Enough Talking About Talks

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Secretary of State John Kerry is to be highly commended for his tireless efforts to persuade the Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace negotiations soon in Washington. Although the prospect of success of these negotiations is very slim, if there is any opportunity for a breakthrough, it will ultimately depend not only on major concessions both sides must make, but also on other critical elements, without which the prospect of success stands at zero.

I am not entirely sanguine that either the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas or Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu are ready, willing or able to make peace.

Netanyahu is an ideologue who does not really believe in a two-state solution, or at any rate, not one that would be established in most of the West Bank. From his perspective, Israel’s historic and biblical claim to the entire “land of Israel,” which includes the West Bank, is a given, if not divinely ordained, leaving little room for significant territorial compromises.

Conversely, Abbas is politically weak; his public support is limited and he is challenged by Hamas, which inhibits him from taking any step that would add to the prevailing perception of his weakness. At heart he wishes for peace, but his circumstances prevent him from taking the necessary bold steps required to reach an agreement.

Short of a change in Israeli and Palestinian leadership, if there is even small chance of forging peace with the current leaders, the US must take a number of critical steps concurrently with the peace negotiations once they resume.

Only by adopting these measures will it clearly demonstrate how serious Netanyahu and Abbas are about reaching an agreement while helping the US to determine early on the real prospect of achieving that goal.

These steps are critically important to engender public support from the start and help maintain the momentum, as the negotiations will inadvertently face a number of obstacles.

First, there exists profound distrust between the two sides which cannot be mitigated at the negotiating table. Israeli and Palestinian leaders must make every effort to change public perceptions about each other by simultaneously taking constructive measures to cultivate trust parallel to the negotiations on substantive issues.

All pronouncements by public officials must support the peace efforts and no longer portray each other as the eternal enemy. If Netanyahu and Abbas believe in a two-state solution, as they profess they do, they must portray it as the only viable outcome from the inevitability of coexistence.

The Palestinian leadership must openly advocate that the purpose of these negotiations is to bring an end only to the occupation of Palestinian land (the West Bank with some land swaps) which does not include any part of Israel.

The Israeli and Palestinian media can certainly play a pivotal role if they are regularly briefed by both sides about the progress in the negotiations, which can help generate increased public support.

Moreover, Israeli and Palestinian schools should change their attitude toward each other. The Palestinians, in particular, must demonstrably start modifying their textbooks to reflect Israel’s existence.

Changing public perceptions must not be held prisoner to reaching an agreement first, because whether it happens now or later it remains indispensable to reaching a peace agreement.

Actions on these fronts by Israelis and Palestinians must be visible and convincing in order to nurture trust. The Obama administration needs to insist that both sides engage in such public discourse and that failing to do so will only attest to their lack of commitment to reaching an agreement.

Second, Hamas must sooner than later be engaged in the negotiating process, initially through back channels by Western powers to seek some input from Hamas’ leadership.

To be sure, unless Hamas’ leadership feels that they have stakes in the negotiations, they will not hesitate to torpedo the whole negotiating process. Firing even a few rockets at Israel will cause some casualties and deliberately invite Israeli retaliation that could kill scores of Palestinians.

Such a scenario could easily bring the negotiations to an immediate halt because neither side can continue with the negotiations as if nothing happened.

This is not to suggest that Hamas enjoys veto power to reject Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but no keen observer can argue that a peace agreement between them is possible and can endure without Hamas’ involvement.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular are in a strong position to persuade Hamas to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative, which requires Hamas to abandon violence to resolve their conflict with Israel, and become legitimate partners in the negotiating process.

The US should encourage Abbas to reopen negotiations with Hamas’ leaders to agree on general elections and subsequently form a government that represents the majority of the Palestinians.

Given their loss of Syrian support, their weakened position with the new Egyptian government, and the substantially reduced financial aid from Iran along with their diminishing popularity and the painful realization that Israel is here to stay, Hamas may well be inclined to cooperate at this juncture.

Third, enlisting key Arab states, in particular Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, not only to lend public support to the peace talks but also as observers, would provide political cover for Mahmoud Abbas to make significant concessions.

The right of return of the Palestinian refugees, for example, will be nearly impossible to resolve (as Israel resolutely rejects the return of any significant number of refugees) without explicit support of the key Arab states. Their presence will make such a concession appear as coming from the collective Arab body.

Moreover, considering the Iranian threats, most Arab states are eager to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict behind as long as it meets key provisions of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Fourth, the US must insist on starting the negotiations with the most conflicting issue by focusing on borders first.

