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The way forward
By Gershon Baskin
Jerusalem Post, June 21, 2010
The proximity talks must include serious discussions on the core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees.
Under the public radar and due to extreme amounts of skepticism, George Mitchell’s mediation efforts continue without public debate or concern. The silence is because almost no one believes they will be constructive, and the media blackout imposed by Mitchell.
Four rounds of talks have taken place. The parameters have been set, the process has begun, and now it is time to get serious.
The proximity talks can produce agreements; this is how I think they should proceed:
• Intensive negotiations: Talks conducted twice a month are not going to produce an agreement. The best model for proximity talks is Camp David I between Egypt and Israel. Convening intensive talks, even if not face-to-face, in an isolated location for at least five days at a time is the way to move. The initial talks will not involve the principals – Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas – but the lead negotiators and technical assistants. The process must now move into an intensive phase.
• The parameters: The goal of the proximity talks is to advance a permanent-status agreement which will put an end to the conflict. The core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees – are all on the table. Israel’s preference is to deal with security prior to setting borders; the Palestinians’ preference is to first deal with borders.
It is essential to deal with borders so that we can put the issue of settlements to rest. Once a border is agreed to, Israel can continue to build in all the settlements that will be incorporated into it.
All of the core issues are linked and cannot be dealt with apart from each other. Palestinian leaders have said they will accept any reasonable Israeli demands regarding security. Their two main reservations are predictability – security arrangements cannot be left to the discretion of the sergeant at the checkpoint – and no Israeli military presence within the Palestinian state.
A SENIOR White House official made an unreported 24- hour visit to Jerusalem two weeks ago to explore with Netanyahu his constraints on moving forward. The main issue raised by Netanyahu was his demand that the eastern border of the Palestinian state be sealed hermetically from smuggling of weapons, ammunition and terrorists so that the West Bank would not turn into the Gaza Strip – a front line of Islamic terrorism against Israel. Netanyahu’s view is that only the IDF can ensure this but it is unacceptable to the Palestinians.
The paradigm of any security agreements must be that each side is responsible for its own security. In Oslo the paradigm was that the Palestinian Authority forces would prevent attacks against Israel, while Israel withdrew from territories that would come under PA control.
From the Palestinian point of view, Israel failed to withdraw from all the territories which they understood would be the basis for their state, and instead settlement building accelerated. In their eyes, the PA security apparatus became collaborators with the ongoing occupation, which explains the vigor with which those forces joined the second intifada.
From Israel’s point of view, the PA failed in its security mission by design and by ideology, and in response it withheld further redeployments. However you look at it, what happened must be avoided when reaching new agreements.
Palestinians must be held responsible for the security of their external borders. A multinational force led by the US must be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the security responsibilities of the parties. This force must also have the mandate and capacity to “do the job” if the parties fail to implement those obligations. A reasonable proposal, at least for the first few years, would be to integrate unarmed Israeli observers in specific positions along the eastern border of Palestine, under US command.
While dealing with security arrangements the discussion of borders must be advanced. Abbas has indicated to President Barack Obama that the Palestinians would be willing to consider enlarging the size of the territories Israel would annex to place the main settlement blocks under its sovereignty under the condition of territorial swaps on a 1:1 basis. So far Israel has agreed to the principle but not to the 1:1 formula. I have suggested to the Mitchell team that the talks delineating the border begin by Israel presenting a map of the “swap territories.”
[The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org), and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.]
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