Israel’s good-faith efforts

I would encourage anyone interested in the current state of affairs between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to read a document recently available at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The address is here:

Israel can drive a hard bargain and lard its negotiation stance with stubbornness and inflexibility. On more than one occasion I’ve lost patience with the Israelis and sympathized with the frustrations of the Palestinians. But all that is changed. One of Israel’s fears is that the PA is not really interested in a principled negotiation; that is, the PA continues to gain international sympathy and has so successfully defined itself as the pathetic underdog that it can ask for anything and expect to receive it.

A recent report seems to bear this out. A paper prepared by the Foreign Ministry describes the activities taken by Israel to help the Palestinians, while the Palestinians have been obstructionist and either blocked Israeli initiatives or taken steps to circumvent Oslo stipulations and those of the interim agreement. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples from the report:

1. Even though the sharp conservative Bibi Netanyahu has accepted the reality of the two state solution, his efforts to support the development of a Palestinian state have been thwarted at every turn. For example Israel has continued to work to strengthen the Palestinian economy in a wide range of fields including civil, infrastructural, political, and security. As a result, the Palestinian economy has grown 8% in 2010. There has been a reduction in unemployment and a rise in tourism.

2. Israel has addressed one of the most damning symbolic issues it faces which is the nature of roadblocks and security checkpoints. There are 28 fewer roadblocks now than there were in 2008.

3. Israel has stimulated Palestinian business efforts. They have made more entry permits available for work, expanded industrial zones, approved more bandwidth for Palestinian cellular telephone providers, and begun work on the electric project that will establish for new substations in Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus, and Hebron.

We could add to this list but it seems a little fruitless in the face of Palestinian recalcitrance. The report from the Foreign Ministry points out how the Palestinians are manipulating their sympathetic position in the world political order by pursuing in the international community Palestinian claims to a future state within the 1967 borders. This is a backhanded move designed to undercut the discussions on the permanent status of the proposed two states. But there is more and some of it is particularly disturbing.

1. Palestinians continue to demand condemnation of Israel in international forums. Just when the Palestinians should be formulating a negotiated relationship with Israel, one that will leave both of them strong and viable after a final agreement, the Palestinians are trying to diminish Israel’s legitimacy–a stance that will not serve Palestine well in the future.

2. It also appears as if the Palestinians are calling on known biased organizations toward Israel, such as the Human Rights Council in Geneva, to condemn Israel for war crimes. This again is nothing but provocative and counterproductive. It is a misrepresentation of the facts designed for symbolic damage to Israel and an effort to diminish Israel’s right to self-defense. There are numerous clauses in the temporary agreements that govern the relationship between Israel and Palestine that stipulates that the sides should not incite one another and spread propaganda and misrepresentations. This, of course, is sensible and productive negotiation behavior but is being undermined and manipulated by the Palestinians.

3. And the extent to which the PA continues to glorify terrorists and openly commemorate their extremist behaviors, remains a major impediment to peace. The report indicated that the Palestinian presidential compound in Ramallah has been renamed to glorify the terrorist Yihye Ayash.

These are but a few examples of Israel’s progressive efforts and the PAs regressive ones. Again I do not hold Israel blameless on these matters and many of these actions have complex interpretations. But mature negotiation relies on the establishment of common meaning; a collective sense of what you are bargaining about. In fact, bargaining is not even the right word. Bargaining is strategic action in which each side tries to maximize its gains. That’s what’s going on now, and it leads to exaggerated requests and expectations such as a Palestinian expectation that Israel has no right to exist.

But true deliberative discourse, where both sides are genuinely reflecting upon their preferences and views, is an epistemic process where new ideas can emerge based on the genuine interest of both parties to solve the conflict. I will have more to say about the benefits of deliberative discourse in another post.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on March 14, 2011, in Israel. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Israel’s good-faith efforts.

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