Instead of using the talks as a replacement for progress, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would do well to define guiding values that should be the basis of both process and solutions.
One of the problems with the flagging Kerry negotiations is that they are heavy on ‘process,’ and not much about ‘peace.’ That could be due to the fairly accurate cliché that the outlines of the two-state solution are “largely known.” Negotiations and civil initiatives from 2000 onwards – Camp David to the Arab Peace Initiative – overlap on the core issues, with differences of details.
On the other hand, the Israeli leadership’s moves to radically alter those core policy approaches may have made the Americans and the Palestinians reluctant to address them. Netanyahu threw cold water on the concept of a Palestinian state based roughly around adjusted 1967 lines – a mainstay of the two-state solution since the early 1990s. Avigdor Liberman perverted the idea of land swaps: in the past, this referred to Israel keeping large settlement blocs, while giving away insignificant, almost unpopulated tracts of desert. Lieberman turned land swaps into what he calls “population swaps” but which is actually unilateral, forced disenfranchisement of citizenship. It’s little wonder nobody was rushing to seriously open these issues.
Unless negotiations abandon the obsession with process, but block damaging re-invention of the core elements of peace, they will do more harm than good. Instead of using the talks as a replacement for progress, negotiators would do well to define guiding values that should be the basis of both process and solutions.
The following is my proposal for the highest priority values:
1. De-escalating, avoiding and deterring violence. Talk of “preventing violence” is a canard designed to kill peace, since humanity has never prevented violence anywhere, among any people. Removing immediate grievances is the most urgent task; systems and arrangements for a dignified life are the best means to deter and prevent violence in the future, and that’s the best we can do. Mechanisms designed to punish or squash symptoms and triggers of violence are ticking time bombs laid in order to explode; they cause violence. Military protection is necessary for maintenance of peace, but it is not a process and it does not cause peace.
2. Human and civil rights. The notion of rights rests on the equality of human beings; treating people as unequals by denying rights means they are less than human beings. A government does not “grant” rights since humans are already born with them. A government must protect them and help people fulfill them. As such, Israel should not be asked to “grant” rights but rather, it must stop denying them, by removing barriers to human and civil rights.
3. Collective rights. People everywhere desire to have their group identities formally recognized. This is not just emotional: collective political recognition brings tangible benefits. Since Israel already enjoys recognition, and all the accompanying political/economic benefits, the demand for recognition of its collective religious identity by the people it controls is absurd. However, the Palestinians lack the collective recognition that could help them live, in terms of material and institutional support. UN resolutions, votes and even Israeli declarations have already legitimized their collective rights rhetorically. Now it’s the political framework for realizing their collective rights that needs legitimization, in order to confer those benefits that will support the first two points, and economic viability. There aren’t too many options: a collective political framework means either a state, or citizenship. Palestine, or collective Palestinian citizenship inside Israel.
4. Sustainability. Peace may be a pause between wars, but there are pauses and there are pauses. Israel likes to believe that as long as Jews aren’t dying, there is a form of peace called “status quo.” This is factually and morally wrong. It doesn’t matter who dies: a conflict-related killing every few days is war. Sustainability means building long-term mechanisms to deter violence and ensure rights (see above), and durable governing institutions that are sufficiently representative, such that they don’t need to be changed through violence.
All these points are clearly interconnected, but the first two are probably the most urgent. That’s why in the past, Noam Sheizaf and I have proposed ending the military occupation of Palestinian people already in the process, not as a prize for an agreement. Then the “process” could actually mean something, to both sides.
Since the current talks achieved none of these points, it’s hard to see why they were called a peace process. I’ve already observed that they represent a preservation process; what they are preserving is war.