Why are peace talks secret?
Op-ed: Israel, PA must do better job of preparing public opinion for necessary concessions
Jessica Brandt Published: 02.07.11, 00:05 / Israel Opinion share
The recently released Palestine Papers make for juicy reading, but they aren’t really news. They tell us what any close observer of the conflict already knows: that an agreement will require both sides to ease their grip on long-held taboos and come to compromise that meets the long term national interests of both peoples.
To read al-Jazeera’s reporting, you would think that the Palestinian leadership’s willingness to accept creative, compromise arrangements regarding the right of return or borders in the Jerusalem envelope was a betrayal in secret. In truth, it was neither.
Op-Ed Making conditional peace / Boaz Ganor Op-ed: Historical accord within reach, referendum on deal should be held to overcome radicals Full Story President Abbas was undoubtedly acting in the interest of the Palestinian people in his efforts to reach an agreement that would bring about their independence. A comprehensive final status deal of the type he was working towards would bring about Palestinian self-determination in a state with east Jerusalem as its capital and put an end to the refugee issue at long last. In this, Abbas did not demonstrate perfidy, but rather vision.
Everyone knows creativity and compromise will be required to achieve that vision. Israel will most certainly not accept an arrangement that implements the right of return for Palestinian Refugees, nor recognizes it. However, it is ready to grant financial compensation and enable a symbolic return of a limited number of refugees under the state’s sovereign decision. This can be the basis for a deal.
Likewise, Israeli annexation of large settlement blocks in the Jerusalem envelope that lie close to the 1967 Green Line is, as a matter of practicality, inevitable. But Israel is ready to devise land swaps that would compensate Palestinians with territory of equal size and quality, and to share Jerusalem as the capital of two states.
As the Palestine Papers reflect, delineating borders has proven a perpetual sticking point. Prime Minister Olmert put forward a plan that would require territory exchange amounting to 6.5% of the West Bank, but was willing to agree to 5.9%; President Abbas offered 1.9%. Although differences remain, the principle of 1967 borders with mutual swaps can be the basis for a deal.
The position of Abbas and his colleagues on these matters was no secret. To anyone who has followed the successive rounds of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, their willingness to accept compromise was already widely known.
The real gapTake, for example, the Geneva Accord of 2003. The model lays out mutually acceptable, creative solutions to the refugee question based on United Nations decisions 194 and 242 and on the Arab Peace initiative, which acknowledge Palestinian suffering without jeopardizing the Jewish character of Israel. It calls for a border based on the 1967 Green Line with agreed 1:1 swaps, and mutually recognized capitals in the areas of Jerusalem under each party’s respective sovereignty. Abbas has publicly supported these ideas.
The fact that al-Jazeera attempted to portray elements of the Palestinian street as having been disturbed by the so-called “revelations” contained in the Palestine Papers - or that Hamas tried to fan those flames - should not lead us to the conclusion that an agreement cannot earn public acceptance.
In fact, according to the latest polling data, 73% of the Palestinian public supports a comprehensive agreement based on Geneva parameters (68% are in favor of the refugee solution contained therein and 67% support its stance on borders and swaps.) Perhaps that is why most of the demonstrations that took place in the West Bank last week were directed against al-Jazeera and not Abbas.
Instead, the Palestine Papers should draw our attention to a much larger question - what is the benefit of negotiations behind closed doors?
We can sense in the documents a mutual hesitance to keep details of negotiations out of public view. To be sure there are powerful elements within both societies that are opposed to an agreement. But playing to the lowest common denominator will not make it easier to announce a deal once it is reached, nor implement it once it is announced - a second, too-often un-discussed hurdle that will require serious, sustained energy on the part of both parties.
Both leaderships, Israeli and Palestinian, must do a better job of preparing public opinion for the concessions that will have to be made in order to achieve any permanent status agreement. This is the real gap the Palestine Papers expose.
Jessica Brandt is Foreign Relations Coordinator for the Geneva initiative