There will never be peace unless Israel allows the Palestinian people to be a free people in their own land. The Palestinians will never give up their right for a territorial expression of their identity and they will continue to resist Israeli control over their lives and land until they achieve statehood. Israel and the Palestinians can either accept this and make the best of it, or continue to struggle against each other and continue to make our lives difficult and even intolerable.
Allowing for the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel does have its risks, and experiences from the failed peace process of the past 20 years do not provide encouragement to continue to try. But it is possible to learn the lessons of past mistakes and not to repeat them. It is also possible to take into account the current instability and dangerous trends that we face in the Middle East and through Israeli-Palestinian cooperation to mitigate the risks and increase the chances of success. The emergence of the Islamic State (IS) and other fanatic Islamic groups in the region create common cause between Israel and its moderate Sunni Arab neighbors – first and foremost among them the PLO led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The first step toward security and peace in the region is the creation of a regional security and stability pact of concentric circles, with the inner circle containing Israel and the PLO, beyond that Jordan and Egypt, further surrounded by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain and beyond that reinforced by the EU and the US. The inner circle must be built on the foundation of Israeli agreement to withdraw from the West Bank, in a negotiated agreement with the PLO for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Based on lessons learned from the past the implementation of any Israeli withdrawal must be based on clearly-set performance benchmarks predicated on adhering to treaty obligations, monitored and verified by trusted third parties.
In addition to this, security arrangements between Israel and Palestine must be fortified through security cooperation between the two parties and not through the importation of foreign troops, be they US, NATO or UN.
The most fundamental foundation of any Israeli-Palestinian treaty must be ensuring security. No one has more interest in guaranteeing the security of the peace than the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. No third party will provide better security than the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Israel cannot trust the Palestinians to ensure Israel’s security and the Palestinians cannot trust Israel to ensure the security of Palestine. This can only be done through security cooperation based on parity and mutuality in mechanisms that ensure full cooperation and not the subordination of one side to the other. There are ways that this can be done that will enable a long-term Israeli security presence inside of Palestine with Palestinian agreement: if the mechanism that functions within the sovereign territory of Palestine is under Palestinian command.
Additional rings of security cooperation and joint forces on the borders of Israel and Palestine, including the West Bank and Gaza, can be provided with the cooperation of Jordan on one side and with Egypt on the other. This is an essential element of the agreement which is possible now because of the convergence of interests between Israel and its neighbors against forces that are working to destroy and conquer throughout the region.
As time passes and the parties successfully implement their obligations and the joint security mechanisms work, it will be possible for the borders between Israel and Palestine to become more permeable, allowing for the freer movement of people and goods, which will also strengthen the peace. This, in fact should be the goal of peacemaking whereby Israelis and Palestinians will not only enjoy freedom of access and movement, they will actually feel secure in doing so.
Jerusalem will be the capitals of Israel and Palestine which will enable the city to remain physically united – an open city. Jerusalem will require a joint security force as well a truly joint command whereby each side will have primary responsibilities in their own side of the city and joint responsibilities in designated areas in border zones, in the Old City, at holy sites, and regarding specific tasks of counter-terrorism and intelligence.
Developing these mechanisms and making them work will take a lot of work and commitment. The dangers of failure for both sides are too high to risk but there is no other way to guarantee maximum security in a very insecure area threatened by forces of evil that see neither the State of Israel or the Palestinian national movement as welcome entities in the region.
The continued denial of the Palestinians’ rights for freedom and independence will draw those radical extreme and violent ideas and movements into Palestine and Jordan and the dangers for Israel will be much higher than those associated in working with the Palestinians in partnership to mitigate the risks of making real peace and territorial withdrawals.
Difficult choices have to be made, rather quickly. The choice for peace must be undertaken with the full readiness to not only pay the price of peace but even more importantly with the commitment to make it work through the development of regional partnerships and stability and security based on genuine cooperation.
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 new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.