As with any insider view, Michael Herzog’s eye opening account of what happened during the last round of Israeli Palestinian negotiations contains fascinating details.
There is a confirmed backchannel of Dennis Ross, Isaac Molho and Hussein Agha. We learn of what turned out to be a confusing shuttle diplomacy strategy by the Americans. The timeline of the collapse is clarified and the internal discussions of the Israeli side are revealed in greater depth.
As commentators and analysts go through the details, deducing lessons for future efforts, much attention will be paid to the mistakes in process and the reality of the gaps in the positions.
In the zone of possible agreement section, Herzog gives the readers a glimpse of where the parties were on key issues. Much was already suspected. He goes through the question of Jewish State, something that Kerry would later publicly pick up in his last speech on the issue, telling the world that there had been progress made on a regional level on this issue. He details the security work that General Allen’s team undertook, something that the Commanders for Israel security and the Center for New American Security later spelled out in greater detail. The refugee question got updated to include the plight of Jews from Arab lands (though the conversations were never concluded) and Jerusalem was punted.
All of this was pretty much suspected if not known by the end of the Obama administration. Yet Herzog finishes his account of the possible agreement with a surprising final line.
“Finally, a new section initiated by Tzipi Livni on the “Culture of Peace” was introduced.”
Herzog offers no analysis or explanation but a footnote to an interview that Livni held with David Horowitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, in September 2014.
Towards the end of the interview Livni revealed that there was agreed text of what a culture of peace should look like. Below is the full part of the interview.
That’s not my point. What I’m asking is why you haven’t focused on the centrality of the need to put an end to the incitement against Israel, and to create a more honest narrative?
You’re wrong. I suggested at the start of the negotiations (in 2013) that we finalize the clause relating to the so-called “Culture of Peace” in the future agreement. First of all, implementing that clause need not wait for a full agreement. Let me see if I can find you the text. (Livni searches in her i-Pad.) It has been a while. I’m not talking here about the bilateral committees on incitement, where each side ran to complain about the other. This is something (we worked on) with Abu Mazen, which did not get implemented but which I really think has to be done.
We also need to look at ourselves. I’m Israeli. I want to protect Israel. That’s my chief interest. But to say that our texts…
… and our maps that don’t show the West Bank. No, we’re not perfect.
Or describing the Palestinians as “shrapnel in the butt” (a reference to Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s likening of the Palestinian conflict last year to shrapnel in the rear end — DH).
So, I’m very much in favor of the Palestinians being okay, but we should be too. And one doesn’t contradict the other. Both sides have to be okay. (Livni finds a document and shows it to me on her i-Pad.) This was a text on civil society and the culture of peace. It was meant to be part of any agreement. Here we set out…
Can I have a copy of this?
No, there’s a limit. (She laughs.) But you can look. You can see there are clauses against “supporting incitement.” A whole section… (The section of the document Livni shows me deals with preventing racism and discrimination, and features language highlighting the imperative to “promote mutual understanding, tolerance and respect.”)
If you implement steps like these, it might be gradually possible to help create a different atmosphere.
I wanted to do it simultaneously. Not to halt everything. I thought it could be implemented. That didn’t happen.
Again, surely he should have an interest in implementing this.
Who do you mean by “he”?
The leader you’re not representing in this interview.
(Livni laughs.) And you’re assuming that he’s the one who refused? Look, it didn’t happen. You know what, it didn’t happen. We immediately also got into the core issues. I suggested it to the Americans.
This “Culture of Peace” proposal also included clauses relating to incitement by religious leaders, media…?
Everything. Everything. Actually, I think we had an agreed text. I’ll check again. Had we extended the talks (last spring), I think we were going to implement it during the extended negotiations. But we didn’t reach an agreement to extend the negotiations.
I think it’s something that should be implemented anyway. I’m telling you, I suggested it at the very beginning.”
One of the challenges of the negotiations between Israel and the PLO has always been that ‘nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon’. The linkage means that incremental process is invalidated unless a final deal is achieved. This keeps key concessions locked away until every part of the deal is worked out so it can be sold to both populations as a package deal.
Yet the problems that a deal will solve metastasize in its absence, making compromises harder and harder to reach. The most obvious and well known is that of settlements. The longer there is no agreement on borders the more that settlements grow, making it harder to generate the political will to pull back by creating new facts on the ground.
While the settlements are a physical manifestation of a barrier to progress, no less significant is the fear, mistrust and hate that the conflict has generated between the populations. While the power balance between Israelis and Palestinians is asymmetric, the mistrust and fear is equal. If political will is needed to open the space to get to an agreement between the parties, then the agreement of creating a culture of peace cannot wait until a full agreement is signed. It is needed as a necessary precondition.
Livni in her interview recognizes this, stating that this clause should be implemented anyway.
With the collapse of the negotiations, the Quartet report of July 2016 became the next key document to lay out a way forward. The final recommendation of the report requested that,
“Both parties should foster a climate of tolerance, including through increasing interaction and cooperation in a variety of fields – economic, professional, educational, cultural – that strengthen the foundations for peace and countering extremism.”
Since then legislators in the US and UK have advanced a concept of an International Fund for Israeli Palestinian Peace, whose aim would be to actualize a strategic, scalable attempt to create a culture of peace through dedicated funding. It is based off the successful International Fund for Ireland. Later this month the United States Institute of Peace is holding a half-day conference on the lessons that can be learnt between the two funds. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who oversaw the Good Friday agreement and was the Quartet representative for many years, has endorsed this idea.
What these efforts toward the fund realize is that one of the consequences from previous failures has been an incredulity gap that now exists between the two peoples. If this cannot be bridged, Israelis and Palestinians will continue to drift further apart, making any deal politically impossible for the parties to sign. The ‘culture of peace’ work is needed to ensure that the populations move their leaders closer together, rather than drive them further apart.
With the revelation that there is agreed upon text out there, it should be released and form the basis for the proposed fund to sit upon. While borders, Jerusalem, security, refugees and the other final status suffer from a linkage that makes them rise and fall together, it is never too early to start the excruciating, necessary work of trying to break the barriers of mistrust and hate. While a culture of peace cannot survive in the absence of a political horizon, a political horizon cannot be created without a population who believes that peace is possible.