b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    December 12, 2005 Edition 43                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  Who doesn't want to negotiate?
. It's good to talk        by Ghassan Khatib
Those who see negotiations as the only viable way to peace in Israel and Palestine have to join forces and coordinate efforts.
  . Negotiate about what?        by Yossi Alpher
Amir Peretz is a proven negotiator, a title none of Israel's recent prime ministers qualifies for, but is untried as a national leader.
. All issues must be on the table        by Daoud Kuttab
Unless negotiations allow for all parties to represent their points of view, the ensuing dialogue might be nothing but a dialogue of the deaf.
  . Who's afraid of negotiations?        by Yossi Beilin
Hamas is the ultimate negotiating partner for the Kadima party.

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It's good to talk
by Ghassan Khatib

Theoretically, everybody would prefer to achieve their aims through negotiations. Different parties, however, may differ in terms of what the end result of negotiations should be and what their terms of reference are. Assuming here that what is meant by negotiations are those based on the already existing peace process that started in Madrid, went through the bilateral Washington negotiations, resulted in the Oslo interim agreements and have now come to the Quartet-sponsored roadmap plan for peace, then Israelis are as divided as Palestinians are in their attitude toward these.

The seismic shift in power in Israeli politics a few years ago from Labor to the Likud has left us in a situation where the party in power, when it talks of negotiations, has in mind negotiations and results of negotiations that are dramatically different from the framework of the existing peace process. That peace process, as determined by the international community, is framed in terms of international law. The current Israeli government is not interested in international law and the geographic partition it entails: it is interested only in a functional division tailored to suit what it sees as its own interests.

Because this entails terms of reference that the international community will not tolerate and is also incompatible with the roadmap, the current Israeli government instead decided to walk down a non-negotiations, unilateral road.

In Palestine, there are also divisions over the same issue. The notable difference is that the parties that oppose the existing peace process are in the opposition and the parties in power adhere to ideologies compatible with the peace process. Hence the core of the strategy of the Palestinian leadership is to conduct bilateral negotiations on the basis of the roadmap, which embodies the relevant clauses of international legality.

What's missing here is a third party role that can, if it becomes active, make a significant difference in the internal politics of both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. The absence of an effective third party role only encourages the powerful, tempting them to pursue policies and strategies that rely on the imbalance of power and the use of force, i.e., unilateralism, rather than bilateral negotiations based on international legitimacy.

There is a need for more cooperation and coordination between the groups and parties on both sides that understand negotiations to be the only effective approach to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Such cooperation is necessary to counter the groups and parties who believe in the use of power alone and ignore the strategy of negotiations or seek to defer it until they can "negotiate" their own terms. This need is especially acute now, after five years in which those latter groups have been allowed to strengthen each other in their respective arenas.

Those who see negotiations as the only viable way to peace in Israel and Palestine have to join forces and coordinate efforts. But this needs the effective and pro-active encouragement of the international community. The international community recently and effectively played exactly such a role and should be encouraged by its success to expand its efforts in this regard.- Published 12/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

Negotiate about what?
by Yossi Alpher

Ostensibly, it is a fairly simple exercise to list those parties, Israeli and Palestinian, that do and do not seek to negotiate. In Israel, some of the Arab parties and the Zionist left (Meretz and Labor under Peretz) want, explicitly, to renew peace negotiations unconditionally. Kadima says it wants to negotiate in accordance with the roadmap. What is left of the Likud will presumably adopt a similar official position. Even the far right and ultra-orthodox parties don't reject the principle of negotiation.

In Palestine, Fateh seeks immediate peace negotiations whereas Hamas appears to reject peace negotiations. Islamic Jihad certainly rejects negotiations, while the secular left wing parties embrace negotiations.

But when we adopt a more nuanced approach and ask, "negotiate about what, and under what conditions", the issue becomes far more complicated. Some parties on both sides profess to favor negotiations when in fact they mount obviously unacceptable conditions, or they state clearly that they seek to negotiate something less than an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Some pledge their allegiance to the roadmap while others want to go back to Oslo, or straight for Geneva. Some who favor negotiations believe in the concept and possibility of a negotiated end-of-conflict agreement, while others acknowledge they do not.

In order to focus discussion, let us concentrate on the leadership of the four parties or movements that are likely in one form or another to be running Israel and Palestine after the two sides' respective elections. In Israel, Kadima leader Ariel Sharon has stated on numerous occasions that he does not believe "the Arabs" are really ready for a genuine peace with Israel, and adds that the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas has failed to satisfy even the minimal roadmap conditions that would enable negotiations to commence. While he consistently endorses the roadmap, he appears mainly to want to be seen as coordinating his policy with that of US President George W. Bush. Everything about Sharon's approach tells us that he has no intention of negotiating a roadmap phase III final status agreement with Abbas, and would prefer either an interim agreement or another unilateral withdrawal.

