July 6, 2016
Mideast peace process, or more precisely negotiations to solve Israel-Palestine conflict, has been in deep freeze nearly two years. Officially the international community is repeating the need for talks to implement Two-State-Solution, however the main stakeholders –leaders of Israel and Palestinian Authority – have not even met despite that offices of PM Netanyahu and President Abbas are almost neighbors and despite that outside facilitators have tried to organize informal meetings when both leaders have been same time in same foreign capital.
If direct or facilitated negotiations don’t start so the alternatives are the zero-option, unilateral decisions, regional or part-solutions. The zero-option describes the present situation which in course of time might be drifting towards One-state solution. Unilateral decisions can be made both parties, at best – if they are constructive – they can lead part-solutions or even in long run to Two-State. Regional solution might be e.g. Three-State solution where Gaza will be returned to Egypt and main part of West Bank to Jordania, like they were before Six-Days-War ( more in ”The Three-State Option could solve Gaza Conflict” ). One pragmatic part-solution could be Hamas-Israel deal about long term ceasefire or implementing Sinai option or Palestinian-Jordanian confederation or both.
The Quartet Report
The Middle East Quartet is a foursome of nations and international and supranational entities involved in mediating the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Quartet are the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia. The group was established in Madrid in 2002. (More about the Quartet: Office of the Quartet )
The newest report was published on 1st July 2016 and describes in its eight pages the stalled peace process without any new initiatives. The core point of the report is that according it the Israeli policy “is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution.””This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by the statements of some Israeli ministers that there should never be a Palestinian state”. In addition Israel should stop building settlements, denying Palestinian development and designating land for exclusive Israeli use that Palestinians seek for a future state, the Middle East peace “Quartet” recommended. The Quartet said urgent affirmative steps needed to be taken to “prevent entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
The report claims Israel had taken for its exclusive use some 70 percent of Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the occupied West Bank and includes the majority of agricultural lands, natural resources and land reserves. Under the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s, Israel retains full control over Area C, where large tracts have been declared closed military areas.“Israel should implement positive and significant policy shifts, including transferring powers and responsibilities in Area C,” the Quartet report said.
Also amid a spike in violence, the Quartet criticized Palestinian leaders for “not consistently and clearly” condemning terrorist attacks and said illicit arms build up and militant activities in Gaza – controlled by Islamist group Hamas – must stop. The whole report Report of the Middle East Quartet – the European External Action Service in EAAS page.
The Israeli view
The statement of Israel government welcomes the Quartet’s recognition of the centrality of Palestinian incitement and violence to the perpetuation of the conflict. This culture of hatred poisons minds and destroys lives and stands as the single greatest obstacle to progress towards peace. The report unfortunately says nothing about the payments made by the Palestinian leadership to terrorists and their families. The graver the violence, the greater the payment. This Palestinian practice must stop.
Israel shares the Quartet’s historical commitment to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace through direct, bilateral negotiations without preconditions.
In previous agreements, Israel and the Palestinians committed to discuss every difficult issue exclusively through direct, bilateral negotiations. Nevertheless, the record shows a history of repeated Palestinian rejection of offers to negotiate and compromise from Israeli governments across the political spectrum. Israel cannot negotiate peace with itself. According government statement “We regret the failure of the Quartet to address the real core of the conflict: the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in any boundaries.”
From government statement:
The report also perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace. When Israel froze settlements, it did not get peace. When Israel uprooted every settlement in Gaza, it did not get peace. It got war. It is troubling that the Quartet appears to have adopted the position that the presence of Jews living in the West Bank somehow prevents reaching a two-state solution. The presence of nearly 1.8 million Arabs in Israel isn’t a barrier to peace; it is a testament to our pluralism and commitment to equality.
Israel will continue to strive for a genuine, negotiated peace based on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s vision of two states for two peoples. While the report includes numerous factual and policy assertions with which we take issue, Israel will discuss with the Quartet envoys ways to explore moving toward this end.
Source: Government Press Office
Israel cannot negotiate peace with itself
The Palestinian Authority President rejected again the opportunity to meet with Israel’s President during a visit to Brussels by both leaders. With both Rivlin and Abbas in Brussels at the same time, the Europeans, very cautiously, proposed to explore the possibility of a Rivlin-Abbas encounter.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz attempted to broker the meeting between Presidents Reuven Rivlin and Mahmoud Abbas 23.6.2016, with President Rivlin keen to sit down with Abbas. President Rivlin said: “I was happy to welcome the initiative by the representative of the EU to set a meeting between me and President Abbas who is also visiting Brussels this very day.”
During a press conference alongside European Union (EU) foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, the Israeli president said he was “very sorry to learn that he [Abbas] rejected such a meeting,” and found it “strange” that Abbas “refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders”.
President Rivlin, who addressed the European Parliament and pledged Israeli support for the two-state solution, added: “We can talk. We can talk directly and find a way to build confidence.” Source: BICOM
European leaders had high hopes for Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s June 20-23 visit to Brussels, and none of them tried to hide it. Indeed, the scope of Rivlin’s visit was practically unprecedented. Crisscrossing the Belgian capital, Rivlin met successively with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Belgian King Philippe, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, and the EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. In between, Rivlin was also welcomed at the European Parliament, where he gave an address in Hebrew. But unlike the other political leaders Abbas rejected meeting with Rivlin.
