It’s good to talk

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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.

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