Sharon stands to win the upcoming Israeli elections and retain the premiership. While there is virtually no likelihood he will find a Palestinian partner for his interim schemes, he has proven that he can dismantle settlements unilaterally, thereby moving the two parties closer to a territorial two-state solution.

Labor leader Amir Peretz, in contrast, advocates an immediate, unconditional return to bilateral peace negotiations. He is a proven negotiator (a title none of Israel's recent prime ministers qualifies for) but is totally untried as a national leader. He is most likely to become a junior coalition partner after these elections, but if by some stroke of luck he becomes prime minister, his coalition partners will be on his political right, thereby constraining his freedom to make concessions. He does not reject the notion of dismantling settlements unilaterally, but would prefer to negotiate solutions.

On the Palestinian side, Mahmoud Abbas wants to renew peace negotiations immediately, moving directly to phase III of the roadmap. In the eyes of many Israelis, including many who want to return to talks without conditions, he does not currently exercise sufficient control over the diverse forces in Palestinian society to qualify as a viable partner for a lasting and stable deal. The approaching Palestinian elections, which will empower Hamas and integrate it into the Palestinian polity, could conceivably make Palestinian society more cohesive and less violent, as Abbas assures us. But in the short term they will almost certainly render the Palestinian negotiating position more hawkish and less flexible, in deference to Hamas' positions, which reject peace negotiations with Israel (though Hamas might conceivably agree to discuss interim arrangements). Moreover if Hamas, as it insists, refuses to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure even after elections, the next Israeli government will be fully justified in refusing to reopen negotiations of any sort with a PA/PLO that comprises that terrorist organization.

Looking, then, at the likely post-election leadership situation, and factoring in not only who wants and who does not want to negotiate, but what issues they are prepared to discuss, the conclusion is inevitable: the most we are likely to see by way of progress toward a two-state solution is additional disengagement on the West Bank, conceivably--if there is a cohesive and willing Palestinian partner--as part of some sort of interim scheme. This is not peace, but it is a step in the right direction as long as no negative parallel steps are taken, particularly in and around Jerusalem and regarding settlement construction, that foreclose the possibility of an agreed two-state solution.

This is where a third party enters the picture: the United States professes to favor a negotiated two-state solution under the roadmap, but has done precious little to facilitate such a solution. Indeed, by taking a lenient attitude toward Sharon's actions around Jerusalem on the one hand, and encouraging the enfranchisement of Hamas without insisting that it disarm on the other, it is hurting the chances for a solution. So in order for even another non-negotiated step, i.e., more disengagement, to play a constructive role after elections, we shall have to see a change in the American position.- Published 12/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and was a senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

All issues must be on the table
by Daoud Kuttab

Much has happened in the last 30 odd years, but one of the more notable changes is the Israeli attitude toward negotiations. While Israel used to publicly claim to the world that it was seeking to negotiate with Palestinians and the Arab countries, today the world, for all its pressure, cannot push the Israeli government to talk with the Palestinians.

Shortly after the 1967 occupation of the Arab territories, Israeli leaders issued an APB (All Points Bulletin, in police terms) calling on Arab leaders to sit down and negotiate with the state of Israel. At the time, Arab leaders rejected this call and responded at the Khartoum Arab summit with the famous three nos: no peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel; and no negotiations with Israel.

Today Palestinian leaders, including the moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, who has consistently voiced his opposition to the militarization of the intifada, are constantly calling on their Israeli counterparts to sit down and talk to them. But the Israelis prefer to act unilaterally rather than conduct face-to-face bilateral negotiations.

Unilateralism is the easy way out because it avoids the challenge of negotiations. By acting unilaterally, parties are not obliged to make any concessions they don't want while appearing to compromise.

The lack of desire to negotiate is not limited to the Israelis. Hardline Palestinian factions are also not very keen on negotiations. Hamas has made it clear it is not planning to field enough candidates to win the upcoming Palestinian legislative elections because it is not interested in participating in negotiations with the Israelis.

Islamic Jihad, which continues to break the self-imposed tahdia (calm), is also not interested in any substantive negotiations. Like the Sharon government, but without its military might, Islamic Jihad would like to carry out unilateral actions that don't require it to sit face-to-face with its enemy and therefore do not force the group to make binding commitments.

Unilateralism has its clear limits. The unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza didn't solve the problems of Gaza. If US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hadn't shown up and forced the two sides to sit down and resolve the Rafah crossing issue, the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip would have continued to live in a large prison.

The Palestinian and Israeli elections will surely produce more centrist politicians rather than the radicals that have been in charge so far, at least on the Israeli side. The unilateral mood that has existed since the turn of this century will surely be replaced by Israeli and, to a lesser extent, Palestinian leaders who will at least claim that they want to negotiate a solution to the outstanding issues between both sides.

The change in Israeli politics might have been speeded up by the surprise rise to power of a Labor party leader with Moroccan roots, Amir Peretz, who wants to have direct talks with the Palestinians. Suddenly all Israeli leaders running in the March elections are saying that they too think that negotiations are the only way to resolve the conflict.

