Negotiation without secrets

Negotiation without secrets

By Gadi Baltiansky, Walla

Via Walla, translated for the Geneva Initiative by Dr. Denise Pessah (click for original, in Hebrew)

The public does not need the Al-Jazeera leaks to know there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that would safeguard the interests of both sides. Gadi Baltianski's advice to our leaders: enough with secrecy, no more spin, let's have the truth.

Exposing the documents relating to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has made more than a few waves. Some are disturbed by the identity of those responsible for the leak, some are concerned about the stability of the Palestinian government, some are critical of Israel's handling of its affairs. And what is missing? In fact no one is really surprised by the content of the proposals that were exchanged, no one is shocked by the kind of ideas put forward during the negotiations. There is nothing unexpected and the leaders of the Palestinian Authority are free to decide if they are disposed to continue the conflict or put an end to it.

What a lot of effort the parties to the negotiation put into maintaining secrecy. Just in case, God forbid, the Israeli public finds out that their government is ready to relinquish Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. So long as the Palestinian public doesn't hear of their leaders' willingness to give up on the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. So long as sensitive information on Israeli willingness to evacuate tens of thousands of settlers isn't leaked and just so long as the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon don’t hear that there won't be any overall right of return to Israel.

Our leaders, who are always lagging behind their populace instead of leading them, can relax. The public knows. The public isn't stupid. And that's why it is willing to pay. We knew before the leaks and we know after them: there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that safeguards the true interests of both sides. This solution is to be found in the area that is within the Clinton principles of 2000, the Taba talks of 2001, and the Geneva Initiative of 2003. Now we can also add the Olmert-Abu Mazen talks of 2008. They are all similar; they are all clear. All that's needed is to take a decision.

Secrecy acts like a boomerang, on both sides.

Attempting to conceal information, to mislead the public and to deceive opponents of the agreement acts like a boomerang, on both sides. An Israeli leader can, as if nothing, commit himself to a united eternal Jerusalem and a Palestinian leader prattle about the return of every refugee to his home. Neither of them is telling the truth and they both know it. In the meanwhile, they simply increase the public's lack of confidence in the chance of achieving an agreement, and this lack of confidence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that dooms to failure the very attempt, on the part of the leaders, to reach an agreement.

This being so, it might be advisable to give some thought to a revolutionary idea. Enough with secrecy, no more spin. The moment of truth has arrived. Both peoples are mature enough. They are more ready for the painful operation awaiting them than are the cowardly surgeons who are supposed to be performing it. Every sane person in our region knows that if there is an agreement, it will include the well-known principles appearing in the leaked documents, together with those present in any serious negotiation that has taken place up to now: a border based on '67 with exchange of territories, partition of East Jerusalem on a demographic basis, extensive security arrangements, a symbolic gesture on the part of Israel on the issue of refugees without accepting the principle of the right of return, and a declaration of mutual recognition and the end of the conflict.

And now, when everything is not only known but also documented, our leaders will be good enough to tell the truth: are they for or against an agreement of this kind? Not why it is impossible to attain it, not why the other side is not ready, not why "not now." Let them say once and for all what we are ready for, what our standpoint is, how we see the solution. The question of whether there is a Palestinian partner to the agreement is legitimate, in spite of the fact that the documents strengthen those who answer this question in the affirmative. It is incumbent upon us to demonstrate that there is an Israeli partner. To show, and not to conceal.

Gadi Baltianski is Israel Director General of the Geneva Initiative