Toward an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian Trilateral Security Regime
Yossi Alpher initiated the idea of conducting a workshop focusing on the type of trilateral security regime which could be established once there is a comprehensive peace in the region. He supervised the first and second workshops while the third phase was supervised by Ziad Abu Zayyad from the Palestinian Peace Information Center (Al Jazar). Alpher is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and former senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He was interviewed by the PIJ's Hillel Schenker.

What was the origin of the Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian working group that formulated the proposal for a Trilateral Security Regime?

Its origins go back to 1997. I had stopped being Director of the JAFFEE Center of Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University in 1995, and in 1997 I was Israel-Middle East representative of the American Jewish Committee. This gave me leeway to engage in some informal Track 2 meetings between Israelis and Arabs. In 1997 the Oslo process was still alive, the Netanyahu government was having its difficulties, President Clinton was very interested in maintaining and promoting the peace process and things were relatively quiet in terms of terrorism. I had been a veteran of Track 2 efforts even during my period in the Mossad that ended in 1981. At the Jaffee Center we organized a number of Track 2 efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, dealing with final status issues, etc.
My thinking was that one way to make a contribution to eventual Israeli-Palestinian final status talks on the security issues was to put together a group of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, bearing in mind that many of our security, economic and ecological problems are trilateral. This is one broad geo-strategic zone that includes the original Mandatory Palestine, today Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

What Arieh (Lova) Eliav called Isfalur (Israel-Falastin-Urdun).

Yes. Eliav was definitely one of the first thinkers on trilateral issues. My main inspiration at that time was then Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan, who I heard speak in 1995 about the need for a trilateral security regime within the framework of final status agreements. This was during a time when there were high hopes that future final status talks would succeed, and some of us were looking for ways to help them succeed. I approached a British political scientist, Stan Windass, who ran an NGO called the Foundation for International Security, and he provided some of the initial sponsorship. I brought the people from Israel, Jordan and Palestine and we had a number of meetings at Stan's house in Oxfordshire.
What evolved was that TriSeR (an anagram for Trilateral Security Regime) would be looking at all the security issues that involved the three sides, in the broadest sense of the term. That meant not only military security, but also issues like water and refugees. We would begin with a general set of definitions, then get into the military security issues and later deal with security aspects of refugees and water.
The initial meetings in England, which later were known as Phase One, were devoted to setting the parameters and jelling the team. Phase 2, that I administered, dealt with the military-security issues. Phase 3, administered by Ziad Abu-Zayyad, dealt with water and refugees.
Both of us were able to get significant funding from the Ford Foundation for the project. One of the principles that we developed was that if Phase 2 were to be administered by an Israeli, Phase 3 would be administered by an Arab, either a Palestinian or a Jordanian.
The basic premise we developed to carry out a rational discussion on trilateral security cooperation was that each of the countries would have to border on the other two. This meant that, in the Jordan Valley, as a result of the peace process there would eventually have to be a direct bilateral border between Palestine and Jordan, i.e., in the end there would be joint Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian borders. We felt it was important to have a right-wing Israeli in the discussions to give them a broader basis. It was quite difficult to find someone who accepted the premise that Israel would not control all of the Jordan Valley in the final status arrangement, but we did.
The philosophy behind our approach was that we wanted our thinking on a trilateral security regime to be helpful when Israelis and Palestinians would sit down to negotiate the security aspects of final status agreements.
We produced 30 pages of a working paper on the security issues. It includes an executive summary, conclusions and about 20 pages of general security interests and threat perceptions, the issues that generated broad agreement or only partial agreement, where we had to delineate how each side sees things. Sometimes there were differences of opinion within the sides. The only way all the participants were able to agree to the document was by detailing the issues where we disagreed. Despite our differences of opinion, we felt a sense of satisfaction when we finished, and believed that it could be helpful to the security negotiators.
The trilateral security report was completed and distributed in August, 1999, almost a year before Camp David. The outbreak of the second intifada overwhelmed the possibility of completing the other two sections, so we only have a preliminary report on water and refugees. We defined water and refugees as being relevant to security, though they are not only security-related. It is important to note that we did take a broad approach to the question of security

Given that you completed the project in 1999, is it still relevant today?