Agreeing to negotiate is an important step, but unless it allows for all parties to represent their points of view, what ensues might be nothing but a dialogue of the deaf.

A preview into what could happen will soon be clear once the various Israeli lists (as well as the Palestinian) make public their political platforms. If early public indications are a factor, however, we are unlikely to hear any bold new political plans. For even the dovish Peretz has made it clear that his calls for substantive permanent status negotiations will not include talks about Jerusalem or Palestinian refugees. And for better or for worse, unless Islamic Jihad's position is recognized (that includes an end to the Israeli policy of assassination and the need to address issues like Jerusalem and refugees) it and Hamas will not be keen to negotiate.- Published 12/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.

Who's afraid of negotiations?
by Yossi Beilin

An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is in the Israeli national interest and in the Palestinian national interest. It offers Israel a high probability of security, international recognition of its eastern border, internal recognition of Jerusalem as its capital, closing of the 1948 refugees file and an end to mutual claims. The Palestinians will receive a contiguous state within borders based on the 1967 green line, a capital in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem and sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and of course release from occupation and a good chance for accelerated economic development. Only negotiations can generate such an agreement.

The alternative that has become attractive in the eyes of many since the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza is an additional significant withdrawal in the West Bank. It is attractive because it relieves both sides of the pitfalls and crises of negotiating, affords Israel what many of us cherish--to determine our own fate ourselves--and avoids concessions and compromises over sensitive issues like Jerusalem. The price we would pay for this option would of course be to forego international recognition and leave open wounds for the future, when negotiations are liable to take place under more difficult circumstances and Israel will be left with little by way of territorial leverage. The price the Palestinians would pay would be acquiescence in an entity made up of autonomous enclaves ("bantustans") instead of contiguous territory, and the strengthening of Hamas, which would argue that only violence, rather than compromise, can remove Israel from the territories.

Israel's early elections, set for the beginning of spring, considerably shorten the period of political stalemate that commenced with the withdrawal from Gaza. Elections in Israel and the PA offer the prospect of a new departure. Will this take the form of an additional attempt to waste time and maintain the status quo while establishing new facts on the ground? Or, despite PM Ariel Sharon's concerted denials, will he carry out an additional unilateral move? Or will internal and external pressures force the two sides back to the negotiating table?

The attitudes of the principal actors in the arena can be characterized as follows. Among those advocating negotiations, some are prepared to pay the price of an agreement while others seek to maintain negotiations solely in order to prove that an agreement is impossible. Of those on both sides who oppose negotiations, some are prepared to make concessions, while others oppose any concession at all. That such disparate actors find themselves in the same category does not of course mean that there is any real resemblance or proximity among them, but rather reflects the fact that in politics strange bedfellows can share the same conclusion.

The Labor party, particularly since the primary victory of Amir Peretz, calls for a return to the Oslo track. This approach was supposed to have brought us back in May 1999 to a permanent agreement, and it mandates achieving such an agreement as quickly as possible. Peretz's haste in declaring, in the same breath, that he will not divide Jerusalem and "is not Geneva", raises incredulity concerning his seriousness. Nevertheless it would appear to be correct to categorize him among the supporters of negotiations and those prepared to offer significant concessions in return for peace. Meretz-Yahad is committed to the Geneva initiative and is thereby in the vanguard of those advocating negotiations and concessions for peace. Of the Arab parties, Hadash also emphasizes such positions. The PA under Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) has long advocated renewing peace negotiations, and among its leaders are prominent personalities who have voiced explicit support for the Geneva initiative.

It would appear fair to state that the Likud (particularly in the event Netanyahu is its leader) emphasizes the priority of negotiations primarily because it sees in them a way of maintaining the status quo, insofar as it never evinces a readiness to make concessions that the other side can live with. There are also elements on the Palestinian left that offer negotiations with Israel not with the purpose of reaching an historic compromise but rather in order to prove just how impossible it is.

It was Ariel Sharon who stopped the peace negotiations in early 2001 and who has done everything in order not to return to them. He asserts that there is no peace agreement that both Israelis and Palestinians can accept. Hence conceivably, under certain circumstances, and particularly if he feels pressured, he will prefer to withdraw unilaterally from additional areas. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beteinu party fills a similar ideological slot. On the Palestinian side, Hamas opposes any agreement with Israel because it is not prepared to legitimate the state of the Jews, but would agree to an extended ceasefire were Israel to withdraw unilaterally. From this standpoint it is the ultimate partner for the Kadima party.

Parties like the NRP and the National Union make no secret of their opposition to any negotiations and any territorial concession. Islamic Jihad presents a similar refusal.

It took more than 38 years for the Israeli political mainstream to understand that without significant concessions regarding the Land of Israel it cannot maintain a Jewish and democratic state here. We don't have another 38 years for the mainstream to recognize that there is no better way to reach that goal than an historic agreement between the two peoples--despite the hostility and despite the scars.- Published 12/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Beilin is chair of the Meretz-Yahad party.

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