The Israeli negotiator’s handbook
So far, we have seen negotiations about negotiations. Negotiations about the very existence of negotiations. Only now do the real peace talks seem poised to begin.
After many years of dealing with Israeli issues, and armed with the experience — not to mention quite a few scars — as an official who served as the head of the security committee during talks with the Jordanians, the Syrians and the Palestinians, I’m ready to offer my services and recommend seven core principles for this round of new-old negotiations.
1) A speedy, decisive return to negotiations, without any preconditions:
We must stop acquiescing to preconditions such as the release of terrorists. Freeing these prisoners is problematic both from an ethical and tactical perspective. The U.S. set that precondition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has decisively and wisely pushed peace talks forward, accepted it, to the best of my understanding, to neutralize prospects of either a settlement freeze or an early discussion on the 1967 borders. Negotiators must now return to a position of “no preconditions” in all other matters.
2) Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, with Jerusalem as its undivided capital:
We do not need the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish nation’s historic right to a state in Israel. But failing to recognize the existence of a Jewish state draws a huge question mark over how ready the Palestinians truly are to agree to two states for two peoples.
3) Defensible borders:
Israel’s need for defensible borders is written in blood. But how will such borders look? The answer is that they will be drawn in a way that fulfills our three basic security needs:
The need for strategic depth: The average width of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is 64 kilometers (40 miles). The strategic depth here is of little importance. But the need increases in light of growing threats stemming from the age of nuclearization, ballistic missiles, and long-range rockets that mostly threaten population centers.
The need for defensive depth: The era of “slim chances for war” is over. The Middle East has become a realm of uncertainty. Civil wars and the lethal combination of terrorism and movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood make it necessary for us to remain vigilant over the possibility of an attack from the east.
The need to be able to combat terror: The only factor that will guarantee the demilitarization of the Palestinian entity is a permanent Israeli presence along the West Bank’s eastern border. The disarmament of the Palestinian state is not only a condition that was guaranteed to Israel’s when it signed the “two states for two nations” principle. It is also a condition that ensures the security and fulfillment of any agreement. The situation in Sinai is a testament to that. The Jordan Valley “envelopes the state of Israel.”
Holding onto the Jordan Valley is the only way to fulfill these three national security needs. Only through full Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley can the Jewish state manage its own arrangements for security — us, the IDF and Israeli settlements in the Jordan valley. Not foreign armies.
4) Zero compromise on the “right” of return:
Only Israel can be allowed to permit any individual who wants to immigrate to do so, and that is, of course, if the country wants to absorb the immigrant. Plain and simple.
5) Security arrangements:
Israel requires several security arrangements to provide protection to its citizens whose lives, and not the Palestinians’, are in constant danger, and whose existence is wrapped up in the dangerous and delicate fabric of the region. Control and prevention, hot pursuit, the authority to arrest, and so on. The fifth principle has one critical aspect, and that is the control over airspace. The territory between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea is, on average, just 40 miles wide. A fighter jet covers that distance in a few minutes. If we factor in our concern over safe civilian air traffic, then we reach one inevitable conclusion: Israel must maintain exclusive control over the territory’s airspace.
6) A solution to Hamastan in Gaza:
Whom does Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas represent? He can’t enter Gaza, and he couldn’t include Gaza in the Palestinian state which he represents. There won’t be a “three-state solution.”
7) Bilateral negotiations:
How many times have we heard the (true) cliche that “it takes two to tango”? Have you ever tried to tango with a third partner?
The Americans did not participate whatsoever in peace negotiations with the Jordanians. During negotiations with the Palestinians, the Americans did not so much as enter the room. On the other hand, the Americans sat down to negotiations with the Syrians and the results were as expected: The parties stopped speaking altogether, communicating instead with the Americans alone. A modern variation on the famous non-dialogue skit by legendary actor Shaike Ophir.
The Palestinians need to reach agreements with Israel, not with the U.S., not with the United Nations, not with the Quartet. The U.S. must understand that its role is limited to bringing the two sides to the table and implementing agreements. Other pretensions won’t succeed and will only cause harm.
A few words on the U.N.’s strategy
While both parties chose to pursue peace talks for a permanent solution, they also knew such negotiations had scant chances for success. It was a choice they made based on the assessment that the political cost of various concessions on the road to an interim agreement would be intolerable. The two sides also understood that even if they could not reach a permanent arrangement, an interim agreement would always be a possible alternative.
Israel controls most of the territory in Judea and Samaria, and it does not lay claim to territories under the Palestinian Authority’s rule. Therefore, Israel must insist that territorial issues will only be settled at the end of negotiations. And if not, so be it. Deliberations over Jerusalem, the refugees and other core issues will end up depleting Israeli munitions.
These are the seven core principles. There is no need to introduce red lines or road maps to solutions. Experience has taught us that such proclamations only produce one-sided obligations. The Palestinians, with the help of the “useful Israeli idiots,” view them as Israeli points of no return and continue to gnaw away at them, bargaining for the next concession.
Can you recall how the “Beilin-Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] agreement,” the “Geneva initiative,” the “Clinton parameters,” or the “Olmert concessions” wound up? We cannot afford to walk into the same trap.
And the most important thing to remember? We have got a Jewish state to build.