Everyone knows that without a negotiated Israeli- Palestinian peace treaty there will be no peace and no end of conflict. There is no conceivable way to bypass the obvious truth that if the two parties to the conflict do not agree to end it, it will not end.
There is no possibility of an imposed solution to the conflict – not by the Americans and certainly not by the French. It should also be clear that the French are smart and experienced enough to know that even an international conference composed of all of Israel’s friends cannot impose a solution on Israel or on the Palestinians.
The purpose of the French initiative is not to force either Israel or Palestine into an agreement. The French simply understand that it is possible to learn from past failures, including the failed process led by US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013-2014.
The French initiative is based on the idea that just getting the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators into the same room is not enough. I am a very strong advocate of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. I believe that the very best Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were those conducted directly, without a third party in the room.
In Oslo in 1992-1993, Taba in September 1995, Taba in January 2001 and Olmert-Abbas in 2007-2008 – those were the best negotiations. The worst negotiations were those mediated by the US at Camp David in July 2000 and in 2013-2014. The Israelis and Palestinians do best in negotiations when they know they can only rely on themselves. After agreements are reached there are many third parties willing and necessary to assist the process of implementation.
Israel and Palestine have been negotiating the end of this conflict for 25 years. Permanent-status negotiations have been held repeatedly and much progress toward an agreement has been achieved, yet they have never resulted in a successful agreement. The contours of an agreement are very well known to both sides but both sides still have issues that they have not resolved internally that prevent them from signing on the dotted line. What was proposed in previous negotiations will remain the baseline for renewed negotiations, whenever they take place.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that his calls in public for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet and to negotiate without preconditions are genuine and sincere. Netanyahu claims Abbas refuses to negotiate. Abbas claims he has offered many times to meet Netanyahu directly, in secret, to begin real negotiations, believing that neither he nor Netanyahu have the internal political backing to sustain another round of negotiations in the public eye.
Abbas is right – Netanyahu doesn’t have a majority within his own party to negotiate a real agreement with the Palestinians and Abbas doesn’t have enough legitimacy to enter into direct negotiations with Netanyahu.
I delivered offers of direct secret meetings to Netanyahu from Abbas at least three times over the past years. I delivered invitations by Abbas to several senior members of the Likud and other parties, and they were rejected; at least one was vetoed by Netanyahu. It is easy for Netanyahu to call in public for Abbas to meet him, since there is no political cost as he knows nothing will come of it.
The Palestinians believe that when there are Israeli- Palestinian negotiations taking place Israel wins and the Palestinians gain nothing. Israel loves to be in negotiations, since during negotiations international pressure lets up while nothing on the ground changes.
The longer the negotiations take place, the better for Israel – not only is no political price to pay, the coalition can point to its continued attempts to bring peace and security through negotiations. The Palestinians believe that the problem is not negotiating but rather in making decisions. They would be prepared to begin negotiations where the Olmert-Abbas talks ended. The distance between there and agreement is much shorter than where Netanyahu would most likely begin.
The contours of the agreement would be based on a formula similar to the Clinton parameters of December 2000. There will not be any agreement not based on the June 4, 1967 borders with agreed territorial swaps, two capitals in Jerusalem, clear security mechanisms, a non-militarized Palestinian state, an agreed solution to the refugee issue, a non-Judenrein Palestinian state, clear steps toward building a culture of peace and removing incitement, and explicit mutual recognition.
Some of these parameters are difficult for both sides to agree to. All of the parameters are, in the end, in the national security interests of both sides. Israel is recognized on 78 percent of the land between the river and the sea, Jerusalem is recognized as the capital of the State of Israel by the entire world, Arab neighbors with which there are peace agreements will be able to turn those agreements into real peace and other Arab neighbors will be able to establish peace with Israel, Palestine will be recognized as a state by Israel, the US and all of Europe and will gain membership in the United Nations. All of this is what the French initiative is about. And that is why Israel needs to support it.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the 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.