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Viewpoint: America Must Take the Lead

By Gadi Baltiansky, The Jerusalem Post

25.09.2010
Viewpoint: The Jerusalem Post

The renewed direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will likely proceed along two parallel tracks – one seeking the win-win situation of a conflict-ending permanent peace deal, the other engrossed in a zero-sum blame game in which the other side is held responsible for the negotiating failure.

The Palestinians, who have already presented detailed positions on all the core issues, are now counting on the Americans to come forward with a bridging proposal that reflects Palestinian views, especially on borders and Jerusalem. This is precisely what official Israel fears: a Palestinian-tending American offer that cannot be refused. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tactic, therefore, will probably be to wait it out for as long as he can and then put a plan of his own on the table to preempt or at least defer the American bridging effort and place the onus squarely on the Palestinians if they reject it.

Netanyahu won’t have to present a plan for a final peace deal. Instead, he may offer a partial framework for an interim agreement. Even if the Americans are less than enthusiastic and the Palestinians wholly negative, an Israeli peace move of that nature would engender long months of discussion, especially since it would be presented as a “painful concession” by the Likud prime minister. The time that elapses until such a Netanyahu initiative, followed by the debate, political ramifications and the arguments over its details, could take us well into the runup to the 2012 American election campaign, which will put on hold any forceful initiative from President Barack Obama. In this way, perhaps, Netanyahu hopes to prevent a comprehensive and detailed “Obama peace plan.”

The big challenge for America will be to prevent the zero-sum game that could follow presentation of a plan by one of the parties. Therefore, it should ensure that its ideas very quickly become the focus of discussion around the negotiating table. If the US holds firm in this, it should be possible within a few months to reach a framework agreement, which will serve as the basis for detailed negotiations for a permanent settlement.

This could be followed by significant Palestinian and Israeli domestic political moves: an effort at inter-Palestinian reconciliation to create a single Palestinian representative authority, and a redrawing of the Israeli political map to reflect the support of most Israelis for the proposed agreement.

Time is of the essence. To shorten the period during which extremists on both sides might be able to sabotage the process, the US should present a proposal for a framework agreement by the beginning of next year.

It should include general principles for a permanent peace agreement, outline a time frame for achieving it, and detail concrete steps on the ground that give a sense of historic change in the making, reinforcing the pragmatists on both sides.

The framework agreement should include the following principles:

  1. Both sides understand that it serves as the basis for a comprehensive agreement to be signed within a year, ending the conflict between them.
  2. Both sides immediately begin implementing their commitments under the first stage of the 2003 International Road Map – the Palestinians on security, Israel on dismantling unauthorized outposts and freezing building in the settlements.
  3. Both sides open interest offices in each other’s territory and call on all members of the Arab League to follow suit in establishing similar ties with Israel.
  4. Both sides agree to include the following principles in the finalstatus agreement:
    • Recognition of the two states as the national homes of their respective peoples.
    • The border will be based on the 1967 Green Line with agreed minor, mutual adjustments, taking into account contiguity of the Palestinian state, security needs of both parties and demographic realities.
    • Israel will evacuate settlements on the Palestinian side of the new border according to an agreed time frame.
    • Palestine will be a state with a strong police force, but without an army, and with a strict security regime within its borders to prevent the infiltration of persons or weapons that could undermine regional stability. These arrangements will be guaranteed by an international force deployed on Palestinian territory.
    • Both sides will take all necessary steps to prevent terror and incitement.
    • Both capitals will be in Jerusalem. The Jewish neighborhoods in areas annexed after 1967 will be part of Israel, the Arab neighborhoods part of Palestine. There will be a special regime for the holy places guaranteeing freedom of worship for believers of all faiths.
    • Within five years of the final peace deal, there will no longer be Palestinians with refugee status, after refugees receive compensation for suffering and loss of property, and are resettled in Palestine or elsewhere with help from an international refugee rehabilitation administration of which Israel will be part.

Acquiescence in an early framework agreement and in American leadership of the process will require difficult decisions on both sides.

For the leaders, signing it will entail national, political and personal risks.

But the risk that could ensue from not reaching agreement in the near future is infinitely greater. And that is a chance we dare not take.