RSS Feeds
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil,    but because of the people who don't do anything about it    
Occupation magazine - Commentary

Home page  back Print  Send To friend

The Prospects for Success
by Andrew Winnick
United Nations Association
September 21, 2010

The Prospects for Success in the Palestinian - Israeli - U.S. Peace Talks
Presented to the United Nations Association by Andrew Winnick
President, The American Institute for Progressive Democracy
Professor of Economics and Statistics
California State University, Los Angles

The irony of these peace talks is that we already knew, before the talks began, almost all the terms of what such a Two-State Solution Agreement would be. There have been so many prior talks and offers and counter-offers, official and behind the scenes, that despite the distracting rhetoric, both sides already know what most of the terms must be. Sure, there are some important issues still to be addressed within those terms. Nevertheless, the only essential question is: Are the two sides now, finally, really willing and able to agree to what are the already negotiated terms. I will address this matter, which is the central point of this talk, in just few minutes – but first, let’s review what the core terms of the agreement have to be. There are nine essential elements.

1. The Western Border of Palestine – The basic principle is to start with the Pre-1967 War Green Line border, and then enter into a series of swaps – deed some Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Israel in exchange for an equivalent amount of Israeli land ceded to Palestine. With one key exception, both sides already know which settlements (most sited on top of valuable aquifer) will be ceded to Israel and which un-populated desert land in the Negev will be ceded to Palestine. The area still to be agreed upon is the eastern border of the settlement called Ariel in the north, which almost cleaves the Occupied Territories north of Jerusalem in two. Part of Ariel will clearly go to Israel, but how much? That is the question. The land going to Palestine would expand Gaza, but would not be allowed to be formally a part of Gaza, until and unless Hamas accepts the terms of the agreement and there is some unity structure between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

