Since 2000, the peace process has been oscillating between stops and starts. Whether Israelis and Palestinians resume talks for another 90 days, and definitely if talks fail, it's time to face the inevitable conclusion: permanent status agreements are unlikely to be achieved through bilateral negotiations without a regional context, either as a cementing element or as fallback. A new approach is therefore needed to ensure that the process reaches its destination while the impact of the spoilers is gradually minimized.
In 2002, the Arab states presented the Arab Peace Initiative as their "end game" vision, introducing a transformational shift toward a comprehensive, regional and "future-based" process rather than a fragmented, bilateral and incremental one. Like many Israelis, we perceived this as a historic event. Still, we do not intend to explain the difficulties Israeli governments have had with the API or why it was not accepted. Instead, we propose that Israel respond with a pragmatic "yes" by presenting its own parallel "end game" vision--as an Israeli Peace Initiative or IPI rather than an attempt to "fix" the API.
The IPI should articulate Israel's own long-term vision, to be achieved after successful and gradual implementation of all permanent status agreements. Publishing such an IPI would demonstrate a transformational shift in Israel's strategy, realizing that only by ending the regional Arab-Israel conflict will Israel achieve its fundamental interests, attain its security goals and eliminate existential threats. Such a vision should also demonstrate that these long-term fundamental interests (such as security, identity and acceptance in the region) are achievable in accordance with the API core concepts, with bridgeable gaps.
With that in mind, in 2008 we started to draft an IPI proposal, based on three principles: our interpretation of Israel's genuine strategic interests; our assumption that Israeli leaders will be ready to make "all possible concessions" only when they can show Israelis that this is "in return for the end of all conflicts"; and our determination to adopt existing proposals and solutions already negotiated in the past 19 years since Madrid, without reinventing the wheel.
The detailed IPI text will be published soon in English, Hebrew and Arabic; it contains four vision chapters, starting with regional end-of-conflict scenarios. The Israeli-Palestinian scenario is a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and one-on-one land swaps, Jerusalem as the home of two capitals and special arrangements in the holy basin, an agreed solution for the refugees inside the Palestinian state (with symbolic exceptions), mutual recognition of the genuine national identities of the two states as the outcome of negotiations and not as a prerequisite, reiteration of the principles underlying Israel's 1948 declaration of independence regarding civic equality for its Arab citizens, and long-term security arrangements with international components.
The Israeli-Syrian end-of-conflict scenario is based on phased withdrawals from the Golan Heights to finally reach the 1967 borders with one-on-one land swaps, coupled with tight security arrangements to curb terrorists and paramilitary organizations. Regarding Lebanon, the scenario articulates mainly security arrangements, as international borders have already been established. The other three IPI components present regional security mechanisms addressing common regional threats, a vision for regional economic development, and parallel evolution toward regional recognition and normal ties.
As we are just pragmatic businesspeople, we intentionally left many issues for the experts and diplomats, e.g., water, symbolic exceptional solutions for refugees in Israel and the impact of long-term permanent security arrangements on nuclear weapons in the region. For similar reasons, we are not in a position to suggest the exact diplomatic processes that will turn the API and IPI into actionable platforms and a synchronized process. However, in the past 18 months we have shared the evolving IPI text with Arab figures in various forums and were encouraged to hear them welcoming the very fact that Israelis are responding to the API, regardless of the IPI's precise language. When talking to them and Israeli experts, we presented our idea to form a regional framework agreement as a synthesis between the API and the IPI. In fact, the two initiatives could become "vision deposits" that provide a declaration of principles or alternatively a framework agreement.
The ideas in the IPI are not what we Israelis have been dreaming and hoping for, as they represent a major shift from our collective ideology. Accordingly, Israeli society will find them difficult to digest. But we believe Israeli society can face up to these challenges and that our democratic system will win, because the IPI captures the mutual sacrifices needed to end all conflicts and to achieve the true strategic interest of the State of Israel: a secure homeland for the Jewish people, enjoying full regional recognition.
We hope the IPI creates an intensified dialogue and some rethinking both in Israeli circles and the region. More importantly, 15 years after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, we hope to see brave regional and international leaders translate the API and IPI visions into practical and synchronized progress.-Published 24/11/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org