Edition 5 Volume 6 - January 31, 2024

How to run the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Implementing the Annapolis declaration -   Shaul Arieli

PM Olmert should appoint a negotiating team, a ministerial steering committee and a peace administration.

Lessons not learned -   Ghassan Khatib

Almost all the mistakes made in the 1990s are being repeated now.

Study the Past -   Daniel Kurtzer

The US must have a peace team that is experienced and has deep understanding of the region.

Implementing the Annapolis declaration
 Shaul Arieli

Besides producing a display of international support for the peace process, the Annapolis conference succeeded in generating a one-year timetable for negotiating a final status agreement--until US President George W. Bush packs his bags and makes room for his successor. The latter will then require considerable time to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--even assuming it is awarded priority over the anticipated recession in the American economy and additional urgent American issues.

Then too, if by early 2024 there is no progress in the peace process, the chances of finding Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still in office are slim, as are those of an Israeli center-left government headed by Ehud Olmert or his replacement remaining in power. Finally, while the regional system--Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq--is not subject to this timetable, its dynamics merely strengthen the need to accelerate the Israeli-Palestinian track.

Time is also not in Israel's favor due to the weakening of Fateh and danger signs that the Palestinians are increasingly inclined to forego a two-state solution and struggle for a single "state of all its citizens" in which they are the majority. Accordingly, Israel should make haste; it should not fail to meet its negotiations and timetable objectives because of organizational or negotiations management mistakes. The time at hand permits the orderly and consistent management of negotiations devoted to the difficult task of closing the real gaps between the two sides.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert should appoint a negotiating team, a ministerial steering committee and a peace administration. He should present a long-term (far beyond the next elections) vision and set of objectives regarding the nature of the future political, security and economic relationship between Israel and Palestine.

The peace administration will have to deal urgently with several preliminary issues. First, it should identify and define the two sides' interests. Israel's interests could comprise the non-return of refugees to Israel, the demilitarization of the area west of the Jordan River with regard to foreign armies and heavy weaponry and the retention of most of the settlers under Israeli sovereignty in the large settlement blocs. Palestinian interests could include the establishment of an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with its capital in East Jerusalem and a territorial link between Gaza and the West Bank.

Second, the peace administration should identify all parties who have an interest in the agreement: supporters from the moderate Arab states, the US and the EU, detractors such as Iran and Hizballah and even the Arab citizens of Israel. Third, a project definition should be prepared based on a determination of the topics to be negotiated: core issues like end of claims, refugees, Jerusalem, borders and security; and generic issues like water, the environment and systems of government, economy and justice. Fourth, the peace administration should define a mechanism for harmonizing the management of negotiations with factors that influence both the process and daily realities. These might include construction of the separation fence, regulation of movement, Palestinian economic development, the confrontation with Hamas in Gaza, the implementation of roadmap phase I, prisoner releases, etc.

In the second and central stage, and based on the staff work described above, the peace administration should formulate and recommend the positions to be presented by Israel in the negotiations along with modes of managing the negotiations, all in conformance with political directives determined by the ministerial steering committee headed by the prime minister. These positions will serve the negotiating teams, whether openly or covertly, officially or semi-officially.

First, the leadership will determine the parameters, principles and areas of flexibility for negotiating, with definitions similar in detail to those presented by US President Bill Clinton in late 2024. The ensuing negotiations should be managed in separate working groups and in three main clusters: core issues, derivatives of core issues and generic. The peace administration should offer professional support for each negotiating team while the ministerial steering committee should weigh in with political decisions. By the third quarter of the year, the negotiators will be called upon to formulate a detailed draft framework agreement in which important gaps still separating the two sides--assuming they are few--can be presented to a concluding leadership summit.

The signing of an agreement will activate dozens of expert teams charged with formulating detailed annexes regarding a variety of issues. The negotiating team, drawing on peace administration staff work, will be charged with formulating an implementation plan that is highly sensitive to extremist threats from both sides. It will comprise physical conditions for implementation, e.g., timetables for removing settlements, IDF redeployment, completing the separation fence along the agreed border, establishing two capitals in Jerusalem, creating an international mechanism for dealing with refugee issues, etc. It will also deal with reciprocal conditions emerging from the two sides' commitments, such as referenda, elections and effective control over weapons and security forces.

