Why Negotiations Can't Succeed
Almost nine months have passed since negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians were renewed. Since the content of the negotiations remains confidential it is difficult to gauge if actual ‘progress’ was achieved. In Israel, the political right points to the Palestinian Authority as the reason for the failure of negotiations, while the political left still wants to pursue the negotiations believing that it is critical to reach an agreement, while also blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the settlements, construction announcements for the failure of negotiations.
For those who believe that the purpose of the peace process is actually a process in which ‘peace’ between two ‘nations’ will be achieved, it is hard to understand how the political left, after twenty years of negotiations, numerous Israeli concessions without any Palestinian concessions, continued PA- sponsored incitement against Israel, delegitimizing of Israel in all international forums, terror attacks, and rejection of Israel, still thinks there is a chance to reach peace. I believe the answer is simple and requires a readjustment of our expectations from the peace process and the nature of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The Israeli Left that is pursuing the peace process so zealously is not looking to achieve peace through the negotiations. The peace process is a vehicle for them to achieve something else. They believe that there is a Palestinian demographic problem (‘bomb’) and that Israel must rid itself of this problem, at any cost. This assertion is heavily disputed, and even if proven wrong they will claim that they don’t want to rule over a large Palestinian population. This is legitimate, but it helps get a better understanding of why they keep pursuing negotiations at any cost. What happens during negotiations doesn’t matter since the Israeli Left needs the Palestinians to agree to a state and thus they need the peace process no matter the price.
One outcome of this is that it doesn’t really matter that there is continued incitement on the Palestinian side toward the Israelis, since the goal of the peace process is not peace. They know incitement will occur both before and after an agreement is signed. Terror will also happen before and after a peace agreement. The goal of the Left is to setup a state for the Palestinians that will take the headache of the Palestinian population (and array of other problems) away from the Israelis. They, of course, will demand that the Palestinians make some type of declaration that the conflict is over, but the more important thing is that the Palestinians finally agreed to a state.
Since this is the attitude, all empirical facts which show that there is really no peace partner don’t really matter, since peace is not the objective. The proof of this is that so many on the Left do not care if Mahmoud Abbas recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. If it is essential to ending the conflict why doesn’t the Left demand it, and if it is not -- why can’t Abbas just say the sentence?
Furthermore, for the Left the ‘settlers’ are also enemy #1 since them and their ideology are blocking the Left from reaching a peace deal and of course endangering the Jewish majority of the state. There are also other reasons why parts of the Left want to relinquish Judea and Samaria (West Bank), but that is a different discussion. The Palestinians are well aware of this, and they know that when it comes to the Israeli Left they can keep milking the cow since the milk never stops – the Left will always make more concessions. The motivation to reach an agreement is nonexistent, since the Left will never throw in the towel.
This leads to me to the second point. Tzippi Livni, who is an actual person -- but also could be the name of any left-wing politician in charge of negotiations -- believes that negotiations happen in increments. There are many issues to cover with the Palestinians: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, water, commercial agreements, and more. During negotiations different issues are raised, some might be “agreed upon”, others progress has been achieved, and some remain in dispute. Hence, she believes that there has been progress in negotiations. Take a theoretical example: Livni has agreed to 1967 borders, land swaps for the settlements and the issue of Jerusalem is about to be solved except for control of certain neighborhoods and the Temple Mount. From her perspective, progress has been achieved and it’s just about sitting around the negotiating table and banging heads for another few days or weeks until the issues have been resolved.
However, for the Palestinian negotiators, it’s a different ballgame. They play on a completely different playing field and thus have lured the Israeli Left into believing that a peace deal is imminent and it’s because of Netanyahu or some other Israeli right-wing politician that everything is being held up.
The Palestinians view the negotiations differently and play by different rules. The rule of the game is that the only deal that can be signed is one that allows the Palestinians to continue their struggle against Israel – like the Oslo agreement – where the Palestinians make no concessions and continue their terrorism against Israel; essentially rendering the agreement void of any content. The other type of agreement that can be signed is one where the Israeli side has made so many concessions that implementing the agreement will cause Israeli society to crumble from within.
Both of these types of agreements will be difficult for the Palestinians to achieve. So, how do the Palestinians keep their rational Israeli counterparts at the negotiating table? The Palestinians know that even the “Tzippi Livnis” of the world have red lines?
The strategy is as follows: the Palestinians view negotiations as a zero-sum game. Until everything is agreed upon, nothing is agreed upon. For example: an issue is put on the table such as borders. The Palestinians pretend to agree that that they have agreed upon ’67 borders with settlement swaps. The Israelis are excited, but the Palestinians know that in another area of negotiations where they will make an unreasonable demand which will cause the negotiations to stall. Once the negotiations stall, the sides will bang heads for a few weeks trying to fix the problem. However, the Palestinians know that even as they might be making progress on let’s say the water issue, they already have prepared another issue where they will make an unreasonable demand -- like demanding that the Israelis build them a seaport near Hadera so that they can easily export their agricultural products from the North and Central West Bank (they have not yet demanded this in public but this is an example). Completely ridiculous -- but they will demand it.
Should the water issue really stall, then the Palestinians will come and say “if you are not willing to compromise on the water issue then we demand that you give us complete control of the Temple Mount.” By doing this, the Palestinians have reopened a topic that the Israelis thought was agreed upon, whereas this was part of the strategy all along. We can call it “agree, refuse, demand, agree” -- this is the neverending cycle of negotiations which the Palestinians love -- since they keep on reaping the benefits of concessions, as they have done for the past 20 years, without giving anything in return. The Israeli Left can tolerate this process, since they really believe progress is being made and thus are willing to continue sitting at the negotiating table. Yet, they fail to understand that it’s a big game for the Palestinians and they are experts at it.
Enough has been written about the dangers of a Palestinian state and the damage that it would cause Israel; but I am not worried. When I hear that the sides are inching closer to an agreement I just smile. It can’t happen -- not on Abu Mazen’s watch.