Clearly if we were to write the report today, after the breakdown of the peace process and the outbreak of the intifada, it would contain some differences. As an Israeli, I believe we would want to look at some of the border-crossing and border-patrolling issues more severely in view of the lessons of the past three and a half years - the smuggling of weaponry, etc. There would have to be some reevaluation, but not completely. The framework definitely remains relevant, and someone looking at it today would say - let's talk about what's changed, and adapt it.

How did the dynamic of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians working together flow? Was it problematic? Was there a basic common ground?

The participants were all veterans of Track 2 contacts. I believe that Track 2 techniques are one of the singular characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian, and perhaps the general Israeli-Arab peace process. We have all these non-official gatherings of scholars, former diplomats and former security people and journalists.
I recently met a very senior Pakistani diplomat who was sitting in on meetings between Arabs and Israelis. He said to me, "The strongest impression from all of this is that you guys talk to one another! We and the Indians don't do this." Someone else told me about attempts to organize Track 2 meetings between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, who all these years had never met.
Still, it's interesting to note that the Indians and Pakistanis and the Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at this point ahead of us in solving their problems, so maybe Track 2 isn't as important as we make it out to be. Yet given the severity of our conflict and the lack of a solution, maybe it's all we have, and we should recognize its uniqueness.
The people we got together were all familiar with one another, including the right-wing Israeli. We all knew one another on a first name basis, recognized and respected differences of opinion, and were well beyond the need to plead one's narrative and to prove that the other's narrative is defective. This still occurs when right-wing Israelis meet with Palestinians for the first time, where there's an outpouring of the narrative - why we're right and you're wrong. We're beyond that.
It was a very constructive process, and most of the meetings took place in Jerusalem, either in my office in West Jerusalem or in East Jerusalem.
The fact that a Track 2 project could be organized and run on a rotating basis and in the area, and not by a third party from Europe or America who pays to fly you to Italy, London or Washington, constituted one of the peaks of the peace process. This was also one of the few Track 2 efforts that was entirely self-managed.

I'm afraid that to, no small degree, we've regressed. In conjunction with this issue we have been trying to get together a round table discussion on Regional Security in the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. Former IDF Chief-of-Staff General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak was scheduled to be one of the participants, and on the Palestinian side we had Ziad Abu-Zayyad and General Abdel Razzaq al-Yahya. Each time we were on the verge of holding it the (Israeli) Coordinator for the Territories dragged out the final confirmation of travel permits until they found an excuse why not to do it. The last time was because of the suicide bombing in Ashdod.

Yes, this has been true ever since the second intifada began. It's become harder and harder. And when you want to do it abroad, it's hard to get the Palestinians out. One reason that there has been a rise in Track 2 meetings in Jordan is that it's easier for Palestinians to get to the Allenby Bridge than to Ben-Gurion Airport or even to Jerusalem. So meetings are held on the (Jordanian side of the) Dead Sea. This is a regression, without a doubt. Even during the first few months of the intifada, Ziad continued to host meetings in East Jerusalem. Until we reached the point where the Jordanian participant cited pressures at home not to come because of the danger and it became increasingly hard for the Palestinians to get permits to come to Jerusalem, East or West. Of course the atmosphere, the suicide bombings, etc., didn't help.

Within the context of your discussions, did you ever raise the question of a broader security regime for the Greater Middle East, along the lines of the OSCE in Europe? Did you ever go beyond the trilateral approach?