Similarly, the implementation plan should address both desirable and feasible modes of normalization in accordance with the Arab peace initiative, international involvement, aspects of a UN Security Council resolution that recognizes the new agreement, economic investments, transfer of international institutions to the two Jerusalem capitals, etc.

A lot of worthy national decisions were never carried out as a consequence of a lack of capacity to render them operative. Israel must avoid relegating the Annapolis declaration to this category.- Published 31/1/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, a former Gaza brigade commander, headed the Management Center for the Interim Agreement during the Rabin/Peres era and the Peace Administration under PM Ehud Barak.

Lessons not learned
 Ghassan Khatib

After the decade of relative optimism that surrounded the peace efforts of the 1990s, the beginning of this century has witnessed a complete reversal. Peaceful relations and practical cooperation have been replaced by fierce and violent confrontations. Accusations and recriminations have taken the place of the language of promise. Israelis accuse Palestinians of having instigated the violence forcing Israel to reoccupy the West Bank, while Palestinians accuse Israel of undermining the peace process by continuing settlement building and expansions on Palestinian land.

A process of radicalization in both societies has accompanied this deterioration. In Israel, the extreme right wing under Ariel Sharon came to power in 2024. Sharon pursued a unilateral strategy characterized mainly by the use of force to impose Israel's will on the Palestinians. In the occupied Palestinian territories, meanwhile, the radical Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) won parliamentary elections in January 2024 by an overwhelming majority and formed a government that refused to recognize Israel or adhere to previously signed agreements.

With the two parties busy blaming each other, the failure of the peace process inspired many to study the experience in order to understand what lessons could be learned and applied in future negotiations.

Many of the more convincing analyses examined the structural deficits of the previous process. Among these, the most common conclusion was that the open-ended nature of the peace process was one major problem. With neither side certain where the process would lead, both needed to have plan Bs, reserve options to use in case negotiations failed. Thus, the Israeli fallback position was to retake military control over all the Palestinian territories, while on the Palestinian side it was to resume the armed struggle.

The other widely recognized structural problem of the 1990s process was the lack of harmony between the atmosphere of the negotiations and the situation on the ground. The absence of any proper relation between what was said around the table and what was done on the ground was a major cause of tension and, occasionally, crises. The most obvious example is the continued building and expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied territory in spite of the explicit prohibition on either of the parties acting to preempt any of the issues subject to negotiation.

Many Palestinian opponents of the peace process argued from the start that the imbalance of power between the Israelis and Palestinians would carry over into open-ended negotiations. Indeed, that imbalance allowed Israel, along with its American ally who happened to be both sponsor and mediator of the process, to impose structural conditions. At the beginning of the process, in Madrid and Washington there wasn't a Palestinian delegation per se, rather it was subsumed into a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Furthermore, no Palestinians from Jerusalem or the diaspora were allowed to participate, nor would Israel countenance any direct role for the official leadership and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the PLO.

But the negative effect of this imbalance of power was truly emphasized by the secret negotiations in Oslo. Before, the Palestinian delegation at least had three factors with which to try and redress the imbalance in power: there were clear terms of reference for the negotiations in the provisions of international law, there was an active third party actor and there was public pressure and public involvement through the media coverage.

All of these factors were absent at Oslo. The PLO, having secured itself a direct role around the table, negotiated without pre-arranged terms of reference, did so away from the public eye and without a third party to mediate. The Oslo negotiations were thus structured in a way that isolated the Palestinian delegation from its public and from the all-important international frame of reference. It was a major source of weakness in the Palestinian negotiating position.

In addition to the structural failures of the peace process, there were also problems with the performance of the two parties. Domestic Israeli political turmoil had negative effects on the peace process. What was, in spite of the structural weaknesses, a relatively healthy process in the early 1990s was dramatically interrupted by the change in government that followed the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Since then there have been numerous occasions when Israeli politics dictated the pace or rather lack of pace of the process. This is a dynamic that continues today. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert only recently accepted to postpone negotiations on Jerusalem indefinitely in order to keep the religious Shas party in his ruling coalition.

