Israel is an amazing country and we have a lot to be proud of. Amazing achievements have been made against great odds and in a relatively short period of time. One of the amazing things about Israel is how passionate so many people are about it. It is almost impossible to be passive or apathetic about what is happening in the country or what the country is doing. This place is always buzzing with energy, invention and creativity.
Nonetheless, I am deeply worried about our future.
More than any other time since I have been living here – 37 years – I am worried about the decisions Israel will make faced the events around the region and within the country. Israel is facing many new realities and challenges with regard to which decisions must be made – and rather quickly. These are life-and-death decisions that cannot be escaped; not deciding is also a decision.
The decisions Israel makes in the coming months regarding the future of our relationship with the Palestinian people will determine the country’s future for years to come. Will those decisions prevent the next war, the next round of violence, or will they cause it? There is no status quo – change is happening all the time. The decision to keep the territories conquered in 1967 under permanent Israeli rule and to continue to build more settlements on them, sending more Israeli citizens to those areas, will mean the end of Israel as the democratic nation state of the Jewish people.
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There is simply no way Israel can be both democratic and the nation state of the Jewish people if Israel continues to deny the Palestinians their right to self-determination. It is so black and white that it amazes me how many people of blind to this reality.
Let’s be clear: the decision to negotiate a fair deal with the Palestinians is in no way risk-free. But the risks to the State of Israel if it does not do that are far higher. When I talk about negotiating peace with the Palestinians, it is certainly not some naïve, Pollyannaish fantasy. There are few people in this country with more experience in negotiating and talking with the Palestinians than me. The failures of more than 22 years of attempts to make peace should teach us many lessons, but one of those lessons is not to give up hope and stop trying. What we should learn is how to do it better.
First of all, the negotiations and any real peace process must be based on the principle that there is no trust between the parties – and there is no logical reason why there should be. After signing six agreements and breaching all of them (both sides!) there is no reason why anyone should even be talking about trust. The lack of trust must be the basis for negotiating a new agreement. That means that any future agreement must have built-in “failsafe” mechanisms to ensure maximum implementation of treaty obligations by both sides. That will require what I call an “implementation assistance mechanism” led by trusted third parties – most likely the United States.
This mechanism will include a monitoring and verification team that will be on the ground and ensure that the parties are doing what they promised to do. It will also include a real-time dispute resolution mechanism to deal with conflicts as they arise – which they will.
Any future agreement must be based on the principle of performance and not just timetables. The implementation of agreements must be benchmarked with clear, identifiable achievements that will be monitored and verified by the implementation assistance team. Successful performance will be required before Israel withdraws from additional territories and takes on additional risks. The management of risks must be correlated to the progress on the ground.
The Palestinians have consistently agreed in previous negotiations that the Palestinian state would be non-militarized. The Palestinians will not have an air force, artillery and tanks. The weapons used by their security forces will be agreed on and monitored. Continued IDF presence on the ground in the state of Palestine after Israeli withdrawal must be based on a joint Israeli-Palestinian security agreement under which there would be joint command and control – both at specific locations, such as along the Jordan Valley, and for dealing with security crises.
I have always been opposed to the idea of third-party forces protecting the peace. If Israel and Palestine do not protect the peace together there will be no peace. No Palestinian leader will allow Israeli forces to remain in a Palestinian state, because that is the most significant manifestation of the occupation, unless it is done in agreement within the framework of a joint force. Furthermore a joint Israeli-Palestinian force along the Jordan could be treated as a trilateral Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli force. Operational directives would be developed which would most likely be based on senior command positions being held by the sovereign power in the territory where they are being implemented. There are many ways of balancing legitimate Palestinian demands for sovereignty with legitimate Israeli demands for security.
Gaza must be dealt with in the framework of a peace agreement which states that it will not be implemented in Gaza until the regime which controls that small, crowded territory agrees to the terms of the treaty – including non-militarization. It would then be possible for the Palestinian state, with Israel’s agreement, to request the assistance of the Arab League to deal with the disarming of Gaza. I believe very strongly that the overwhelming majority of people in Gaza would agree to demilitarization in exchange for living in peace as part of the free independent state of Palestine.
For all of those who say this is great, but we have no partner, I respond that partnerships are created, fostered and developed. There is always a chance of creating partnerships. As I stated above there is no trust – on either side. The only way to begin to create new trust is to make agreements and to implement them. The lack of trust exists because of breaches of agreements.
The only way to reverse that is by implementing what is agreed upon. The best way to do this is to work on developing the Israeli-Palestinian relationship at the highest levels of leadership.
If we had a leader in Israel who was willing to do that, I know for a fact that he would be well received on the other side, where there is great willingness to work quickly, in cooperation, to find a way out of the disasters that will befall both peoples if we don’t do just that.
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 new 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.