Negotiations and Terrorism: We are not alone

The shooting of a 9 year old girl in the Jewish community of Psagot is surely one of the most despicable and incomprehensible acts.  But to the Fatah party’s Facebook administrator, the perpetrator is to be idolized and made a ‘hero’.  The attack on 5 October 2013 is the third ‘major’ terrorist attack in the last month. There has been a distinct uptick in attacks that has corresponded with an increased push from the US for Israel and the PA to move forward in “peace talks.”

There have been various calls from nationalist MKs that assert that the peace talks are leading to increased bloodshed. Many will claim that this is not a new phenomenon but something that is only reoccurring. Indeed the Israeli government should not be surprised with the current situation, since it seems that every time we extend our hand in peace, we only get terror in return.

This repetitive action, which only results in the death of Israeli citizens, leads to some important and unanswered questions. Firstly, does the government realize that peace talks and the increased levels of terror activity actually have a correlation? Secondly, does an acknowledgement that such a correlation exists mandate a change in approach in and of itself? Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly however, is whether or not the Israeli government and Israeli society realized that peace talks resulting in increased levels of violent attacks and terrorism is NOT an Israeli phenomenon.

If my theory holds true that in many other places of the world, in many other conflicts, increased levels of negotiation lead to increased levels of violence  then at the least this should be cause for rethinking our position. Israelis, and the government that represents them should not view themselves as isolated, nor their situation peculiar.

While my research in this area is ongoing and much more in depth than what can be surmised in this brief article, the recent violence that directly affects my family and my country warrants its early exposure.

According to Data from the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism database, between 1988 and 1998 there were 14 “peace agreements” signed between states and non-state actors, terrorist or insurgent groups. Of these agreements, only 25% were implemented where terrorism had occurred during the negotiating period. Where no terrorism was carried out during the course of the peace negotiations, 60% of such agreements saw some degree of effective implementation.

This period on its own standing shows that terrorist groups have been quite effective in using terrorism at key points in the diplomatic timeline to derail talks, and render agreements non-implementable. The distrust that can be sown from groups who supposedly represent a minority, was enough to move an Israeli public to oust a Peres in favor of a formerly hawkish Netanyahu in 1996, following the upturn in terrorism that came subsequent to the Oslo accords.

Around the same period, in 1997 the IRA increased attacks against British targets ahead of elections.  In fact, in the first few months of 1997 they carried out 29 attacks, compared to only 11 in all of 1996. A July 1997 ceasefire agreement was not respected by splinter factions of the IRA who disagreed with a diplomatic track.  Terror attacks by the INLA increased dramatically.

So far, in 2013 alone, peace talks in the Philippines have resulted in dozens of attacks including the siege attack on Zamboanga city.  Thailand’s engagement with the Barisan Revolusi National (BRN) has been marred by constant attacks throughout 2013 but the first week of October was witness to daily—sometimes twice daily attacks.  While India attempts to proceed with the diplomatic, peace process route with its neighbouring Pakistan, the potential successes have been coupled with exponential increases in the frequency and lethality of attacks in Jammu & Kashmir, as well as in other parts of the country.

When playing the negotiating game with ‘secessionist groups’, there are a few rules and assumptions that must be in place from the outset.  These theoretical rules are however problematic from the outset when the partner on the other side was, or is, a terrorist organization, and when they have been or continue to be directly responsible for attacks on the party in power.   Firstly, the point of negotiations is clear;  The government will offer concessions of some variety in exchange for the representatives of the opposing groups ensuring a cessation of hostilities.

The negotiating formula assumes that the party chosen to negotiate with are the relative moderates, and that those carrying out the bulk of the disruptive attacks are a loud but non-representative minority.  When an attack is carried out during peace talks however, there are but a few conclusions that can be derived in respect to the ‘moderate’ party with whom a government is negotiating.  1) The moderate party attempted to stop attacks by all means but was unsuccessful; 2) The moderate party is actually untrustworthy and intentionally chose not to suppress violence to some degree or altogether; 3) The moderate party is too weak, and lacks the necessary support to suppress the violence.

It should be obvious that in a scenario where the first conclusion is arrived at, trust can still exist to the degree that negotiations can continue.  In such a scenario it would be normal for the negotiating sides to agree that violence holds back the potential opportunities of negotiations, and that the two sides should work more jointly and cooperatively to ensure non-repetition.  Where the third conclusion is reached, a government may or may not be able to carry on with negotiations.  However, if they choose to do so, the likelihood of being required to negotiate with other groups, including splinter groups, is significant; as evidenced with the situation in the Philippines.  Where the second conclusion is apparent however, a government cannot, in good conscience continue negotiations, for the trust required for the same is non-existent or has been diminished too greatly.

The suggested formulas are more elaborate than this summary can provide, however the impact of the same vis-à-vis the current round of negotiations with the PA is evident.

The ruling Fatah party, and the PA, both led by Mahmoud Abbas have not ceased in their incitement against the State of Israel, and the Jewish people.  They continue to honor terrorists and preach the words of martyrdom.  They continue to demonize Israelis and Jews, whilst holding murderers and terrorists as the heroes that should be emulated.  The PA controlled education system, and the ‘state’ controlled media pour a steady flow of hate, violence, and indoctrination down the throats of its population, especially its youth.  Surely the PA and its actions in this regard play a direct role in the recent spike of terrorist attacks that have coincided with Kerry’s announcement, and Obama’s orders for a ‘full steam ahead’ approach to negotiations.

While a long list of political and security related lessons can be learnt from the examination of how spikes in terrorism are linked to “peace talks” around the world, the most important are those that the government should turn into responses effective immediately.

1) A government cannot negotiate with a party who is unwilling to stop violence during peace talks.  2) A government cannot negotiate with a party who plays an active part in violence during peace talks; 3) A government cannot negotiate with a party in whom there is no trust.

Even if it could be demonstrated that the PA has done everything in its power to prevent terrorism—which is impossible—then a government still has an obligation to not negotiate with a party who does not have the power to implement its side of any final deal for that will only lead to a perpetuation of the conflict.  The PA appears to fall into both of the two categories that would mandate the Israeli government ceasing negotiations.

While many will respond with the standard rhetoric of ‘well, what other choice do we have’?, or ‘there is no other option’, this remains only rhetoric.  Practically speaking, our government has an obligation to protect its citizens, to secure its borders, and to act normally.  It is not obliged to negotiate.  Alternative plans to a two-state solution can be, and should be discussed.  However, the answer to the negotiations dilemma should not be ‘Abbas is the best we have’.  Instead Israel should at the least maintain the status quo, fight terrorism, and work towards empowering a real moderate with whom real trust can be built. Should such a party fail to arise, then Israel would be well advised to abstain from negotiations.

About the Author
Michael Wolfowicz holds a BA in Security, Terrorism, and Counter-Terrorism. He currently is completing a double MA in International Security Studies, with a MA in Policing, Intelligence, and Counter-Terrorism (with a specialization in Counter-Terrorism). He has been working in various roles in private security, investigations and intelligence for 9 years.