Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Short Guide to Israel-Palestinian Negotiating Positions

By Barry Rubin

This is a quick, brief guide to the negotiating positions of Israel’s government and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Israeli Negotiating Position

Two-State Solution: Israel accepts a two-state solution--including an independent Palestinian state—only under conditions it believes would lead to real and lasting peace.

It is a myth that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only recently accepted this goal or did so only under U.S. pressure. In fact, he agreed to this as an outcome of negotiations in 1996.

Israel has put forward five conditions:

--Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Without this step, the aftermath of any “peace” agreement would be additional decades of Arab effort to destroy Israel in all but—temporarily—name.

--Absolute clarity that a peace agreement ends the conflict and all claims on Israel. Otherwise, the Palestinian leadership and much of the Arab world would regard any “peace” agreement as license for a new stage of battle using Palestine as a base for renewed attacks and demands.

--Strong security arrangements and serious international guarantees for them. Have no doubt; these will be tested by cross-border attacks from Palestine.

--An unmilitarized Palestinian state (a better description than “demilitarized”), with the large security forces already existing: enough for internal security and defense but not aggression.

--Palestinian refugees must be resettled in Palestine. The Palestinian demand for a “Right of Return” is just a rationale for wiping Israel off the map through internal subversion and civil war.

The PA basically rejects all of these conditions. While the first one—“Jewish state”—is debatable, the rest are obviously reasonable.

Issues to be decided in negotiations

In addition to these points, other issues under negotiation are less specifically delineated. The main issues are:

--Jerusalem: Israel’s general position has been that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and cannot be divided. However, previous governments have offered most or almost all of east Jerusalem to a Palestinian state. Unless the Palestinians make a very positive offer it is unlikely that the current government turn over all or most of east Jerusalem, yet is should be noted that the previous governments referred to were headed by Ehud Barak who is the coalition partner.

--Future of Settlements: It is likely that Israel would agree to dismantle all settlements in areas that became part of a Palestinian state (see borders, below)

--Borders: There is no one specific plan but the basic framework discussed is that the Palestinian state would get 92 to 96 percent of the West Bank with the offer of additional land to be traded to bring the total given up to the area of the West Bank captured by Israel in 1967. This is vital or strategic reasons (for example, a small portion of the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road crosses the line) as well as the concept of settlement blocs.

Settlement blocs refers to the Israeli idea that by annexing a small portion of the West Bank, say 3-5 percent, near the border and relatively uninhabited by Palestinians, Israel can bring a very large proportion of settlers into the country. This would not only have a strategic value, strengthening the border, but also muster a great deal of popular support for the painful concessions needed to make peace. Most of the construction on settlements is in these areas. By stopping the construction, the United States seems to be arguing for a precise return to the pre-1967 borders, thus damaging support for other concessions in Israel, though U.S. policymakers seem completely ignorant of these issues.

--Compensation: The Palestinian side would probably hear receive tens of billions of dollars in compensation for property confiscated after 1948. There is no discussion of any compensation for Jews displaced in Arab countries or pre-1948 landowners whose property would become part of a Palestinian state.

Palestinian Authority Negotiating Position

This is rather simple: Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, allows any Palestinian refugees who wish to go to live in Israel (Right of Return), and that’s about it. There is no offer whatsoever on such things as end of conflict, security guarantees, or limits on the sovereignty of a Palestinian state (can form military alliances, invite in foreign troops, have whatever military it wishes, etc.)

Moreover, the alternative PA negotiating position is not more flexibility or compromise but the threat to go to armed struggle and to advocate openly a one-strate solution (which may be its goal any way), that is the subsuming of Israel into a Palestinian Arab Muslim state, the basic proposal made by the PLO in the 1960s.
How does the PA hope to get a state when it is unwilling to compromise? Simple, it expected the U.S. government and Europe to press Israel into giving it everything it wants.

The Day after Effect, Nothing Can Go Wrong Syndrome

Western and Arab policymakers often speak as if there will be a peace agreement and that’s the end of history. No more war, no more conflict, nothing can go wrong. Israeli policymakers must be more careful and certain that mechanisms are built into any agreement that will ensure it continues.

Why should a state without serious conditionality be given a Palestinian regime which has failed to govern competently, continued anti-Israel incitement, is profoundly corrupt, has already lost half its patrimony to a more extremist rival, is subject to influence by radical states, etc.

After all, it is easy to come up with realistic—even highly likely—scenarios for what could happen:

--Cross-border attacks from Palestine against Israel carried out either by Hamas and other Islamist oppositionists or by factions or even mainstream Fatah cadre. The Palestine government would declare itself unable to stop the attacks, deny they came from its territory, or blame Israel. To argue that a weaker Palestine would not allow such things given its self-interest neglects large portions of Middle East history when such things have happened.

--Overthrow of the new regime by a more radical group or faction. The government of Palestine would then have all the benefits of statehood and previous Israeli concessions without any intention to live up to prior commitments.

--A government of Palestine, even one which has signed a peace agreement, could embark on a Stage 2 strategy, which is after all what much of its ideology and key documents advocate, to complete Israel’s destruction.

--A Palestine government could be subverted by radical regimes (at present, Syria and Iran) or it could obtain advanced weapons from Arab states or Iran, or even invite in foreign troops.

In the face of these and other scenarios, Israel always has a war option. But how much could it depend on the United States and Europe to enforce a peace agreement or support its defensive efforts? Precedent isn’t encouraging. Moreover, as a sovereign state, Palestine would have very advantageous options, for example going to the UN where a Muslim-Arab bloc backed by others would declare Israel the aggressor no matter what had happened.

The bottom line is this: Israel would be worse, not better, off agreeing to such arrangements than it is now.

Are Things So Terrible Now?

Those insisting on peace at any price—for Israel that is—often employ two conflicting arguments. On the one hand they claim that Israel is so strong that it can give concessions without receiving equivalent ones, or so weak that it must do so. Yet the country simply does not desperately need a deeply flawed "solution" to be grabbed either out of misplaced "generosity" or "fear."

This is true because Israel is the stronger party, it has (or can obtain) control over the land in question, and it can resist external pressure both because it is likely to be fairly low and the stakes for Israel’s survival are so high.

Another mistaken conception is that the status quo is intolerable and that any change would be for the better. Yet more risks, concessions, and the establishment of an unstable and hostile Palestinian state--the most likely outcome at present--would make things worse.

Equally wrong is the notion that time is against Israel, a strong and vibrant society surrounded by weak, disorganized neighbors. Israel’s strategic situation has dramatically improved over the decades. It is a strong, confident society visibly meeting the challenge of the modern economic and technical environment.

But what about the Palestinians? They are certainly suffering. Are their leaders desperate to get a state as quickly as possible and thus willing to be flexible? On the contrary, the history of the PLO, Fatah, and the PA under both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas show they are in no such hurry at all. They would rather wait decades than give up the option of total victory in future. They also hope that external pressure will win the day for them. Thus, the worse things are, the better is their situation.

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