by Elzbieta Okuniewska
The role of a third party in negotiations, monitoring and implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace resolution was the subject of a public event organized on April 18, 2013 by the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI). During the panel various points of view on the nature and range of third parties’ involvement were presented by experts who had themselves participated in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations: Hiba Husseini, Dr Gershon Baskin and Dr Firas Raad.
Sovereignty a condition for security
After a short introduction made by Riman Barakat from IPCRI, Hiba Husseini started her presentation regarding security aspects of third parties’ involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Husseini, who has served as a legal advisor to the peace talks since 1994, presented a Palestinian perspective on the negotiations. She stated that, although the Palestinians prefer a bilateral approach, until now it has proved to be inefficient and thus a third party is needed. In her opinion the role of a mediator in resolution of this conflict is reserved to the U.S. due to its long-term commitment and successful efforts to conclude the Oslo process. On the other hand, the U.S. failed in implementation and enforcement of the agreed solutions. The mission of the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, who tried to transplant his experience of conflict resolution in Northern Ireland to the Middle East in a framework of “proximity talks”, was considered by the speaker a failure. She stated that the current stalemate requires a more active role of the third party.
The second part of Husseini’s presentation was devoted to security aspects of the peace negotiations. She indicated security as a crucial value for both sides. In her address Husseini drew the public’s attention to a significant shift in the Palestinian security paradigm – from the “land for peace” to “security for peace” approach. While Israel takes the view that its security is a primary condition for a lasting peace, the Palestinian side claims that only a negotiated peace agreement could ensure long-term security. Husseini argued that both stands are legitimate and not mutually exclusive. However, she considers Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories a precondition for further talks, since the Palestinians need sovereignty in order to ensure security of this area. Facilitating of the withdrawal would be in her opinion the most important challenge for the third party. Husseini criticized unilateralism in the peace process in reference to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. She left the question of a model of cooperation with the third party in the field of security open, but she strongly underlined that any future agreement would not be possible without independence and territorial sovereignty for the Palestinians.
Need for a multi-actor negotiation process
The next speaker was Dr Gershon Baskin, an Israeli academic, peace activist and political advisor who played an important role in negotiations between Israel and Hamas for Gilad Shalit’s release. He indicated a lack of effective mechanisms for resolutions of disputes, dealing with breaches of agreements and encouragement to implement agreed upon solutions as major failures of the Oslo process. Development of these mechanisms is, according to Baskin, a major task for the third party in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In his presentation he proposed a hybrid model, including participation of more than one mediator, as an appropriate and efficient solution. Lack of direct negotiations between the conflicted sides is in Baskin’s opinion the biggest challenge of today. This challenge could be addressed by renewing direct talks supported by a team of additional Israeli and Palestinian advisors. Like his predecessor, he criticized George Mitchell’s proximity talks, as they failed to address substantial disagreement between the two sides. Assessment, monitoring and reporting on implementation of agreed solutions are other fields for third party’s desired activity. Moreover, Baskin stated that as a matter of accountability the monitoring mechanism should be public.
With regard to security concerns, he reminded the audience of the enormous strategic threat that abandonment of the West Bank could pose for Israel. He suggested a third party military presence in the area as a way to address this challenge. The multinational forces in Sinai were in his opinion a good example of such a solution. Moreover, the military presence of a third party should be jointly coordinated by the Israeli and Palestinian forces. Due to the mutual distrust a third party – undoubtedly the U.S. – is needed to ensure joint security cooperation, as well as to secure rights of national minorities on both sides.
Third party as a moderator in times of transition
The last speaker, Dr Firas Raad gained his experience as an expert in the Office of the Quartet Representative, and he has also participated in negotiations for Gilad Shalit’s release. In Raad’s opinion, effectiveness of mediation depends on the phase of a given conflict. The enduring character of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created a high level of distrust that could be only cut through by a trusted outsider, such as the U.S. The duality of victimhood characteristic of both sides of this conflict reinforced psychological barriers that could only be overcome by a third party. Another important role of a third party in resolution of this conflict is to moderate “extremist thinking” on both sides. Raad specified conditions necessary for a successful third party’s intervention:
- the intervention should be focused and sustained around certain objectives;
- it should be based on a regional approach;
- it is supposed to provide a secret back channel for critical moments in negotiations;
- the third party should insist on keeping the conflict political and preventing it from becoming religious;
- the negotiations should have an appropriate timing and should not be too extended in time.
Like his predecessors, Raad agreed that the U.S. should play the role of the third party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his opinion the current transition process in the Middle East would be the greatest challenge for the U.S. as a mediator. Raad argued, that a launching of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations now would be a good way to lower the temperature in the region and to remove the Palestinian issue from the future Middle Eastern political disputes.
The experts unanimously agreed that the role of the third party in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is reserved exclusively for the U.S. Furthermore, each of them proposed a framework including a necessary degree of mutual Israeli-Palestinian cooperation facilitated and coordinated by an external, though trusted broker. All of the speakers stated, that the current stalemate caused by the long-term character of this conflict and a high level of distrust could only be overcome with a help of the third party. Significantly, the experts passed over all of the other international actors interested in the course of the events in the Middle East, such as the EU. Subsequently, they focused on negotiation models based on previous U.S. initiatives in the region and didn’t take into account alternative (or complementary) tracks of conflict resolution such as economic dialogue or facilitating civil society cooperation. Such one-sidedness was in my opinion a disadvantage in an otherwise interesting debate.