Lewis Rosen

When Negotiations with the Palestinians Return to Center-Stage

During the current Israeli election campaign not much attention has been paid to policies regarding negotiations with or about the Palestinians. The breakdown of negotiations in March 2014, combined with the Palestinian Authority’s (PA’s) aggressive and hostile actions in international forums, in violation of previous accords, has make the possibility of an accommodation seem very remote. This view is heightened by the advent and violence of Islamic State, the fracturing of Syria, and the continuing belligerence towards Israel from Iran. Instead of attention to the Palestinian issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to the U.S. Congress on March 3 and the crisis in US-Israel relations have been major subjects, as well as various charges of overspending and misconduct by the Netanyahu family.

Nonetheless, there are clear hints that the new Israeli government will face strong pressure to make substantive concessions to the Palestinians in new negotiations. Last week, for example, Martin Indyk suggested that there would be a new UN security council resolution, to be backed by the five permanent members of the council, that he thought would be “against Israel’s will” if the new Israeli government didn’t “launch a diplomatic initiative.” The latter expression is diplomatic code for “new concessions to the Palestinians.” Indyk spoke about resurrecting the Arab Peace Initiative, a document highly problematic for Israel.

It seems that Israel will be pressed to take huge risks. The usual envisioned two-state solution includes Palestinian control of most of the West Bank (along with Gaza). But, such control of the West Bank, if used for mortar and rocket attacks on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the coastal plain, would make normal life in Israel impossible. The extensive disruptions of life in southern Israel during the July-August 2014 conflagration in Gaza was a vivid curtain-raiser for what might happen following Palestinian control of the West Bank. Heavy bombardment from the West Bank, if coordinated with attacks on other fronts, could threaten Israel’s survival.

In thinking about what would be needed for a viable and sustainable two-state solution, as usually envisioned in the area between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, there are two primary issues: 1) How to demonstrate the Palestinians’ peaceable intentions, and 2) how to prevent the importation of rockets, mortars and the materials needed for internal manufacture of these weapons? The second is essential because, even if peaceable intentions seem real at one point in time, there is no assurance that such intentions will survive even a few years. For example, it seems that a deal was almost reached during the 1990s with Hafez Assad for the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. Given the recent turmoil and disintegration in Syria, northern Israel would now be in serious danger had such a deal been consummated. Looking at the Palestinians, the bloody takeover by Hamas of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 could happen in the West Bank once it is in PA hands.

Current pre-election polls show an approximate balance between the Likud and the Zionist Union. In facing future pressure for renewed negotiations with the Palestinians, what demands would the leaders of the Likud and the Zionist Union make in such negotiations in order to assure Israel’s future? Here are some suggestions, first regarding the Palestinians’ peaceable intentions.

Resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly, passed on November 29, 1947, called for the establishment of a Jewish State and an Arab State. All Arab countries in the General Assembly at the time, as well as the leaders of the Arab population in Mandatory Palestine, unanimously and vehemently opposed Resolution 181. Sadly, such opposition to a Jewish State continues to this day. One can cite numerous statements in recent years by “moderate” Palestinian leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas, confirming this adamant opposition. This has to change. While one can argue that PA acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State would be mere words, it would be a concession of substance in light of their previous strenuous rejection of this term. Some claim that Israel’s insistence on Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish State is a new demand meant to prevent an agreement. No, it’s not new at all. Rather, it is a return to the exact terminology used by the drafters of Resolution 181. who were convinced that partition was necessary and supported the establishment of the nation-state of the Jewish people in its ancient homeland.

Second, any agreement must include clauses that mark the end of the conflict and the end of all claims. Given that Palestinian children are still told by PA TV that “Jaffa, Acre, Haifa and Nazareth are ours,” and give myriad other documented statements of similar irredentist character, Israelis rightly fear that any Palestinian state established in the West Bank and Gaza would be viewed by Palestinians as a stepping stone to further attacks on Israel. Also as part of any agreement, the Palestinians must extensively modify their media content and educational curricula, including showing maps with Israel clearly marked according to the agreed borders.

Third, no refugees will be admitted to Israel as part of any agreement. Had Arab leaders accepted Resolution 181 with peaceable intentions, there would not have been any refugees. Instead, they made war with the explicit goal of preventing a Jewish State from being realized. Aside from the lack of historical justification, the return of refugees in large numbers would pose a major demographic and security risk for Israel, given the anti-Israel education that Palestinians receive, particularly refugees. A TOI article by Avi Issacharoff on February 13 with the provocative headline, “When Netanyahu closed the door on peace talks,” claimed that back-channel talks between Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas almost led to a framework agreement in 2011. (Professor (emeritus) Ira Sharkansky has written about the numerous problems with this putative agreement, including what it omitted.) According to Issacharoff, the framework draft had a vague formulation on refugees. In part, Israel would accept an unspecified number of refugees per year. Issacharoff added, “In later conversations Abbas’s position was that he wanted Israel to take in 10,000 refugees a year for 15 years, for a total of 150,000 refugees.” Really? As if such an ongoing flood of refugees would not pose a serious security threat! If that was what was envisioned, and this was only one of the problematic areas, it’s good that Netanyahu declined to pursue those discussions.

Regarding security requirements:

Even if the above political conditions were implemented, as part of Palestinian demonstration of peaceable intentions, Hamas and other irredentist Palestinian groups, as well as external enemies, such as Iran, would try to gain control of the West Bank and flood it with aggressive weaponry. They have explicitly said so. To prevent this, Israel itself must control the borders of the West Bank, particularly in the area of the Jordan valley. Israeli forces must also be allowed entry into the West Bank under specified circumstances to prevent the kind of coup that Hamas effected in Gaza in June 2007. Given the gross failure of non-Israeli forces to prevent the rearming of Hizbullah in Lebanon since 2006, despite UN Security Council resolution 1701, and given other earlier failures in the region of international forces or observers, Israel will not agree to give non-Israeli forces responsibility for preventing armaments from flowing into the West Bank. Furthermore, the reliance on Israeli forces for such protection has to be a long term arrangement. Another security requirement is that Jerusalem remain united under Israeli political and police authority. A checkerboard division of the city, which some propose, would risk a Belfast-like surge of violence in Jerusalem’s future.

Some will argue, “The Palestinians won’t accept such conditions,” and Israel must demand less. However, the bottom line should be: If the Palestinians want an independent state, it must be on terms that cannot threaten Israel.

My guess is that the above positions would be supported by Benjamin Netanyahu. Do Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni do so as well? If not, what are their positions? Whoever forms the next Israeli government will, sooner or later, likely have to provide persuasive arguments when John Kerry, Martin Indyk or other American officials come calling to pressure Israel. Israel’s position has to be that greater pressure than heretofore must be exerted on the Palestinians to meet Israel’s legitimate political and security needs in any future two-state arrangement.

About the Author
Lewis Rosen is a retired economist who has lived in Jerusalem for 40 years. Born and educated in the US, he worked for the Office of Economic Opportunity for two years in Washington D.C. and was on the economics faculty of York University in Toronto, Canada for 13 years. In Israel he was involved in a wide range of business planning and economic analysis projects.