From my perspective a new framework is needed, even if some apparent negotiations start the outcome probably will be a placebo to status quo. Earlier I have referred two new leftist initiatives in my article Constructive Unilateralism: Leftist Approach to Israel-Palestine Conflict – ‘it’s in our hands’ by Omer Bar-Lev, an MK for the Zionist Union and ‘Constructive unilateralism’ by Blue White Future, leftist think tank – which both in my opinion are steps forward and also to the right direction as well including required new roadmap for better future. A quote from Omer Bar-Lev, an MK for the Zionist Union. He concludes:
If Israel wants to be a democratic state, which it does, then it has to either grant them full citizenship rights, which will subsequently destroy Zionism (one state for two nations) or separate from the Palestinians (two states for two nations). In that case, Israel can keep the Zionist spirit. Then, it is for the Palestinians to decide to create their Palestinian State, which is in their interests and they will make their own decisions.
On January 2016, the leader of Israel’s opposition and head of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog, unveiled an alternative approach to the issue of Israel’s nearly 49-year old presence in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The main point of Herzog’s plan is, that Israel will complete the security barrier around the major settlement blocs. “We will be here and you, Palestinians, will be there,” Herzog said. “Live your lives, improve your economy, create employment. The blocs under Israeli sovereignty will be part of the permanent solution. They will serve as recipients of settlers from outside the major blocs.” (more in Herzog’s Plan: Security Barrier Around the Major Settlement Blocs of West Bank )
From Israeli side unilateral withdrawal and unilateral annexation are the main strategy options related to West Bank. I think that unilateral withdrawal is both feasible and doable; its main benefit might be that Israel can deside it individually. Sure this option is promoted by Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union, but I understand that the proposal has support in addition to center-left also from center and center-right in Israeli’s political sphere.
The Palestinian Authority has already taken constructive unilateral steps by seeking United Nations recognition as a state and building the institutions of statehood in the West Bank.
The best possibilities to develop negotiated peace process might be in a regional peace track proposed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in which Egypt would facilitate direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians as well as between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Egypt, one of few Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, is a close ally of the Palestinians and enjoys good relations with Arab states which will be needed to make any potential concessions to Israel to reach a peace deal. Israelis and Palestinians have both been speaking to Sisi’s government about playing a role in talks.
Cairo wants to build upon the areas of agreement already reached between Israelis and Palestinians during the Kerry-led talks in 2013-2014 and extensive security discussions between the two sides. It’s based on the premise that both sides have had extensive discussions, have discussed various parameters and know what is needed for an agreement. The Egyptians also want to revive the 2003 Arab Peace Initiative originally put forward by Saudi Arabia, in which Arab states could make some gestures to Israel in order to secure better conditions for the Palestinians. According CNN an Egyptian official said Netanyahu has shown a “sense of receptivity” to such a process led by Israel’s Arab neighbors.
On November 2015 Jerusalem Post reported that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was claiming that Israel and Hamas have been conducting direct negotiations to expand the Gaza Strip so that it would include some 1,000 square kilometers of Sinai. At its core, the Egyptian initiative proposes expanding the Gaza Strip to five times its current size and settling all the Palestinian refugees in a state to be established there. Under the initiative, this state will be demilitarized, the Palestinian Authority would be granted autonomy in the Palestinian cities in the West Bank in exchange for relinquishing the Palestinian demand to return to 1967 borders. (More in Sinai Option again )
Earlier in August 2015 it was reported in the Times of Israel, that Hamas and Israel have essentially agreed on a long-term cease-fire. Hamas is about to sign a “comprehensive” agreement with Israel for the lifting of an eight-year blockade placed on the Gaza Strip in return for a long-term ceasefire One part of the deal is now coming to reality with new plan of Gaza seaport (more in Gaza Seaport – A Threat or Change and background in Hamas and Israel on Verge of the Deal ) Gaza seaport has been one aspect with reconciliation talks between Israel and Turkey which talks are now proved to be a success.An expression of new warmer Israeli-Turkish relations was on July 4th, 2016 , as the first truck from the Turkish transport ships arrived from Ashdod Port to the Kerem Shalom crossing. The truck contained a shipment of toys (dolls and teddy bears) as well diapers in cartons bearing the Turkish flag. Ministry of Defense Crossing Authority personnel and COGAT officials unloaded the goods and are preparing them for transfer into Gaza. Source: Ministry of Defense
In my opinion annexing part of Sinai to Gaza as might partly solve Arab-Israeli Conflict as well Hamas-Israel Deal could pave way for the ‘Cold Peace Solution’. With this context the Gaza seaport is from point of view a positive step forward.
Instead ‘knife intifada’ and no-talks policy the Palestinians could now think outside the box and reopen talks about the Palestinian-Jordanian confederation structure. The Palestinian-Jordanian confederation means the establishment of two states for two peoples, after the establishment of the Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines. This confederation solution was first raised by Jordan in 1972, but the PLO categorically rejected it in the same year. According to the confederation system, there would be two capitals — Jerusalem for the Palestinians and Amman for Jordanians — a centralized judiciary and one armed force led by the Jordanian king, one centralized council of ministers and one national assembly elected by the two peoples. The state should allow citizens to have full freedom of movement between the two regions.
My bottom line
The components of Two-State solution have been roughly clear last two decades – see e.g. Clinton Parameters – but the final agreement is still missing. The international pressure might lead to talks or negotiations again, with or without outside facilitators, but probably with the same outcome than earlier. So from my perspective unilateral actions are steps forward and in my opinion also to the right direction.
If peace negotiations don’t start, they fail again or regional solutions can’t be realized this time so from my viewpoint Israel could independently implement what I have called a ‘Cold Peace Solution’, a minimal level of peace relations, where Israel would annex main settlements from West-bank inside the security fence and return to negotiations about other than so solved border issue when both parties feel need to make a long term deal. This solution in my opinion is the best way forward and it even might be possible to implement. If unilateral solutions are made in the framework of constructive unilateralism so this approach might be the right roadmap towards more permanent two-state solution.
This article first appeared in Conflicts By Ari Rusila -page