The Middle East Channel

Middle East Peace: So Why Have We Failed?

[This week the Middle East Channel posted answers to questions about the elusive quest for peace from experts and former leading practitioners of the peace process. Continuing this series below is the response of Dr. Ron Pundak–one of the two Israelis behind the secret Oslo talks that made history in 92-93] 1) What have you ...

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[This week the Middle East Channel posted answers to questions about the elusive quest for peace from experts and former leading practitioners of the peace process. Continuing this series below is the response of Dr. Ron Pundak–one of the two Israelis behind the secret Oslo talks that made history in 92-93]

1) What have you learned?

Both publics are tired of the conflict; a majority on both sides want peace. Though for the Palestinians peace translates first of all as an end of the occupation and not having to see Israeli soldiers or settlers; while for Israelis, peace translates as security and quiet, an improved quality of life and preferably without seeing Palestinians. 

A majority of both publics will approve any agreement proposed by their leaders, but they will also have to confront an extremist opposition that will attempt to drag them into a bloody and violent internal clash. It is an easier ask of the respective leaderships and publics to agree to concessions that are presented as being promoted by the U.S. and the international community-via the UN security council. (On the Israeli side, an agreement that includes American security guarantees will be far more digestible). At a certain point, and it seems we have reached that point, time works against the pragmatic forces on both sides, and if we don’t reach an agreement soon, then control will pass to the hands of extremists on each side and the conflict will transition from being a political to a religious one.

2) Who’s primarily to blame?

The leaderships on both sides and the amateurism on the American side which manifested itself, for instance, in the US’s exaggerated adoption of Israeli positions during critical moments in the negotiations (such as at Camp David). But more than that, guilt lies with an Israeli leadership who from day one after the signing of Oslo failed to unequivocally adopt the strategic change that was being pursued–according to which peace would entail two-states based on the ’67 borders with two capitals in Jerusalem. Right up until 2008, the Israeli public did not hear that message loudly and clearly from any Israeli Prime Minister.

The Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat made its own contribution to failure: by not unequivocally confronting terror, by carrying conflicting messages to different communities, and by not engaging seriously in state-building and thereby facilitating corruption and chaos.

3) What’s your out-of-the-box idea to solve the conflict?

If in the past bilateralism was the name of the game, and we could reach agreements without effective outside mediation, then today’s realities necessitate third party intervention. What is now lacking is a new point of reference for negotiations. Negotiations will have to begin with a clear picture of the principles for the endgame already in place. The US needs to initiate a ten-point plan that would be adopted by the Quartet and endorsed by the UN Security Council as a substitute for UNSCR 242. This would be presented by the presidents of the US, Russia, and the EU, and the Secretary General of the UN (the Quartet principals) to both parliaments (or both governments) at a joint session that could be convened at Sharm el-Sheikh in the presence of the leaders of the member states of the Arab League.

Dr. Ron Pundak serves as the Director General of the Peres Center for Peace in Israel. He played a decisive role in creating the secret track of the unofficial Oslo negotiations at the beginning of 1993.

[This week the Middle East Channel posted answers to questions about the elusive quest for peace from experts and former leading practitioners of the peace process. Continuing this series below is the response of Dr. Ron Pundak–one of the two Israelis behind the secret Oslo talks that made history in 92-93]

1) What have you learned?

Both publics are tired of the conflict; a majority on both sides want peace. Though for the Palestinians peace translates first of all as an end of the occupation and not having to see Israeli soldiers or settlers; while for Israelis, peace translates as security and quiet, an improved quality of life and preferably without seeing Palestinians. 

A majority of both publics will approve any agreement proposed by their leaders, but they will also have to confront an extremist opposition that will attempt to drag them into a bloody and violent internal clash. It is an easier ask of the respective leaderships and publics to agree to concessions that are presented as being promoted by the U.S. and the international community-via the UN security council. (On the Israeli side, an agreement that includes American security guarantees will be far more digestible). At a certain point, and it seems we have reached that point, time works against the pragmatic forces on both sides, and if we don’t reach an agreement soon, then control will pass to the hands of extremists on each side and the conflict will transition from being a political to a religious one.

2) Who’s primarily to blame?

The leaderships on both sides and the amateurism on the American side which manifested itself, for instance, in the US’s exaggerated adoption of Israeli positions during critical moments in the negotiations (such as at Camp David). But more than that, guilt lies with an Israeli leadership who from day one after the signing of Oslo failed to unequivocally adopt the strategic change that was being pursued–according to which peace would entail two-states based on the ’67 borders with two capitals in Jerusalem. Right up until 2008, the Israeli public did not hear that message loudly and clearly from any Israeli Prime Minister.

The Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat made its own contribution to failure: by not unequivocally confronting terror, by carrying conflicting messages to different communities, and by not engaging seriously in state-building and thereby facilitating corruption and chaos.

3) What’s your out-of-the-box idea to solve the conflict?

If in the past bilateralism was the name of the game, and we could reach agreements without effective outside mediation, then today’s realities necessitate third party intervention. What is now lacking is a new point of reference for negotiations. Negotiations will have to begin with a clear picture of the principles for the endgame already in place. The US needs to initiate a ten-point plan that would be adopted by the Quartet and endorsed by the UN Security Council as a substitute for UNSCR 242. This would be presented by the presidents of the US, Russia, and the EU, and the Secretary General of the UN (the Quartet principals) to both parliaments (or both governments) at a joint session that could be convened at Sharm el-Sheikh in the presence of the leaders of the member states of the Arab League.

Dr. Ron Pundak serves as the Director General of the Peres Center for Peace in Israel. He played a decisive role in creating the secret track of the unofficial Oslo negotiations at the beginning of 1993.

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