2. The Eastern Jordan River Valley Border – This is the valley from the Dead Sea in the south to the Sea of Galilee in the north. Here the issue is how, on one hand, to guarantee Israeli security with regard to the movement of arms (and armies?) from Jordan into Palestine. – And on the other hand, how to give Palestine unfettered access to import and export goods to Jordan. Israel has a series of military outposts and militarized settlement all along the border with Jordan that it wants to keep. The tentative agreement worked out is for the U.S., and perhaps the E.U. and U.N., to establish patrols and checkpoints along that border that would be jointly operated with Israeli and Palestinian personnel. The idea is that Palestine would nominally own that land, but Israel would retain access to patrol the border, although only within the context of joint operations with U.S. and some E.U. and U.N. personnel.
3. The Jerusalem Question – There are four Jerusalems: the Old Walled City, Municipal Jerusalem, Greater Jerusalem, and Metropolitan Jerusalem – and therein lies the ambiguity that might lead to an agreement. There are maps clearly laying out each of those borders. The previous Israeli Prime Minister, Olmert, already offered that the area of East Jerusalem that is part of Municipal Jerusalem, would have a special jointly administered status and that Palestinians would have guaranteed access to the Palestinian portions of the Walled City and to the Temple Mount,. He also hinted that Israel would have to cede most of the settlements east of East Jerusalem, in particular parts of Ma’aleh Adumim, back to Palestinian control. No one seriously thinks Netanyahu will agree to that. Nevertheless, it is these settlements east of Jerusalem, not East Jerusalem itself, that are likely to be the tougher element to get agreement on.
4. The Water Access Issue – Both sides have virtually agreed that there is a need for some sort of jointly operated Water Authority with some yet to be agreed upon allocation of this vital resource. The allocation plan is obviously the key point since the Israeli settlements on the West Bank sit on top of about 80% of the aquifer. This Joint Authority is also envisioned as ideally including Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as part of a larger regional deal, since these nations border key rivers and water sources and also need to be involved in any allocation plan.
5. The Right of Return of Palestinians from their Diaspora – Almost all Palestinians understand that almost no one will be allowed to return to land within Israel, except for some token number of older people based upon family reunification criteria. But some face-saving lip-service will be given to the Palestinian “Right of Return,” some modest level of externally funded compensation will be offered, and the refuges and their families will be granted the right to re-settle within the new state of Palestine in some “orderly” manner. Here it is merely language that has to be decided, not the real facts.
6. Recognition of Israel as a “Jewish State” – More than 20% of Israeli citizens living in Pre-1967 Israel are Palestinian, mostly Muslim, but about 20% of those Palestinians are Christian. Another 5% of Israelis are neither Palestinian Arabs nor Jewish. And 70% of the Jewish Israelis are non-traditional or non-practicing Jews, according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. The Palestinian Authority long ago recognized Israel as a valid nation state, but now they are being asked to recognize it as a “Jewish State,” despite the demographics. Various semantic games have been discussed to use terms such as recognizing Israel as the “Jewish Homeland,” rather than as a “Jewish State” to satisfy both sides. The Right of Return of Jews to Israel and of Palestinians to Palestine will be acknowledged, with some ambiguous language about Palestinians who trace their roots to Israel proper having that heritage acknowledged in some manner.
7. Palestine as a Contiguous State – How to connect to Gaza? The most likely outcome that has been discussed is an internationally financed high speed passenger rail connection between the West Bank and a station just outside Gaza – with Israeli and Palestinian, and perhaps U.S. personnel at that station, to guarantee that no arms or explosives or “known terrorists” board the train. There would be no intermediate stations. At some later point, freight trains would be added.
8. The Authority of Palestine re Security Issues – Israel demands that Palestine agrees to limit its armed forces to police security personnel with small arms, and not to develop an army with tanks, planes or missiles. In turn, the Palestinians have sought assurances, really guarantees, that Israel, finally, will cease all police and military incursions into Palestine and that this be enforced by having all border crossing points between the West Bank and Israel maintained by joint units involving Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. security forces. The Palestinians are clear that if Israel maintains any right to move into Palestine, then there really is no sovereign Palestinian state.
9. Palestinian Access to the Outside World - The only non-Israeli borders that Palestine will have is with Jordan on the east, with Egypt to the south of Gaza, and to the Mediterranean Sea from the coast of Gaza. Therefore the Palestinians have demanded that they immediately have access to Jordan, albeit with some international monitoring to prevent arms shipments (as discussed above) and that they be allowed to build and run an internationally funded, international airport on the West Bank. The opening of an airport and seaport in Gaza and the opening of the border with Egypt is to be agreed to in principle, but its implementation deferred until Hamas signs the agreement and agrees to international monitoring of the ports and borders and until Egypt agrees to the opening of the border.
The point is that while there are a few tough details to still resolve – mostly about the exact borders of the settlements that will remain in Israel and jurisdictional matters concerning Jerusalem -- for the most part, the terms of the peace arrangement are already quite settled.
So the real issue is whether either side has the will or desire to actually agree to these arrangements and then implement them.