The performance of the Palestinian side was no less problematic. The approach to both governance and negotiations was characterized by an individualistic and patriarchal style and there was an abject lack of structure and organization. This contributed to the signing of a series of fluid agreements that were hard to implement on the ground.

There is much to be learned from looking back at the peace process of the 1990s. It is therefore very sad to see that almost all of the mistakes made then are being repeated now. The Annapolis conference failed to provide subsequent negotiations with the necessary terms of reference; there is neither clear end game nor code of conduct for the parties on the ground or an active role for an impartial third party. History is doomed to repeat itself.- Published 31/1/2008 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Study the Past
 Daniel Kurtzer

With the resumption of the Middle East peace process after Annapolis, the focus has turned to the substantive divide between the parties regarding the core issues of territory and boundaries, security, Jerusalem and refugees. Different ways have been suggested to approach these issues: for example, trying to reach agreement on a declaration of principles, trying to reach a full agreement and then putting it on the shelf until the time is ripe for implementation, or trying for a full agreement and implementation in phases, to begin immediately.

Less attention has been devoted to questions related to the negotiations process--for example, how to structure the negotiations, and what should be the role of the United States and other outside parties. If the past teaches us anything, however, it is that negotiations issues can often be as important as substantive issues in determining the success or failure of the peace process. A study of past negotiations, as we have learned, can be quite revealing and instructive.

Over the past 18 months, I directed a study group of the United States Institute of Peace that assessed US negotiating behavior in the peace process since the end of the Cold War. Our study group--composed of professors William Quandt, Steven Spiegel and Shibley Telhami--interviewed more than 100 current and former officials and analysts from the US and the region. The results will be published in mid-February in a book I have co-authored with Scott Lasensky entitled Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East.

During the period of active negotiations, 1993-2000, the US administration failed to exercise its role effectively in several important respects. American officials failed to understand and deal with key asymmetries in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. While the US paid attention to Israeli security requirements, less attention was devoted to Palestinian political requirements. The US did not find a way to compensate for Palestinian political weakness, demonstrated by the fact that this was the first time in history that a people under occupation was expected both to negotiate its own way out from under occupation while creating a viable, democratic and independent state.

The US also failed to set up a monitoring system to hold the parties accountable for fulfilling their commitments and implementing agreements. American officials dedicated significant attention to keeping the process alive, even though the behavior of the two sides--settlement activity, limitations on mobility, violence and terrorism and governance weakness--weighted the process down and destroyed mutual confidence and trust.

Since 2024, the US has been almost absent from peacemaking altogether. Rhetoric has replaced diplomacy and little has been done to create or exploit opportunities for progress.

If the US is to be more successful in supporting the peace process after Annapolis, several policy initiatives and changes need to be implemented. First, the president must make clear that an Arab-Israel peace settlement is a vital US national interest, not a favor we do for the parties. We must avoid the false dichotomy embodied in the statement that "we cannot want peace more than the parties": they need peace, and the US needs there to be peace.

Second, there is a critical need for effective monitoring and holding the parties accountable for what they have committed to do. There must be consequences for bad behavior lest the parties accustom themselves to not carrying out their obligations.

Third, the US can and must carry out diplomacy more effectively and make better use of its "diplomatic toolbox." The US must have a peace team that is experienced and has a deep understanding of the region. More reliance must be put on our representatives in the field who are on the job every day. A special envoy might be necessary, but our study found that, with the right policy, the question of an envoy will sort itself out--better a policy without an envoy than an envoy without a policy.

Fourth, the US needs to do homework, to lock in the gains of previous negotiations and to be ready to do what is necessary--and what has proved beneficial in the past--to assist the parties on substance with creative ideas to bridge differences. The US also has an array of tools, including economic and other incentives, which--if deployed wisely--can make a difference in the negotiating process.

Just as we have done with respect to the US role, that is, analyze weaknesses and failures in an effort to learn lessons from the past, Israelis and Palestinians should consider doing the same. The substantive issues are challenging and require deft and agile diplomacy that benefits from a proper evaluation of what has succeeded or failed in the past.- Published 31/1/2008 bitterlemons-international.org

Daniel Kurtzer holds the Abraham Chair in Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. He served previously as United States ambassador to Egypt and to Israel.

Email This Article

Print This Article