling one side’s positions to the highest degree. Neither side can, in the end, give up on their primary interests and needs, but many compromises are possible on almost all of the issues that will produce a better result for both sides after the agreements are implemented.
The ultimate end goal in a negotiation in conflict situations is to change the relationships between the warring parties, not to continue the conflict by other, less violent means. Both sides must win and that can only be done by setting the negotiations as a framework for both sides to work on solving the issues in conflict between them together.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, 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 as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.