by Walid Salem
In the wake of the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Israelis and Palestinians found themselves once again caught between two equally problematic strategies. The first is the option of negotiations, which in the past 15 years has proved fruitless and has created more problems than it has solved. The second strategy is the Israeli unilateralism which is in the process of becoming the new conceptualization of the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since it has been adopted by the Kadima Party. This approach allows Israel to unilaterally decide upon the status and characteristics of a future Palestinian state, including the drawing of its permanent borders by the year 2010, as proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
A Fruitless Exercise
Negotiations, for example, lack any constancy in vision. On the one hand, they call for talks on permanent-status issues between the two sides — which have been deadlocked by full Israeli rejection. On the other hand, they are utterly flexible to the extent of admitting discussions of only partial arrangements which would circumvent the permanent-status issues that have to be tackled for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.1
In 2005, this type of negotiations resulted in an Israeli redeployment from Jericho and Tulkarem, but only after a redrawing of the maps that were agreed upon in the Cairo Agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis in 1994. In addition, a few hundred prisoners were released, a few deportees returned, and a few checkpoints were lifted.2 Tulkarem was reoccupied after a short period of the redeployment, while Jericho was also reoccupied in 2006.
Pursuant to President Mahmoud Abbas’ (Abu Mazen) approach to negotiations, two meetings were held between him and then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that led nowhere.3 It is also doubtful that renewed negotiations between Abu Mazen and the new Israeli government led by Ehud Olmert will bear any fruits.
Following the Palestinian and Israeli elections of 2006, Abu Mazen made a renewed call for open negotiations on permanent-status issues. This might mean renegotiating from scratch even issues that have already been agreed upon, instead of picking up from the point where negotiations have stalled. If this happens, there is the distinct possibility that new controversies would crop up between the two sides, raising the specter of another failure similar to Camp David in 2000.
No Coordination, No Cooperation
While the negotiations strategy has proved unworkable, that of Israeli unilateralism is no less problematic. In one respect this approach has its positive sides, such as the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of the Jewish settlers from Gaza and the Jenin area. Yet this unilateral step has so far created a whole set new problems, compounding the existing ones; namely, the problem of unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the freedom of movement for both goods and people between them, the question of the Israeli-Palestinian customs union, the freedom of movement to Egypt and the rest of the world, the security problem, and the creation of a buffer zone in the border area between Israel and Gaza, among others.
In the future, this strategy is bound to give rise to still more problems, the most serious being the unilateral delineation by Israel of the borders of the Palestinian state and, as mentioned above, fashioning that state according to Israel’s interests. The “state with provisional borders” as mentioned in the Road Map will become the “permanent solution” of the Palestinian problem from Olmert’s perspective when it is changed into a “provisional state” instead of “a state with provisional borders.” Some neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would probably be included to give the Palestinians the illusion that they got a state “with Jerusalem as its capital.”
The major handicap inherent in a unilateralistic approach is that it leaves one of the sides with only one option: to deal and cooperate with the positive aspects of the unilateral step — in this case, the withdrawal of the army and/or the evacuation of the settlers. At the same time, it creates a sense of total impotence vis-à-vis the negative aspects, and these discrepancies in the current Israeli unilateral plan can be a source of great confusion and apprehension for the Palestinians.
The unilateral approach involves a host of other problems. For one thing, it does not include a full legitimization of the needs, interests, and positions of the other side — the Palestinians.4 Secondly, it does not give due consideration to coordination and cooperation with the Other. Thirdly, it includes a lot of reactive devaluation,5 including to the positive positions of the Other.6
A Recipe for Violence and Counter-Violence
The danger of this conflictual reactive devaluation, combined with the unsolved existing problems and the newly emerging ones, is that it is bound to lead to the perpetuation of violence and counter-violence. The assumption on both sides would be that a unilateral approach is the way to extract from the other side what it is hesitant or unwilling to give, instead of reaching a shared vision of the future,7 and taking the needs of the Other into consideration. This disregard for the aspirations of the other side also characterizes the negotiations approach, which is built on the assumption that going to the negotiating table means presenting one’s demands to the other, instead of going there in order to develop a joint vision of the “shared future.” This was the pitfall that has dogged us throughout the past 15 years of the peace process that was aimed more at finding ways to get rid of each other instead of getting both sides together.
Two Unilateral-Coordinated Conflict Transformation Processes (UCT)
Reversing the process of a non-productive, non-partnering type of negotiations, and the negative aspects of the Israeli disengagement can be achieved through the adoption by each side of a strategy to transform the conflict.
In Israel this can be accomplished by reversing the logic of the work of the Israeli peace movements. They can shift from “working” with the Palestinians while neglecting the mainstream in Israel, to working concurrently with the Palestinians and in a participatory way with the mainstream. A shift is needed from the top-down activities which lead the Israeli peace movements to be perceived as being more loyal to the Palestinians than being Israeli patriots, to a bottom-up communicative, participatory and democratic dialogue with the Israeli public.
This transformation in the operational methods of the Israeli peace movements will require a lot of creativity on the level of communication with the Israeli public. The aim would be to reach a mutually agreed-upon formula regarding the price of peace with the other side, taking Israeli interests as the point of departure.
