What we need in this region now is a dose of some non-conventional diplomacy. The kind of diplomacy I’m talking about takes place behind closed doors and not in the media. The rules of this kind of diplomacy are basically that there are no rules.
The players in this kind of non-conventional diplomacy have to be strong enough, intelligent enough, and able to see the geo-political negative consequences of not acting in this way. These leaders need to perceive that the current threats to their regimes, countries, and people are serious enough to provide the push necessary to try something entirely new. The leaders I am talking about include Egyptian President Abed Fatah al-Sisi, Jordanian King Abdallah II, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The unconventional diplomacy centers around the role of President Sisi of Egypt who has already demonstrated unusual utilization of his own personal authority and Egypt’s importance and is once again taking up the issue of Palestinian reconciliation. Egypt is the only country and Sisi is the only leader who have any real leverage over the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
Abbas, on the other hand is facing the final period of his leadership. He is not healthy and the Palestinian Authority is in its weakest position since President Arafat was under siege in the Ramallah Muqat’a headquarters during the height of the Second Intifada.
Hamas is financially and politically bankrupt and incapable of governing Gaza. The Hamas leadership appears to be bogged down in its own internal crisis of decision-making – lacking direction and strategy for the immediate future. Egypt has been the main player pushing for Palestinian reconciliation, which largely means putting the Palestinian Authority back into power in Gaza. But reconciliation has failed over the refusal of Hamas to surrender its arms or to place its security forces under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Egypt will probably not be able to get Hamas to surrender its arms, but it can create some kind of mechanism, supported by other Arab states to limit the possibilities of Hamas using those arms. This is essential to move the reconciliation process forward which is becoming urgent for not only the future of Gaza but for also enabling Presidential and Parliamentary elections to take place in Palestine after Abbas’s exit from the Presidency.
The situation in Gaza has to change. Israel has to allow significant economic and infrastructure development to occur in Gaza which the international community is prepared to pay for. Israel has made it clear to Hamas, Abbas and to Sisi that Hamas must return the bodies of Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and the believed to be alive Israeli civilians Avera Mengisto and Hisham al-Sayed.
Hamas is demanding that Israel release those Palestinian prisoners who were released in the Gilad Schalit deal in 2011 and rearrested in 2014. Israel must release all of those who did not return to terrorism. There are about 40 such prisoners. In addition, Israel will be required to release other Palestinian prisoners in a deal which seems to be the only way to bring the bodies and the civilians home.
Indirect negotiations on this issue have been taking place for more than 3 years and no progress can be reported.
Hamas wants a deal. Israel wants a deal. The price has not be agreed to. It will end up being less than Hamas is demanding, and more than Israel is offering. I believe that a deal can be made and it should be made quickly.
The PA must be a partner to the developments in Gaza, which means that Abbas must remove the sanctions of the PA on Gaza.
Israel has demanded that the PA be returned to power in Gaza, while at the same time refuses to see the PA as a partner for peace. Okay – peace is not on the agenda right now, but reaching agreements and implementable arrangements for preventing the next war and increasing the security for Israelis, Palestinian, Egyptians and Jordanians must be on the agenda.
It seems that Sisi and Egypt have the key role to play here, but nothing is possible without the willingness for all of the parties to get inside the room. Perhaps it is not possible to put them all together in the same room at the same time, but they all need to be part and parcel of the understandings that are required to increase security and to prevent uprisings and wars.
All of the parties have a lot more to gain than what they can achieve by not being part of a deal. Immediate improvements in Gaza have to be on the table. That also means stopping attacks from Gaza and the continuous waves of kites and balloons setting fire to the Western Negev. Keeping the status quo in Jerusalem holy sites – al-Aqsa-Temple Mount compound – without provocations from Jews or violence from Palestinians.
Additional right-wing legislation in the Knesset against that PA and the Palestinian economy should be delayed in favor of the unconventional diplomacy that could advance other solutions regarding the PA support of the families of terrorists.
Getting inside the room, leveraging Egypt’s power and authority as a central power in the immediate region’s geopolitics with the assistance of Jordan, with financial and political support added to the mix from the Arab Gulf States – including Israel, the PA and Hamas behind decision making and agreement on arrangements can help to put the future of Gaza on a better course, lay down a more secure possibility for post Abbas transition and prevent the next war.
The complexity of these issues and the necessary interactions and agreements between the various players require for them to be dealt with within the immediate region by the main actors in a way that enables cooperation and fosters security and stability.
The author is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press.