An agreement on borders would resolve 70-80 percent of the settlements problems, address Israel’s major security concerns, and give the Palestinians every reason to believe that a Palestinian state is in the offing.

Finally, both Israelis and Palestinians must believe that the US is serious and committed to resolving the conflict. Neither side will take risks by making any major concessions unless they know the US is fully behind them.

The US must also be prepared to advance its own ideas and prepare to use its leverage—economic and political—to narrow the gap between them.

Finally, both Israelis and Palestinians must also believe that President Obama will use the power of his office to exact the needed concessions to reach an agreement by resorting to coercive measures if necessary.

The agreement to release dozens of long-held Palestinian prisoners—a most sensitive issue for the Palestinians—the appointment of Martin Indyk, a skilled and respected diplomat, and insisting on continuing negotiations for at least six months, adds credibility and perceptibly improves the prospect of the US’ efforts to mediate a peace agreement.

The idea of submitting any peace agreement to public referendums in Israel and Palestine is both necessary and desirable, especially if they pass with an impressive majority.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders can garner such a majority only if they demonstrate a resolute commitment to peace and create the environment from day one of the negotiations to that end.




     

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 12.07.2018
The cabinet members who resigned this week apparently feared that politics is taking May toward a “soft Brexit,” their worst of all possible worlds........“soft Brexit,” maintains the status quo, more or less, letting Europeans freely circulate into British labor markets and allowing European firms to operate easily in the UK. The problem with “soft Brexit” is that it raises questions about why the UK is leaving at all, since it will still have the same obligations to Europe as before, it just won’t have a voice when the remaining 27 members of the European Union meet to make decisions.
Added 12.07.2018
One study on the 2010 World Cup found that there was a 37.5% rise in admission rates across 15 accident and emergency departments on England match days........Examining reports of domestic abuse in Lancashire (a county of approximately 1.5m people in Northern England), across the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup tournaments, we discovered a 26% increase in reports of domestic abuse when England won or drew, and a 38% increase when England lost. Reports were also more frequent on weekends, and reached their peak when England exited the tournament.
Added 10.07.2018
If, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the US government, rather than arguing for Chinese economic opening, had prohibited any US company from investing there, China’s rise would have been significantly delayed, though not permanently prevented. Because that did not happen, China’s rise is now self-sustaining. A huge and increasingly affluent domestic market will make exports less vital to growth.
Added 10.07.2018
Comparing today’s demagogues with Adolf Hitler is almost always unwise. Such alarmism tends to trivialize the actual horrors of the Nazi regime, and distracts attention from our own political problems. But if alarmism is counterproductive, the question remains: At what point are democracies truly in danger? What was unimaginable only a few years ago – a US president insulting democratic allies and praising dictators, or calling the free press “enemies of the people,” or locking up refugees and taking away their children – has become almost normal now. When will it be too late to sound the alarm?
Added 09.07.2018
In view of such actions, expectations for Trump’s behavior at the upcoming summit have gone from prickly to dangerous. The sense of foreboding has been heightened by the announcement that, just four days after the summit ends, Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki. The nightmare scenario is easy to imagine: Trump lays bare NATO’s fractures, including by questioning mutual defense, before selling his allies down the river by publicly embracing Putin. But this does not need to be the outcome.
Added 09.07.2018
After 2027 (or maybe even 2025, only 7 years from now), the number of EVs will rapidly accelerate, as virtually all new vehicles bought will be electric (an effect of rapidly falling battery and other component costs and of the fuel for electric cars being essentially free; you can power one off your rooftop solar array).
Added 03.07.2018
Most pundits interpret Trump’s outbursts as playing to his political base, or preening for the cameras, or blustering for the sake of striking future deals. We take a different view. In line with many of America’s renowned mental-health experts, we believe that Trump suffers from several psychological pathologies that render him a clear and present danger to the world.
Added 03.07.2018
In the United Kingdom, Brexit looms large, with everyone from government ministers to tabloid newspapers frothing daily about the deal that will be struck with the European Union and the effects that it will have. But the EU faces too many pressing challenges to be obsessing about Britain. The UK’s concern is understandable: evidence is mounting of the likely damage a departure from the single market and customs union will do to the UK economy. According to new research from the Centre for European Reform, the UK economy is already 2.1% smaller than it would have been had voters chosen to remain. The hit to public finances totals £440 million ($579 million) per week.
Added 26.06.2018
Nowadays, Britain’s words and actions on the world stage are so at odds with its values that one must wonder what has happened to the country. Since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, British foreign policy seems to have all but collapsed – and even to have disowned its past and its governing ideas. Worse, this has coincided with the emergence of US President Donald Trump’s erratic administration, which is pursuing goals that are completely detached from those of Britain – and of Europe generally. 
Added 26.06.2018
With each passing day, it becomes increasingly evident that US President Donald Trump’s administration cares less about economics and more about the aggressive exercise of political power. This is obviously a source of enormous frustration for those of us who practice the art and science of economics. But by now, the verdict is self-evident: Trump and his team continue to flaunt virtually every principle of conventional economics.
Added 26.06.2018
The sights and sounds of Central American children being ripped from their parents by US Border Patrol officers have, by now, spread across the globe. The experience has been traumatizing to its victims and deeply painful to watch. It has also done incalculable damage to the very idea of America. This is June when we are supposed to be celebrating "Immigrant Heritage Month". Each year, I have taken this opportunity to recall my family's immigrant story - the opportunity and freedom they sought, the hardships they endured, and the remarkable progress they made in just one generation. 
Added 24.06.2018
State terrorism comes in many forms, but one of its most cruel and revolting expressions is when it is aimed at children. Even though U.S. President Donald Trump backed down in the face of a scathing political and public outcry and ended his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, make no mistake: His actions were and remain a form of terrorism.
Added 22.06.2018
It is now clear that the twenty-first century is ushering in a new world order. As uncertainty and instability associated with that process spread around the globe, the West has responded with either timidity or nostalgia for older forms of nationalism that failed in the past and certainly will not work now. Even to the most inveterate optimist, the G7 summit in Quebec earlier this month was proof that the geopolitical West is breaking up and losing its global significance, and that the great destroyer of that American-created and American-led order is none other than the US president. To be sure, Donald Trump is more a symptom than a cause of the West’s disintegration. But he is accelerating the process dramatically.
Added 20.06.2018
Sessions quoted a line written by the apostle Paul to a small community of Christians living in Rome around 55AD to defend the Department of Justice’s approach. He said: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order." Sessions used the Bible because one of the most vocal opponents of the crackdown on asylum cases has been the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise that Sessions appealed to Romans chapter 13 verse 1 in response: not only did he hope to undermine Catholic authority by using the Bible against them, he cited a statement so broad that one might use it to defend anything a government does, good or bad. Picture below St Paul writing his epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne, via Wikimedia Commons.
Added 19.06.2018
 

