The Forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian Agreement
When Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister, was in Ottawa at the end of September, he said that, although there are peace talks, he had little confidence that they would lead to a breakthrough. In saying that, he probably expressed the vast majority of both Israeli and world public opinion. And guess what? Look who agreed with the Palestinian Foreign Minister. On Saturday, Israeli Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are unlikely to bear fruit. But he added two telling phrases: “within the envisioned nine-month timeframe” and, further, that, “dialogue should continue”. Lieberman now supports the talks and expects them to go beyond the nine-month framework. He went onto say, “I don’t believe it is possible in the next year… to achieve a comprehensive solution to achieve some breakthrough, but I think it is crucial to keep our dialogue…because, even if you are not able to resolve the conflict, it’s very important to manage this conflict.” Lieberman did not explicitly state it, but he has clearly and unequivocally backed away from his oft-repeated axiomatic belief that there was NO chance for ANY agreement EVER.
What has changed?
The day before, John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, said, “I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and the security that all of the people of this region deserve.” Further, look at what Obama said to Haim Saban at the same Saban Forum in Washington on Saturday. (The interview is well worth hearing; half of it and all the questions from Israelis afterwards dealt with the Iranian talks – http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/316685-1 indicating what is foremost in Israeli minds.)
After Saban thanked Obama for his efforts and discussed the Geneva Agreement with Iran, he asked Obama about the possibility of an American-imposed agreement. Obama repeated his old refrain that the Palestinians and Israelis had to make the peace and the USA could only be a facilitator. He congratulated Abbas and Netanyahu for engaging in very serious talks on the substantive issues. He also said that everyone knows about the outline of the deal. Will each side be able to meet and make a deal that respects each party’s bottom line? Then he made this declaration: “I believe that in the next few months that we will be in a position that will provide a framework agreement for a two-state solution. The Americans had spent a lot of time to understand Israel’s security requirements and that the US could understand it and make provision for those security concerns.”
At the end of November, Tzipi Livni, the Justice Minister who heads the talks, was interviewed by the Turkish Press. She said that substantial progress is being made and, in reiterating this view to Esti Perez on Israel Radio’s program “Midday”, she said that successful completion of the negotiations will require “experience and expertise” while ensuring Israel’s best interests. While the Palestinians sought to dampen expectations, the conditions were clearly signalled: the central question was sovereignty for the Palestinians and, that, in resolving the security question for Israel, dignity of Palestinians had to be respected.
An important shift had been signaled. The return of the refugees and the jurisdiction over Jerusalem were no longer the breaking issues. In the Saban Forum, President Obama said that he had assigned General Johm Allen, a retired United States Marine Corps four-star general whose final assignment had been commander of the International Security Assistance and U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) (Afghanistan) to determine whether it was possible to square the circle and create a two-state solution that can also provide for Israel’s security. It was crucial that Israel not be faced with a replica of Gaza. Allen reported back in the affirmative.
There was one clearly pronounced negative note at the Saban Forum. Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, on Sunday took issue with the critical comments of Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni made at the Saban Forum about the government’s recent decision to approve 3,000 new units in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but that was it. No fireworks! When Netanyahu addressed the Forum via a pre-recorded address but in a mannner that was firm and unsmiling, both the content and the mode were experienced as at odds with the informality and open exchanges encouraged among all participants at the Forum, even among most Likudniks.
The deal is being written as I write. It will consist of the following:
1. It will be another interim deal but it will not be called interim but will be characterized as a Framework Agreement (FA) which will entail mutual recognition of both a Jewish and a Palestinian homeland;
2) Thus, the FA will entail recognition of Palestinian sovereignty;
3) It will make provision for Israeli security involving a US military presence along the Jordanian border and a clear and unequivocal guarantee of Israel’s security as a Jewish state will be ensured by the USA;
4) It will involve an exchange of territory which will see the Palestinian side getting the equivalent of 100% of the territory Israel captured in 1967;
5) the issue of sovereignty over Gaza will be settled in principle but postponed in practice in the recognition that Abbas will not make a deal that does not include Gaza but that Abbas does not control Gaza, so, although the deal will be restricted to the West Bank, the settlement of the West Bank will offer a model for Gazans;
6) Although the final status questions will be settled in the Framework Agreement, the deal will proceed in stages with fixed deadlines;
7) The framework agreement will not address every single detai, on the premise that it is better to move forward than to move backward, but the arrangements on refugees, Jerusalem and the settlements will be dealt with in principle and left for future negotiations to spell out in detail;
8) On settlements, the Agreement will provide for a freeze on Israeli settlement building in areas under discussion for possible trade with Palestine;
9) The agreement on water has long ago been settled and will simply be reinstated and updated;
10) The Agreement on refugees will be settled in principle with the rate of return to a Palestinian state settled in further negotiations and the mode of settling compensation claims also determined in those negotiations;
11) The Palestinian parts of Jerusalem will fall under the jurisdiction of a sovereign Palestine;
12) The religious sites of the OldCity will involve an international authority in partnership with both Israel and Palestine.
The messiah always is coming but never manages to come. Peace Agreements, as much as we have come to believe that they belong in the same category, are, however, like Santa Clause; they do come. A year ago who would have believed that we would have a working agreement on chemical weapons in Syria or an interim agreement with Iran. It is a horrible experience when all the beliefs we hold dear are being shattered. Further, I must be mad to crawl out in such a limb, engage in prophecy, not because I will fall off, the limb, but because my prognosticating on outcomes of talks may jinx them. It is a sign that I have given up my belief in my magical powers to undermine peace negotiations by predicting their outcome.