Hints For A Workable Negotiating ‘framework’

I am disappointed that the Palestinians, Israelis and Americans have been unable to get beyond the old, failed approach to diplomacy.

Those who have followed the last eight months of American-mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have anticipated the unveiling of the United States’ own “framework” for continued negotiations to achieve a permanent, comprehensive peace agreement. Whether or not this happens, for now the negotiations have hit a major snag and may well break down completely.

The consequences of a breakdown would probably be grim for both sides: Israelis will be increasingly besieged by their global political isolation, while the Palestinians will be further squeezed by Israel’s choke-hold on their economy, movement, borders, and energy, food and water sources.

I am disappointed that the Palestinians, Israelis and Americans have been unable to get beyond the old, failed Dennis Ross-style approach to diplomacy that saw the U.S. mediators tilt heavily towards Israeli demands rather than prod both sides to seek mutually acceptable formulas based on equal rights. Israelis and Palestinians one day will have to make the tough, historic decisions that were made by other leaders in other equally difficult conflicts, notably in Northern Ireland and South Africa—where both sides achieved their core demands because they also acceded to the core demands of the other.
Perhaps we will soon see both sides agree to keep negotiating on the basis of a U.S.-crafted “framework.” If so, they would do well to study the recommendations recently made by a man who knows all sides of the conflict, and in fact has proposed just such a draft framework. He is former U.S. diplomat Daniel Kurtzer, who served as ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, and in recent years has been a Professor in Middle Eastern Policy Studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University (where I am spending a few months as a visiting scholar and lecturer).

I went to see him in his office earlier this week to explore his ideas and understand his approach in more depth. I came away impressed by a quality in both his text and his character that is missing from the public pronouncements of U.S. officials. This is the quality of trying sincerely to acknowledge and respond to the most important needs of both sides, while also remaining within the bounds of what is politically feasible. It shows in his model framework text* which he says pushes both sides beyond their previously announced positions, while “trying to accommodate their deepest interests and concerns.”

Kurtzer outlines 12 key “parameters” for negotiation: goal, territory and borders, security, state-to-state relations, relations with neighbors, Israeli settlements, refugees, West Bank and Gaza “safe passage,” places of historical and religious significance, Jerusalem, water, and implementation.

He explained to me that, “a framework is like the top of a funnel that is wider than the final accord that you reach in the detailed talks.” Some of his language is necessarily broad because the details can only come from the two negotiating teams. Yet the framework should also give both sides the feeling that their key concerns and principles are addressed, so that they would have an incentive to negotiate seriously—which does not seem to be the case these days.

I feel this text is worth studying and developing further because it shows how serious negotiators could go about eliciting support and concessions from both sides who would both feel equally respected. For in its key words, phrases and diplomatic references, this text gives meaningful and simultaneous gains to Israelis and Palestinians alike. Some of his text’s language in its current form will be rejected by both sides, such as the relatively soft language on Palestinian refugees’ rights and the meaning of the trauma of exile and refugeehood in 1947-48, and also the demand that Israel negotiate withdrawals from occupied territory based on the June 4, 1967 lines. Areas like these and a few others that are phrased in language that now seems unacceptable to one side or the other would have to be negotiated—which is precisely how a broad “framework” of contested words eventually becomes a permanent peace agreement comprising mutually agreed terms and language.

His suggestion for the undefined new Israeli demand of being recognized as a “Jewish state” is to have “Israel recognize Palestine as the national home of the Palestinian people and all its citizens, and Palestine will recognize Israel as the national home of the Jewish people and all its citizens.”

Jerusalem would become the capital of two states, and would remain undivided and free of permanent barriers, with agreed boundaries based on predominantly Jewish neighborhoods being part of Israel and predominantly Arab neighborhoods being part of the new State of Palestine. They would agree on a special regime to administer the Old City under an international administrator they appoint.

This is a very useful starting point for serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with a fair mediator, which, in my view, we have never had to date.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.

Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global

Editor’s Note: Daniel Kurtzer detailed a framework for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in an essayfor the Cairo Review’s Winter 2013 issue.