I find it exceptionally irritating when I hear liberals worry about whether Israel will be able to remain a "Jewish and Democratic State" if it retains control of occupied Palestinian lands.

Added 18.06.2018
Daniel Wagner: "My prediction Korean War will be formally ended, the peninsula will be denuclearised, and a lasting peace will be the result."
Added 14.06.2018
Extract: PiS [ the ruling Law and Justice party] has established the most significant addition to the Polish social safety net since 1989: the Family 500+ program. Launched in 2016, Family 500+ embodies the nationalism, traditional family values, and social consciousness that the PiS seeks to promote. The program pays families 500 złoty ($144) per month to provide care for a second or subsequent child...........The program has been enormously popular. Some 2.4 million families took advantage of it in the first two years. The benefit, equivalent to 40% of the minimum wage, has almost wiped out extreme poverty for children in Poland, reducing it by an estimated 70-80%........... Liberal pro-European politicians and policymakers are not convinced. They complain that such a generous family benefit will weaken work incentives and blow up the government budget. But initial evidence suggests that Family 500+ has actually increased economic activity. It has also reversed the post-communist decline in fertility, increased wages (particularly for women), and enabled families to buy school materials, take vacations, buy more clothes for their kids, and rely less on high-priced credit for basic household needs. And, thanks to rapid economic growth, the government deficit has steadily fallen, not grown.
Added 12.06.2018
The depths of hypocrisy of the Republican Party in supporting Trump’s meeting with the North Korean dictator in Singapore are hard to plumb. This is a party whose leading members adopted the Ostrich Foreign Policy Principle for decades. If you don’t like a country’s government or political and economic system, pretend it does not exist.
Added 12.06.2018
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has spoken out against China’s strategy of “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea, including the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers, and, more recently, the landing of nuclear-capable bomber aircraft at Woody Island. There are, Mattis warned, “consequences to China ignoring the international community.” But what consequences?
Added 12.06.2018
With a general election approaching in September, Swedish voters are being warned that now it’s their turn to be targeted by Russian interference in the democratic process. According to Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), which is leading the country’s efforts to counter foreign-influence operations, such interference is very likely, and citizens should be on the lookout for disinformation and fake news.