What are the impediments to reaching this agreement

1. Will Israel Renounce Its Desire for a “Greater Israel”? - There is still a powerful core of Israelis who maintain the goal of an Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. In fact, many of these same people still have aspirations of extending the Israeli borders north into Lebanon to the Litani River, which runs north of Tyre. These same people want to maintain control of the Golan Heights. They view the building of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as the establishing of facts on the ground in support of these goals. Overcoming these aspirations is an internal Israeli problem and is the greatest obstacle to attaining a two-state solution. Netanyahu has been a member of this camp. The big question is whether he has really changed his views and now is really willing to “settle” for an Israel without most of the West Bank. If not, then these talks will prove useless.
2. Israel Building New Facilities/Settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory – While currently this is being publicly viewed as the big question, it is in fact a secondary issue to the agreement to establish the borders. Once there is an agreement on the borders, leaving aside for the moment the jurisdictional issues in and around Jerusalem, the Israelis will have the right to build all they want within those settlement that are to be included in Israel. But they must guarantee to halt all building beyond those borders. Thus the settlement building and the border identification issues are really a single issue. So long as there is no agreement on the borders, any building by Israel is viewed as a further attempt to secure control of more Palestinian land, especially when that construction occurs, as it often does, well away from the main settlements that are virtually certain to come under Israeli control. If there is a tacit agreement that the building will only occur well within areas that both sides acknowledge will be part of Israel, then continued negotiations may be possible. If not, the talks could end quickly.
The two major stumbling blocks that need to be resolved are Ariel and East Jerusalem. The Ariel Settlement Area is a salient that drives into the heart of the northern West Bank, almost dividing it in half by potentially stretching to the Jordan River Valley. Some portion of Ariel will clearly be included within Israel under any agreement. But the inclusion of all of this area would render any agreement impossible for the Palestinians to accept, since it would render the West Bank non-viable economically and politically. Can the parties find a compromise here?
Continued building in East Jerusalem, where already more than 200,000 Jewish Israelis live, is another major problem. For the moment “only” the building of “public facilities” (schools, police stations, community centers), not housing, is being done in East Jerusalem under the temporary, partial moratorium, For negotiations to continue, at least that minimal level of restraint would have to be maintained. If not, the talks will break down.
3. Netanyahu’s Current Governing Coalition – Parties committed to the expansion of Israel and who stand against a two-state solution are essential elements of the current six-party Israeli government coalition, especially the Israel Our Home party headed by Lieberman who is Foreign Minister, and Shas, the Sephardic ultra-orthodox party. However, there is a viable alternative coalition consisting of just three parties; Likud (Netanyahu) and Labor (Barak) both retaining their current positions and adding Kadima (Livni), with Livni as Foreign Minister, resuming her position in the prior government. Many people believe that it will take the formation of this new coalition to sign and implement a two-state agreement. However there is the question of whether the threat by Netanyahu to form such an alternative coalition would force his current cohorts to agree to tolerate and implement a peace agreement. Most observers feel that the answer is no, and that the new coalition will be required. So the issue becomes whether Netanyahu is willing to share power with Livni and whether she is willing to serve under Netanyahu. This is most uncertain.
4. The Commitment of the U.S. to Border Security – The U.S. would have to commit military and/or police to joint border controls both between the West Bank and Israel and along the Jordan River. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians trust the E.U. or the U.N. alone. Will the U.S. make a firm, indefinite commitment to providing these troops? If not, the agreement will never come to fruition.

