The Start Of The Deal

Forward Magazine - - News - YOSSI ALPHER

Yossi Alpher lays out a Trump roadmap to peace in the Mid­dle East.

Twenty-four years af­ter the sign­ing of the Oslo Dec­la­ra­tion of Prin­ci­ples, and af­ter two con­certed peace ef­forts (Camp David 2000 and Olmert-Ab­bas in 2008) to ne­go­ti­ate a fi­nal­sta­tus agree­ment, Oslo’s two main flaws are painfully ap­par­ent.

One flaw is that the Oslo menu for fi­nal-sta­tus ne­go­ti­a­tions com­prises two fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent types of is­sues, one of which is far more ne­go­tiable than the other.

The sec­ond flaw is the Oslo ne­go­ti­at­ing rule that “noth­ing is agreed un­til every­thing is agreed,” which holds the solv­able is­sues hostage to the un­solv­able ones.

To be fair, the Oslo for­mu­la­tors in 1993 did their best un­der the cir­cum­stances. And “noth­ing is agreed” is not writ­ten into the Oslo DOP but rather sim­ply evolved as a corol­lary.

What are the two types of is­sues that Oslo mixed up? Fifty years af­ter the 1967 Six Day War, they are best de­fined as pre-’67 and post-’67.

The pre-’67 or nar­ra­tive is­sues were on the broader Is­rael-Arab agenda prior to that war. There are two Pales­tinian nar­ra­tive de­mands. One is the 1948 Pales­tinian refugee is­sue that is now sub­sumed by the Pales­tinian de­mand for Is­rael to rec­og­nize the “right of re­turn” to Is­rael proper of all refugee de­scen­dants, now num­ber­ing more than 5 mil­lion. A sec­ond is the fate of Mus­lim and Jewish holy places whose prove­nance goes back 1,500 years in the Mus­lim case and about 3,000 years in the Jewish case. It is best un­der­stood through the Pales­tinian ar­gu­ment, re­peated an­nu­ally by Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Pres­i­dent Mahmoud Ab­bas, that “there never was a Tem­ple on the Tem­ple Mount.”

On the Is­raeli side there has arisen the de­mand that Is­rael be rec­og­nized as the his­toric na­tion­state of the Jewish peo­ple.

All at­tempts at fi­nal- sta­tus ne­go­ti­a­tions have shown th­ese de­mands to be mu­tu­ally and to­tally un­ac­cept­able. Each side per­ceives the de­mands of the other as dele­git­imiz­ing its core na­tional nar­ra­tive, hence non­nego­tiable.

If the 1948 refugees have the right of re­turn, rec­og­nized even merely “in prin­ci­ple,” and if there never was a Tem­ple, Is­rael’s very his­toric claim to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in its his­toric home­land is negated. Cor­re­spond­ingly, if Is­rael is the na­tion­state of the Jewish peo­ple, then the Pales­tinian na­tional nar­ra­tive of ex­ile and dis­place­ment is per­ceived as negated.

And if noth­ing is agreed un­til every­thing is agreed, then the dead­lock over pre-’67 is­sues au­to­mat­i­cally ve­toes any agree­ment re­gard­ing the post-’67 is­sues: bor­ders, se­cu­rity, set­tle­ments and the lo­ca­tion of the Pales­tinian state’s cap­i­tal. Th­ese are the is­sues cre­ated by Is­rael’s 1967 con­quest of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. They all in­volve ter­ri­tory, not nar­ra­tives. In other words, they in­volve real es­tate. And it is on th­ese is­sues that ne­go­ti­a­tions un­til now have gen­er­ally proved more fruit­ful, with dif­fer­ences hav­ing been nar­rowed quite ef­fec­tively be­fore the talks in­evitably col­lapsed.

Here is where Don­ald Trump’s real es­tate

ap­proach and his ag­gres­sive ne­go­ti­at­ing per­son­al­ity en­ter the pic­ture. Rede­fine the ne­go­ti­a­tions as cen­ter­ing on only th­ese non­nar­ra­tive, prag­matic post-’67 is­sues. Rede­fine the end game not as “end of con­flict, end of claims,” which pre­sup­poses res­o­lu­tion of the nar­ra­tive is­sues, but as “two-state so­lu­tion.” In­sist that the par­ties agree to set aside their in­com­pat­i­ble nar­ra­tive claims for later dis­cus- sion once there is a func­tion­ing Pales­tinian state. In­sist they agree that, at that point, their on­go­ing nar­ra­tive dis­agree­ments will not con­sti­tute a ca­sus belli. In other words, they can dis­cuss them forever with­out dis­abling their two-state agree­ment.

When each side protests that it is get­ting noth­ing in re­turn for painful con­ces­sions, re­mind the Pales­tini­ans that they are achiev­ing sov­er­eign self­de­ter­mi­na­tion for the first time in his­tory. And re­mind the Is­raelis that while Pales­tini­ans (and all other Arabs) still don’t rec­og­nize them as a Jewish state, at least Is­rael re­mains a Jewish democ­racy at peace with most of its neigh­bors rather than a neb­u­lous apartheid time bomb.

In­sist that the par­ties agree to leave Gaza out of the re­vised real es­tate equa­tion un­til such time as it and the West Bank are re­united po­lit­i­cally and the P.A. can claim au­thor­ity to dis­cuss its fu­ture. Muster heavy Arab, Rus­sian and Euro­pean Union pres­sure and in­cen­tives to adopt this course of ac­tion.

Trump has al­ready sig­naled his pref­er­ence for a real es­tate ap­proach by ask­ing Is­rael to make mi­nor ter­ri­to­rial con­ces­sions and turn over bits of Is­raeli­con­trolled West Bank Area C to the P.A. Now, to ex­tract a two-state so­lu­tion he will have to go much fur­ther, dis­card­ing well-es­tab­lished but failed Oslo prac­tices like “noth­ing is agreed...,“along with the Oslo menu of fi­nal-sta­tus is­sues.

As a tough real es­tate man, and as­sum­ing he re­ally is de­ter­mined, he just might be the right one for the job.

Yossi Alpher served in the Mos­sad, di­rected Tel Aviv Univer­sity’s Jaf­fee Cen­ter for Strate­gic Stud­ies and was a spe­cial ad­viser to Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Barak dur­ing the 2000 Camp David talks. He is the au­thor of “No End of Con­flict: Re­think­ing Is­rael-Pales­tine” (Row­man & Lit­tle­field, 2016.)


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