Shaul Mishal
May 21, 2010 - 12:00am

The latest American and Palestinian steps to promote a diplomatic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians confronts Israel with two bad alternatives. The first is conducting negotiations à la U.S. President Barack Obama, which repeats the model for a final-status solution and an end to the conflict that failed in the past decade. The second is Palestinian sovereignty that would be promoted by both Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

Under these conditions, Israel will enter negotiations with profound gaps between its goals for the diplomatic process and those of the Obama administration. Rather than a final-status solution, the Israelis prefer to manage the conflict and perpetuate the existing territorial reality. At the basis of this position lies a fear either of the Palestinian partner’s inability to guarantee Israel’s security interests in any agreement, or of the social price Israel will be forced to pay as a result of a massive evacuation of settlers.

The shaky status of President Mahmoud Abbas ?(Abu Mazen?) in the Palestinian arena, and the opposition that Hamas will show against any concession on the core issues of Jerusalem, refugees and a massive evacuation of settlements beyond the Green Line, add to Israeli concerns about the Palestinian leadership’s ability to concede on these issues. Abu Mazen’s uncompromising position on freezing construction in settlements reflects the difficulty of deviating in the slightest from the Palestinian consensus.

A failure to renew the diplomatic process, or its collapse, will help Fayyad promote the idea of establishing Palestinian sovereignty “from below,” using a diplomatic process that will grant sovereignty on the ground the international seal of approval it needs. Such a move is designed to pave the way for establishing a Palestinian state, mobilize an international effort to obligate Israel to withdraw to the borders of June 4, 1967 and evacuate the settlements beyond the Green Line.

The formula of the Palestinian state within temporary borders that the prime minister has raised in recent days is meant to extricate Israel from its diplomatic straits. But in its current format, there is no chance that the other side will respond positively to the prime minister’s proposal. It is based on the same logic as the Oslo Accords; in other words, steps to expand Palestinian sovereignty one stage at a time to let the sides get used to the advantages and shortcomings of the process. Like the Oslo Accords, a Palestinian state in temporary borders, in the proposed format, offers a partial arrangement that lacks a horizon of a final-status solution that will end the conflict.

We should adopt three components that are likely to help the formula achieve an Israeli, Palestinian and American consensus. This would turn the Israeli proposal for a Palestinian state within temporary borders into an idea that can compete with the final-status approach of Obama and Abu Mazen. It would also prevent the collapse of an agreement because of the different expectations of the sides involved, as happened after Oslo.

The first component must be a nurturing of the idea of establishing a Palestinian state through cooperation and open discourse with Fayyad to neutralize its unilateral element. Such cooperation must also include an Israeli willingness to give up signs of sovereignty in the West Bank, including withdrawals from certain areas, subject to security considerations.

The second component is abandoning the bilateral approach to the conflict and bringing additional international and regional factors into the diplomatic process; this would strengthen Abu Mazen’s ability to make compromises on the core issues and enable Israel to exact strategic prices ?(in the spirit of the Arab initiative?) in exchange for progress on the Palestinian track.

The third component involves an Israeli willingness to provide guarantees for continuing the talks on a final-status solution after the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders. Such an initiative will create the horizon that Abu Mazen and the Palestinian system need to remain in the process.

Adding these three components to the Israeli proposal for establishing a Palestinian state within temporary borders will turn the idea from a formula that has been tried in the past to a more relevant and up-do-date proposal that Abu Mazen, despite his reservations, can live with. All the more so Hamas, which prefers an arrangement that tends to permanence to a situation defined as temporary.

Prof. Shaul Mishal teaches political science at Tel Aviv University. Doron Mazza is a research student in the Department for Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.


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