What has Changed (Ma Nishtana)?

What has changed in the current negotiations from negotiations that preceded it? Why have the current negotiations blown up with such noise despite the previous similar previous endings to rounds of negotiations? What has caused the world to react with amazement at this recent deterioration, and why does it appear that both sides are attempting to sabotage the negotiations on the one hand, while showing a willingness to negotiate on the other?

Despite the harsh words, lack of faith, and evasion of responsibility – this is likely the first time that negotiations have dealt with the most sensitive points. For the first time, the parties have been forced to look inwards, deal with domestic political disputes, while the phase of critical decisions approaches.

For the first time in 100 years of conflict, both peoples fighting over this small strip of land have realized that there is nothing new under the sun. For the first time in the conflict, despite all the shouting, threats, and unilateral measures which only serve as a smokescreen, both leaders on both sides know that they must make personal sacrifices if they desire peace and desire life. Therefore, the process is not easy nor simple.

The slogans of the past are no longer relevant. President Abbas can claim indefinitely Jerusalem is his and he will not recognize the Jewish state. Israel can continue to refuse to withdraw to the 1967 borders, but ultimately the parties know that the terms of the peace have already been signed by the parties, perhaps by the entire world. We can recall that the territorial debate is over 6%, as 94% has already been decided, more or less between the parties, whether in the territories or through land swaps. But the dispute is not only about the small percentage remaining, but about the fear that each leader has of looking in the eyes of the opponents to peace on each side.

It is mistaken to believe that there is a strong side and a weak side in this conflict. It is true that Israel today is stronger than the Palestinian Authority, but it is also true that the Palestinians comes to the negotiating table with the support of 1.6 billion Muslims, including the Arab League states and other Muslim states, as well as many of the non-aligned states. Small states or autonomies are not necessarily weak, as we see with Crimea, a small autonomy can represent a global power in regional conflict.

Therefore, the question of who is right and who is wrong is not at all relevant, but the question is who is applying pressure and to whom can pressure be applied? Who will surrender and who will subdue? Who is prepared for a real compromise and who is attempting to force his opponent into a corner, to a point of no return, in order to blow up the negotiations?

It is surprising that such experienced negotiators do not understand that, despite the complexity of the map, the principles are rather simple. The 1917 Sevres and Sykes-Picot accords, through which the world powers rather arbitrarily divided up the world into spheres of influence, planted the seeds for the intractable conflicts of the last 100 years. Why should we believe that the same forces which created the problem would be able to solve this apparently irresolvable conflict?

Despite the fact that our region is characterized by numerous conflicting interests, Israel was able to reach two historic peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, peace agreements which have proven themselves. This type of stability has not been reached through foreign involvement in numerous conflicts in our area for the last number of decades, in such states as Cyprus, Iraq, Iran, Syria , Lebanon, Tunisia, Mali, Libya, and Egypt.

There is room for optimism, as the parties are attempting to face the root of the conflict, although we must acknowledge that this is a moment of truth between two sides who desire peace, and must prove that they are ready to make concessions and prove their willingness.

The parties do not owe any of the foreign mediators a thing, as it would appear that none of the interested parties did the required homework to deserve being labelled an “honest broker”. Peace will not be achieved through external pressure, but from internal pressure from the parties who want to achieve it.

The peace agreement with Egypt brought many in Israel to shed tears of joy, despite the difficulty of the concessions requires for such an agreement. The peace agreement with Jordan was also received with great joy in Israel, despite the concessions involved in this agreement.

A foreign-imposed agreement will not bring peace, not from our side nor from the Palestinians. Peace will only come from a compromise desired by the people on both sides,  based on a longing for peace and a better tomorrow for all of us.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center