It is clear that the peace process for settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict is not only off the table, but off the agendas of diplomatic services in Europe and the U.S.
This sad state of this affair is especially painful when we think that John Kerry and President Obama made Middle East peace our country’s most visible foreign policy objective.
The temptation is to think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sabotaged any chance at peace because of West Bank settlement expansion.
The flip side of the coin is that pressure on Israel to make concessions without a viable Palestinian negotiating partner and the Palestinian/Arab refusal to negotiate compromise solutions leaves the playing field wide open for Israel to do what it wants.
Instead of staying blocked by this conundrum, we should see it as an opportunity!
But the mistake is either to focus on Israeli concessions or, on the contrary, to consider that requiring too many concessions is unfair and unproductive. Israel does have to come to the front line, but not through U.S. or international diplomacy forcing.
The break that’s needed is to formulate a totally new approach.
The fundamental condition to achieve peace is to understand that peace doesn’t come from a process; it comes from action.
The action that can be reasonably expected is the creation of a Palestinian State not as the culmination of a negotiating process but as a step toward peace. The essential change in approach would contemplate the declaration of the new Palestinian State without the preliminary resolution of the many outstanding issues, and in a manner that would not endanger Israel’s security.
And the proposal in the best of circumstances should come from Netanyahu himself. In the same way Arafat surprised the world with his appearance before the UN, Netanyahu would clearly put the question of Palestinian independence before the Palestinian Authority, and perhaps as importantly, the world community.
He should first declare that the failure of both sides to reach agreement on outstanding issues should not be an obstacle to Palestinian Statehood. He should emphasize that European countries exist with defined boundaries following the passage of time, not years or decades, but centuries. In some cases as late as the end of the 19th century issues were undecided.
It is perfectly in line with the birth of nations that a period of uncertainty exists where only over time difficult issues get resolved.
Palestine would be declared a State with the support of Israel where final borders, jurisdiction over parts of East Jerusalem and return of refugees are left to a future time, perhaps with a first formal session to take place after 2 years, with negotiations to take place after a defined period expandable at defined intervals. The most difficult political issue for Israel is the settlements, and these areas would have to be placed in some form of trusteeship, which would expressly not imply a change in legal or political status. One outcome of future negotiations might be settlement enclaves within Palestinian territory with security breaches to trigger the right for Israeli police intervention or an exchange for Israeli Arab villages to be transferred to Palestine.
The critical underlying position has to be that failure to resolve or even elucidate the difficult issues should not hold up Palestinian Statehood. The only pre-condition to Statehood is that the Palestinians themselves decide on its governing authority (perhaps unfortunately including Hamas) and that the new Palestinian State be demilitarized (the risk of contagion from the regional wars is significant). Their first embassy would be in Tel Aviv, in keeping with Israel’s acceptance that 66 foreign embassies be located in that city.
The progress toward agreement on the outstanding issues would depend quite naturally on the progress in relations between the two countries.
Viable commercial relationships, opening of border crossings, exchange of students, the development of medical and other health relationships, agricultural joint development, continued joint security operations, and of course the absence of hostilities would all lay the groundwork for the negotiation of the difficult issues.
It may be that the Palestinian Authority would refuse the proposal.
If their position is that Israel does not agree to the transfer of all territory to which it believes it is entitled and/or unless all their demands are met, this would be their choice.
Israel would have made a dynamic effort to move the ball forward. It would demonstrate that progress is not dependent on outside forcing or even outside mediation as the sad ending to the John Kerry mission demonstrated. Whatever one believes in terms of the eventual outcome to negotiations, the lack of initiative on the part of Israel is prejudicial to Israel’s interests. Because the opinion of those nations that consider themselves neutral, and that of populations throughout the world, is that for better or worse the Jews — after having served to criticize the abuse of power for centuries — have put themselves now in the position where their country not only has to be generous, but certainly cannot sit back as if time is on its side. The greatest enemy is in fact the passage of time without progress.
Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l’EDHEC. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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