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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
10 See a summary of these parameters in Byron Bland, Lee Ross and
Walid Salem article in this volumeof the Palestine-Israel Journal,
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