The international community, for its part, needs to work more with the Israeli government to make it more attuned to the needs, interests and positions of the other side. It will also have to convince Israel that human security requires agreement and coordination with the other rather than imposing unilateral steps on it.
On the Palestinian side, the UCT will involve addressing the issue of human security for both Israeli and Palestinian citizens on an equal basis. Consequently, Palestinians will be responsible for safeguarding the security of Israeli citizens alongside that of the Palestinians. It will also include a move towards functionalism, which entails the building of transparent and accountable democratic institutions for a future viable Palestinian state — this means putting in place the political, security and economic structures for a democratic state that is capable of living in peace with its neighbors, and that is ready to counter all types of violence.
The UCT is unilateral from the standpoint of the initiator, but it also involves a positive approach towards the other,8 for, in practice, it consists of a good deal of coordination and cooperation. In this sense, UCT does not mean the renegotiation of what was previously negotiated, but it is joint action on the ground in order to transform the situation. This process of acting in tandem will require a new type of negotiation which will require the two sides to meet in order to agree on the activities to be carried out by each side according to a previously accepted plan — the Clinton Parameters, in this case.
The concept of coordinated reciprocity is the key principle for these two UCT processes. They are built on an agreement about a shared future — a future that will be realized after the gradual processes are implemented.9
UCT in Action
Following the Hamas success in the Palestinian legislative elections, the process of UCT leading to a two-state solution might look as follows:
* First step: instead of renegotiations and starting from scratch, a joint declaration will be made by Olmert and Abu Mazen adopting the Clinton Parameters of 2000 as the basis for the final-status agreement between the two sides.10
* Second step: the two leaders will meet and agree on a timeline for the implementation of the Clinton Parameters (a minimum of one year and a maximum of three years). The tasks that should be carried out by each side during the process of implementation should be clearly articulated. A third party (the Quartet, assisted by regional states such as Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) should organize and attend the meetings between the two concerned parties, in order to facilitate the solution of any conflicts that might take place during these meeting.
* Third step: the signed agreement should be brought for referendums in Israel and Palestine,11 in order to bypass the rejectionist groups on both sides.
* Fourth step: the implementation of the agreement, where each side will assume its unilateral responsibilities, which will have to be executed, irrespective of any violations by the other side.
The main problem with the Oslo process was that each side decided to freeze the implementation of its responsibilities, citing as justification the violations by the other side. The merit of UCT is that it calls upon each side to fulfill its responsibilities no matter what the other side does. With this approval that combines between what takes place inside the negotiations room, and the implementation of commitments later on, a window of hope might reopen, before the opportunity to get to the two-state solution is lost.
This process towards peace might be accompanied by another one that will be aimed at moderating and democratizing Hamas, and that could be spearheaded by Turkey and the moderate Arab states.
If implemented, the UCT plan will result in a wider Palestinian popular support for Abu Mazen and Fateh in recognition for their achieving peace with Israel.
In the eventuality the UCT plan fails, other positive alternatives might be considered, such as a “Jerusalem-first” scheme. This will deal with the hot issue of Jerusalem first and, if it succeeds, other issues will be taken up. If this also fails, there will be room only for the last option which is an international intervention along the lines of East Timor, but this is beyond the scope of this article.
If all positive approaches fail, the other alternative facing us is going to be a preservation of the status quo as a best case scenario, or the Israeli unilateral convergence plan, which will inevitably lead to escalation and more bloodshed.
1 Such as the release of a certain number of Palestinian prisoners, Israeli redeployment out of Jericho, etc.
2 For details on these issues please see: Walid Salem, “What Happed to Sharm el-Sheikh Understanding?” Bringing Peace Together Project, Newsletter, Vol.1, October 2005.
3 The first one was in Sharm el-Sheikh in February 8, 2005, where understandings were agreed upon, but most of them were not implemented; and the second was in June 2005 with no agreements achieved between the two sides.
4 It is correct that Sharon (and later on Olmert) spoke clearly that Israel cannot continue occupying other people, but at the same time their actions so far are demographically and security- driven, more than being an attempt to reconcile with the other.
5 The term is by Lee Ross, Stanford University.
6 Consider, for instance, the following: Arafat was replaced by Abu Mazen about whom Sharon had no reservations as with Arafat, but Sharon and, later on, Olmert are still not dealing with Abu Mazen as a partner. They continue to deal arrogantly with him, rejecting all his plans, including his call for a permanent-status agreement to be approved by a referendum, bypassing in this way the Hamas government’s rejection to negotiate with Israel.
7 The term is by Byron Bland, Stanford University.
8 This is its main difference with the current unilateralism.
9 President Bush said in his press conference with Abu Mazen in Washington on May 25, 2005, that he cannot promise a date for the establishment of the Palestinian state, therefore it seems that both sides should establish it together through coordinated UCT’s
10 See a summary of these parameters in Byron Bland, Lee Ross and Walid Salem article in this volumeof the Palestine-Israel Journal, pp. 47-53.
11 See Jerome M. Segal, “A Referendum-Based Peace Process: A New Approach to Resolving the Israeli Palestinian Conflict,” Center for International and Security Studies, University of Maryland, March 12, 2006.