5. Sustaining Credible Internal Security within the West Bank – Israel must believe that a Palestinian government would be able and willing to prevent any attacks, rocket or personnel, against Israel from within the West Bank, or it will not give up the “right” to make incursions into the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is well aware of this and is trying to gain that credibility -- but the Israelis keep undermining that effort by making new incursions almost daily. Both sides will have to make efforts to build the credibility of the Palestinian security forces during the course of the negotiations, or the whole effort is likely to collapse. The U.S. understands this and has been arming and training a Palestinian security force for more than two years, but the daily incursions have continued. Hamas, too, understands the importance of this issue and is likely to try to mount attacks in order to undermine the credibility of the PA’s security forces.
6. Fear of a Violent Civil Conflict within Israel – There are now about 300,000 Jewish Israelis living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, not counting the 200,000 others living in and near East Jerusalem. Even if 80% of the 300,000 are redefined into an expanded Israel, that leaves 60,000 who must either be withdrawn or who have to agree to live within Palestine, the way that 1.2 million Muslim and 250,000 Christian Palestinians live within Israel today. But if these settlers refuse to accept the authority of the Palestinian government and they refuse to leave voluntarily, then the Israelis will have to compel them to leave. Many of these settlers have vowed to fight with force of arms and there are doubts that the Israeli police and army have the will to compel compliance if there is violent resistance. Is Netanyahu willing to take on this problem? Is he able to do it? And if not, how are the borders effectively implemented? These are tough questions with no clear answers.
7. Hamas and Gaza – The Israelis are not going to agree to land swaps that expand Gaza, and the PA is not going to implement such land swaps, so long as Hamas is running Gaza. So, at a minimum, this land next to Gaza would have to be set aside and delimitated, but remain under joint Israeli / Palestinian Authority control until Hamas commits itself to signing and actively supporting the two-state agreement. And this is not going to happen until there is agreement among the Palestinians to implement a new Palestinian Unity government. Similarly, no efforts will be made to actually build and open the airport or seaport in Gaza until there is a Palestinian Unity Government and Hamas agrees to the terms of the agreement, which includes foreswearing violence and recognizing Israel. It is hoped that the lure of an expansion of Gaza and the creation of air and sea ports there will tempt Hamas to reach this agreement, but this is at best a long shot. In the meantime, the Palestinian state would exist, if it does at all, only on the West Bank. Moreover, if Israel and the U.S. continue to refuse in advance to recognize such a Unity Palestinian government, if it were to come into existence, then the talks themselves can stumble over the Gaza issue.
Why is Gaza so important? It must be understood that the 1.2 million people living in Gaza represent about 40% of the Palestinian population. The Palestinian Authority on the West Bank can not be seen by its people as abandoning the interest of those who are suffering inside what is essentially a prison camp in Gaza. So, for a two-state agreement to secure the necessary popular support on the West Bank, it must include efforts to address the needs of the people in Gaza by immediately gaining a significant opening of the borders of Gaza. This does not just mean allowing for the greater importation of goods, but also allowing the exporting of goods produced in Gaza (primarily agricultural and small manufacturing goods, without which the economy of Gaza is doomed) and allowing for people in Gaza to seek urgent medical assistance in Israel when adequate facilities are not available in Gaza.
Israel will agreed to this only if it is confident that no weapons are moving in or out of Gaza – and therefore here, too, it is going to require a joint effort by Palestinian, Israeli and probably U.S. officials to monitor the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza at the crossing to Israel. I believe that such a controlled opening up of Gaza would do far more to bring support of the people there for a peace agreement than the current efforts by Israel to punish those in Gaza in the hope that they will come to overthrow Hamas. The latter tactic is clearly futile. But can Netanyahu come to accept that?
8. Participation of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria in a Regional Water Authority – There is a fundamental need for the viability of a two-state solution that these other regional nations support it and the least controversial manner for that to occur is via participation in a regional water authority. But for Syria, this requires a settlement of the Golan Heights issue and for Lebanon a settlement of the Shaba Farms issue (a contested area between Lebanon, Israel, and Syria) and some meaningful peace accord between both Lebanon and Syria with Israel. There are those who understand this and who view fanning the flames with these nations as an indirect way to de-rail the two-state negotiations. Can such efforts be overcome and can these nations be brought into the peace process? It is no coincidence the George Mitchell traveled to Damascus and Beirut after the second round of Palestinian – Israeli talks.

Finally in the face of all these impediments, one must ask why the parties are talking at all. On the Palestinian side the answer is clear. There is no viable alternative path to the creation of a Palestinian state. As to why Netanyahu is participating, there are three answers: demographic pressure, fear of Iran, and outside international pressure, primarily from Obama and the U.S., but increasingly from the world at large. Perhaps we can discuss the nature and impact of these pressures during the Q & A.

So, what is the likelihood that these eight significant impediments to success can be overcome so that the parties can implement the two-state agreement, most of the terms of which they both know all too well. The answer largely depends on how hard the U.S. is willing to push. And while pressure and rewards will have to be applied to both parties, it is likely that far more will need to be applied to Netanyahu and his government. Does the Obama Administration have the stomach to do what will be needed? Is Obama willing to defy “the Israel Lobby” of American Jews and Christians, most of whom do not support a two-state agreement? Will the emerging Jewish pro-peace groups be able to offer Obama enough political cover within the American Jewish community – especially in the run-up to the 2012 elections? Those who doubt Obama’s ability or willingness to really apply pressure to Israel, put the odds of success in the talks at no more that 10%. Those who still hope that Obama has the strength to really press, in serious economic terms if need be, place the odds at maybe 25%. I know of no one who thinks the odds are better than 25 – 75 that these talks will succeed. Sadly, most expect that they will collapse, as all the earlier ones have. I hope they are wrong.

Links to the latest articles in this section

Adam Keller vs the extreme right (ILTV)
Ethiopians have an opportunity at solidarity with Palestinians. Will they take it?
Palestinians let down by their leaders, Kushner says