Well, it seems to be the season for empty rhetoric and repetition of accusations posing as “negotiations”. That’s right…another round of Mideast Peace Talks. Israelis and Palestinians must sit in detention hall for a suitable period, proctored by the US State Department. It will of course lead nowhere, as such things always do.
Throughout my years as a union representative, I spent countless days sitting at bargaining tables engaged in negotiations for contracts and the resolution of conflicts. But my experience of negotiations had two essential differences with these periodic Mideast exercises in futility.
First, the process always began and ended with proposals. Not single-issue demands, not recriminations (at least, not only recriminations), not (only) rhetoric. Good-faith negotiations always required both sides to put forth complete proposals for the resolution of all issues. If you refused to put a full proposal on the table, you were not negotiating; you were stonewalling.
And sometimes, when the parties had reached a difficult or touchy stage, a neutral mediator was called in. The mediator’s role could include putting his own proposals on the table, to try to get things moving. This might be just a matter of face-saving, to ensure that neither party had to humiliate itself by accepting terms put forth by the other. And sometimes (rarely) the mediator might come up with a creative idea that had not occurred to the sides.
As I consider the current and past rounds of Israeli-Palestinian “talks” (a more descriptive term, to be sure), I notice the general absence of proposals. Ask yourself: What are the respective positions of the two sides? What is the proposal of the US mediator? Don’t know? Neither do I.
This may in part be a natural result of the second difference between ordinary labor negotiations and Mideast “talks”. When I sat down to bargain with management, my opposite number was not committed to killing me. (Not usually, anyway.)
The last serious Mideast talks, which could almost be considered negotiations, took place in 2000 at Camp David, with President Bill Clinton serving as mediator. They are worth a quick review.
In Clinton’s memoir My Life, he tells how close they got – or appeared to get.
“[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak believed that if he could present a comprehensive peace plan to Israeli citizens, they would vote for it as long as Israel’s fundamental interests were achieved: security, the protection of its religious and cultural sites on the Temple Mount, an end to the Palestinian claim to an unlimited right of return to Israel, and a declaration that the conflict was over.” [p. 911]
“Barak did not want to meet alone with Arafat [without US mediation]; he was afraid that they would fall into the old patterns where Barak did all the giving and Arafat made no response in kind.” [p. 913]
[Later] ”I brought the Palestinian and Israeli teams into the Cabinet Room and read them my ‘parameters’ for proceeding. These were developed after extensive private talks with the parties separately since Camp David. If they accepted the parameters within four days, we would go forward. If not, we were through.” [p. 936]
[Under Clinton’s proposed parameters,] “The Palestinians would give up the absolute right of return; they had always known they would have to, but they never wanted to admit it….It was a hard deal, but if they wanted peace, I thought it was fair to both sides.” [p. 937]
“Barak’s cabinet endorsed the parameters with reservations, but all their reservations were within the parameters, and therefore subject to negotiations anyway. It was historic; an Israeli government had said that to get peace, there would be a Palestinian state in roughly 97 percent of the West Bank, counting the swap, and all of Gaza, where Israel also had settlements. The ball was in Arafat’s court.”
Arafat would not say yes or no. He just terminated the “negotiations”. That was the end of it.
Why? Dennis Ross, Bill Clinton’s chief negotiator at the 2000 Camp David talks, summed it up this way after the U.S. proposal was rejected by the Palestinians. “We had one critical clause in this agreement, and that clause was, this is the end of the conflict.” That alone doomed the talks.
So now we are seeing another round of the “process”. Again, the Palestinians are pretending to act in good faith, while still putting no proposals on the table, and remaining committed to the total destruction and liquidation of their “partners in peace” sitting across the table.
The obvious question is why the world, led by the US president, lets them get away with it? Why are the Palestinians not called on the carpet to explain their blatant bad faith?
One obvious answer is the ancient curse of anti-Semitism. The West has stood silent (or worse)often enough in the past when Jews were being treated as sub-humans. We are seeing a resurgence of respectable anti-Semitism throughout the US and Europe; within living memory of the Holocaust, Jews are again being blamed for making people want to kill them.
But the question, as always in human affairs, is: What is to be done?
Here is a modest proposal. The 2000 “Clinton Parameters”, referred to above, were indeed what Clinton described them to be: “ a hard deal, but if they wanted peace,… fair to both sides.”
One side accepted them as such. The other rejected them.
The US should put the Clinton Parameters back on the table. This proposal should again be offered to both parties. If either party rejects them, the US should withdraw from the talks and declare the rejecting party to be THE obstacle to peace. And we should then act accordingly. All support and aid to the rejecting party should then be terminated, and transferred to the other.
If both parties were to reject, then they should each be told to put their own proposals on the table. They could then be left to their own devices.
The Clinton Parameters are neither perfect, nor the only possible answer. But some element of concrete reality must be injected into these so-called “negotiations”.
As of old, gentlemen may cry “Peace! Peace!” But there is no peace. The world needs to be reminded of why there is no peace.