One of the basic assumptions that brought us together was that Israel, Jordan and Palestine have a certain geo-strategic commonality that none of them has with its other neighbors. This is where you start, but it is also a building block. There should also be an aspiration to expand.
In addition to dealing with water and refugees, we noted that once we reach a framework agreement there would be a necessity to bring in the Egyptians because they border on Gaza. We all realize that many Egyptian scholars and politicians frown on the idea of an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian trilateral regime, because it doesn't correspond with the Egyptian view of Egypt's central role in regional security issues. When I heard Crown Prince Hassan originally present this notion in Amman, at a broad convocation with Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Egyptians and others, one Egyptian ex-general got up and took exception to the idea, arguing that Egypt was far too central to be left out. We were all sensitive to this, but we felt that if you try to talk about a broader Middle East security regime, you'll miss the heart of it. One central component is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Jordan's close proximity to it. Egypt is separate not only due to its peace agreement with Israel but because the demilitarization of Sinai places a large and essentially empty desert between us, though this may end if we bring Egypt in to police its side of the Gaza Strip, a fascinating development.
In our conclusions, we noted that the joint working group recognizes that "the interests of additional states may be involved here. Egypt, Syria and Lebanon stand out. The trilateral security regime is not intended in any way to adversely affect the interests of these or other countries, rather as a geographic geo-strategic stepping stone. Accordingly, the next phase of the working group's discussions will seek to identify these fourth party interests as well." We never got to that.
If the Middle East is any closer to a regional security regime today, it's not because of TriSeR but because of the Americans in Iraq. There is some thinking that regional security is more possible today, though there is also some thinking that it is less possible.

How have 9/ll and the war in Iraq affected the outcome of your work in TriSer?

These are very heavy questions, that haven't gone through the filter of our joint discussions. If we were to renew the discussions today, we would have to factor in the post 9/ll developments - the globalization of Islamic terrorism, the American response against terrorism in general and Iraq in particular, but before either development we would have to factor in the fact that the peace process collapsed and the intifada developed. At the local level, these are more significant developments in terms of their influence on our thinking.
We could possibly talk about ways of integrating a trilateral regime into broader aspects of some type of American-sponsored regional security regime, particularly with regards to terrorism, less so concerning weapons of mass destruction.

Does the question of weapons of mass destruction have any relevance to the Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian context?

The Jordanian participant asked us to mention the clause in the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty that calls for the nuclear demilitarization of the entire Middle East. That's part of their policy, the Israeli government agreed to include it in the peace treaty, and we agreed to include it in our working paper without any problem.
But since we're not dealing here with Israel's relations with Iraq, Iran, Syria or Libya, I don't think that weapons of mass destruction would be a big issue. We could try to factor in a broader regional or global anti-terrorism regime and a more prominent American presence. On the other hand, we would have to factor in the collapse of confidence between Israel and Palestine, the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, Israeli lessons from the past four years with regards to the need for stronger controls, and everything to do with borders would get more demanding attention. The Palestinians are undoubtedly drawing their own lessons from the past four years and applying them to their own security thinking as well.

How relevant to TriSeR are the Geneva Accord security provisions?

My major criticism of the Geneva Accord is that, on both sides, Yossi Beilin and Yassar Abed-Rabo, basically said we're picking up from where we left off at Taba. You can see this most clearly on the security issues. The Geneva security provisions are almost a carbon copy of the Taba security provisions. This appears to indicate that neither side went through a process of saying that, since Taba, some terrible things have happened, mostly in the security sphere. It behoves us to sit down and evaluate what lessons we can draw from the collapse of the Camp David-Taba process, from the years of violence since then, to take a new look at the security issues and to apply the lessons learned. I think this would be a necessary exercise, for both sides. I assume that the Jordanians would have something to say here as well.

To what degree do you believe that such a process can still be self-managed by the three parties, or because of what has happened is it essential to have external American, European or any other third party involvement?

Stan Windass was present throughout our process, and while it was essentially self-managed, he was very good at smoothing out organizational issues, like determining that Phase 1 was managed by the British, Phase 2 by an Israeli and Phase 3 by a Palestinian. He provided a concept that enabled us to manage on our own.
Today, if the security problems of moving about and meeting were to disappear, I don't see any problem of continuing such a process on a self-managed basis. Some of our views may have changed, but I don't think that any of us have changed our basic approach, or our acceptance of the basic assumptions. I don't see any problem in trying to renew this type of Track 2 activity, though it's possible that the areas of only partial agreement might expand as a result of the collapse of trust of the past four years and the very serious security situation that has emerged.

