What peace question answers will Palestinians and Israelis deliver on the eve of the international meeting organized by American President George W. Bush this Autumn? And will these answers as they are proposed be enough to make the breakthrough needed toward two states for two peoples?
THE TERM OF PEACE QUESTION refers to the concessions that each party makes in order to make peace possible. In addition, it refers to the vision that each side has about the future relationship between the two.
Determining the answer to the peace question by the politicians of each side however is not an easy task. When making their decision, each party needs to take into consideration the impact such a decision will have on their popularity among their peoples. In addition, ideologies and political lines may interfere in the process. Moreover, the ways that each side perceives their own people’s (and those of the other side) needs, interests, positions and concerns are influential factors in the decision making process.
Finally, the context and the nature of the conflict, its past and present characteristics, and its future predicted developments, all influence the final peace question answer that each side presents.
When it comes to the content of the peace question, it is noticeable that each side in the conflict has their maximum demands and also the minimum, leading to resolution of the conflict. The maximum do not include an answer to the peace question while the minimum includes that answer in the form of the concessions that each side is ready to make for the other.
A FUNCTIONAL PEACE QUESTION ANSWER
But is every peace question answer workable and implementable one? A Stanford University researcher (Byron Bland from Stanford Center of International Conflict and Negotiations —SCICN –) concluded that the workable peace answer is the one that the other side will feel, once it is received, that their needs are contained in it, so they will be able to live with it, and develop a vision for a shared future upon it.
What peace question answers will Palestinians and Israelis deliver on the eve of the international meeting organized by American President George Bush this Autumn? And will these answers as they are proposed be enough to make the breakthrough needed toward two states for two peoples?
In Palestine, the minimum that the Palestinians could live with was defined in the1988 Palestinian National Council of PLO meeting in Algeria, this minimum was called The Palestinian redlines which stated that nothing lower than these guidelines would be acceptable. These redlines were: The right of self determination of the Palestinian people, Palestinian state on 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return. All of the controversies that followed between the Palestinian factions were about how to understand these three redlines, the geographical scope of the implementation, and the right of refugees to return.
On the Israeli side the redlines are: Preserving Israeli existence, Israeli security, and also the Jewish majority in Israel.
THE OSLO DECLARATION
The significance of Oslo Declaration of Principles of 1993 between Israel and the PLO is that Israel began a process of accepting the right of self determination and statehood to the Palestinians as not contradictory to its existence and security needs, while the PLO by the same token recognized Israel’s existence and its security needs, and made commitments to preserve that existence and security needs as a price for getting the Palestinian right of self determination and statehood. This is simply the content of Oslo compromise.
Issues not solved in Oslo are:
The territory of the Palestinian state with the two sides sticking to two different interpretations of the 242 United Nations Security Council resolution, one stating that “Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 occupied territories” and the second stating “Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967” the word “the” makes a big difference leading to controversies about East Jerusalem and some Jewish settlements that Israel is willing to annex to Israel.
SECONDThe refugees right of return, and if this includes their right to return to Israel and become Israeli citizens, or to exclude the right to a return the Palestinian state only.
CLINTON PARAMETERS AND TABA NEGOTIATIONS
The documents of Clinton Parameters  of 2000, and the Taba negotiations  minutes of 2001, provided solutions to these issues by calling for two capitals in Jerusalem and a formula for sharing sovereignty over the Holy Basin. In addition, these documents, called for the return of a symbolic number of refuges to the inside of Israel depending on Israel’s approval about the way of bringing them into Israel, which is more likely to be within the mechanism of family reunification and not a right of return.
On the other hand these documents gave the refugees four other options, the real two are the return to the Palestinian state, and the return to the swap areas that will be added to the Palestinian state, while the two others (stay in the host countries wherever they are, or go to a new third country) are not really options, but subject to the sovereign decisions of the states involved.
Since the ex-mentioned documents were not formulated in agreements, Israel gradually withdrew its approval of their pentameters, and is asking now through Olmert Abu Mazen meetings to re-open the discussion on them offering a new position of no return for any refuges to the inside of Israel, and no Palestinian sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
Moreover, there is no Israeli readiness to reach a permanent status agreement with a clear time table for implementation, but alternatively Israel is ready for something like a Declaration of Principles or even only a joint statement on the Permanent status issues, or in the best case a framework agreement which means not finalized one, but one that will be subject to further negotiations with no clear-cut time table for implementation.
The justifications from the Israeli side of such a position is based on the Israeli analysis that Abu Mazen and his government might not be able to prevent attacks on Israel if it were to withdraw from 1967 territories. But this justification against withdrawal, cannot be used as a justification for the rejection in principle of the return of a symbolic number of refugees to the inside of Israel, and the Palestinian sovereignty over Al-Haram Alsharif?
Moreover, if Israel uses this justification not to withdraw, then, what justifies the Israeli continuation of settlement expansion in the West Bank, and the Israeli full closure of the Jordan Valley which consists one third of West Bank territories, and making the life of its inhabitants a very hard one with a lot of suffering?
IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO GET AN AGREEMENT
The Palestinian negotiators when asked will say that these unjustifiable Israeli practices are the outcomes of the balance of power in the Israeli government, given the Ihud Barak the head of the Labor Party who is part of the government coalition said openly that Israel should not withdraw from any part of West Bank till Israel develop a defense system against the Palestinian rockets, something that will need three to five years in order to be finalized according to his prediction.
Another government coalition member (Avigdor Liberman) is against any swap of land without a swap of populations because he wants to move Umm Al-Fahem Arabic city inside Israel with its inhabitants to the Palestinian authority, while its population are completely against this move. Moreover the Palestinian negotiators will add the Olmert and Kadima Party are also not ready completely for peace with the Palestinian side.
In the Palestinian side Abu Mazen will think alternatively that an Israeli withdrawal will provide him with more popular support, leading to strengthen his capacity to control the internal and the external security issues. In this regard Abu Mazen and his team tend to think that Israel is clever in weakening them more than helping their policies gain more popular support.
To conclude: The Israeli answers to peace question with the Palestinians is giving the Palestinians now less than what was promised in Camp David 2000, and Taba 2001 negotiations. No return of symbolic number of refugees to inside Israel, no for any kind of Palestinian sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif and no time table for an implementation of a permanent states agreement agreed upon. The Palestinian side wants to stick to 2000, and 2001 understandings mentioned earlier. They want also a permanent status agreement with a clear cut time table.
Is this gap between the positions of the two sides a bridgeable one till the time of the international meeting in next November? Let us wait and see, but the indicators and the events so far are signaling to no agreement by that time.