What would you propose to rebuild this trust, to enable the process to be renewed?

I'm an advocate of unilateral Israeli withdrawal, redeployment, dismantling of settlements, a fence/barrier along the Green Line (1967 borders). I think it would help to reduce the level of violence, if it were done the way I'm suggesting - no settlements beyond the fence, and a fence based essentially on the Green Line. Only the settlements in the Green Line blocs, the Jerusalem area and the Jordan Valley would remain, pending the final status agreements, but there would be a reduction in the presence of the most volatile and provocative settlements, those in Gaza and the mountain heartland. There would be a Green Line-based fence that would reinforce the political meaning of the Green Line and radically reduce suicide bombings. All of this could contribute to a general reduction in violence, and in turn produce an improvement in trust.
This is the most realistic way of moving forward today. The vast majority of the Israeli public and the American government believe that we don't have a Palestinian negotiating partner today - and the current Israeli government, which doesn't have a realistic strategy for peace, nevertheless appears to be moving toward a realistic strategy for disengagement. It's more doable than anything else. It also provides a lot of material for Track 2 meetings between the sides, to the extent that they can be held. There's plenty of room for coordinated unilateral steps, and perhaps for unilateral steps to stimulate some genuine willingness to negotiate.
The two biggest steps towards rebuilding confidence are reducing the friction caused by the settlements and reducing Palestinian terror attacks, particularly the suicide bombings. The formula I've suggested can achieve both of those things. I hope, though I'm not sure, that this can contribute to a rebuilding of trust. A fence badly done, as is being done today, can reduce trust even further. But that's the only game in town, and I'm happy to say that the fence is moving back towards the Green Line, under international pressure, some Israeli pressure and a few very successful Palestinian non-violent protests. I don't see any other likely course of action that might contribute more towards rebuilding trust. I say this with all due respect to the Geneva Accord - and I believe that kind of exercise has increased trust, at least within some sectors of both populations. But it hasn't affected the overall strategic political conflict. And it's not in any way likely to be adopted by the current leaders.

It may have been one of the factors that led to Sharon coming out with his disengagement proposal.

Absolutely. This is a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. If you had said to Yossi Beilin and Yassar Abed-Rabo when they began that the only thing you're going to accomplish is to push Sharon into dismantling settlements, they wouldn't have engaged in this exercise to begin with. They had different expectations. But it's undoubtedly true that their project, coupled with the very prominent protests by Israeli reservists, pilots, the former heads of the General Security Services, etc., all together, led to Sharon's disengagement proposal.
Sharon said recently in the Knesset that there's a vacuum, and from his standpoint there's a danger that this vacuum will be filled by peace initiatives, some local and some international, which will demand of Israel more far-reaching concessions than those he's suggesting within the framework of unilateral redeployment. To prevent the vacuum from enveloping us, he believes we have to take the initiative. He was admitting that he recognized the importance of Geneva, and also the fact that after the November elections in the US, either a new Democratic president or a second term Bush might take a tougher attitude towards Israel. The Bush vision of June 24, 2002, when you get beyond terrorism, talks about a Palestinian state based upon the 1967 lines. The disengagement idea is Sharon's response to all of this. No one anticipated that he would embrace the idea of unilateral moves being advocated by certain portions of the Israeli center and left. But that's what happened.

Does your proposal consider the use of international monitors to help maintain the security regime?

Not international, but rather trilateral. We talked about various possibilities of trilateral forces patrolling the borders. We didn't go beyond that. It's possible, maybe even probable, that if we were to sit down today, one of the Palestinian lessons of the past four years would be to insist on a broader international presence on some of these borders. That's included in the Geneva proposal. In 1999, we weren't thinking along those lines. Not only does the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty not require joint border patrols, it requires no patrols. It's a very normal situation. These were the models we were relating to at the time. That would probably change. Yet the Israeli participants would probably continue to be skeptical about the idea of introducing international forces.