by Ron Pundak
Starting the Oslo process we had one major goal in mind: to break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock and achieve a breakthrough in Israeli-Arab relations. As Israelis, our strategic aim was to set down principles which would lead to a peace process with the Palestinians. The political situation was one of stagnation and stalemate, a seemingly impenetrable cycle of frustration. Oslo offered an innovative approach, set aside so-called "per¬ceived wisdom" and created a new set of circumstances more conducive to the attainment of peace.
Oslo was achieved with calculated risks for both sides based on the expectation of a win-win situation and mutual trust. We convinced the Palestinians that at the Israeli decision-making level there was a genuine desire to reach a settlement based on security, and an interest in helping the Palestinians to reach a strong, stable, and prosperous entity of their own. In return, the Palestinian negotiators convinced us that their leader¬ship realized that terror and armed struggle would not bring them closer to their dream, and that the only solution was reconciliation and political dialogue.
An Aim Accomplished
The situation now (winter 1995) is very difficult, particularly with the memories of September 1993 still fresh. While the situation is far from being as bad as it was pre-Oslo, there are certain similarities. Most notice¬ably there is again, a need for new approaches to breaking deadlocks, for innovation, and for courageous leCidership.
In spite of all current difficulties, I believe that the strategic aim of Oslo, i.e., to break the deadlock and achieve a breakthrough, was fully accom¬plished. Consequently, we are in the midst of a political process which is the only serious way forward, hopefully leading to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Moreover, Israel and Jordan signed a treaty of peace which would not have been reached without the Oslo process; Israel opened interest and liaison offices and established other official and non¬official ties with Arab states in North Africa and the Gulf and with Muslim and Third World countries around the world.
From the Palestinian point of view, I believe that the most important achievement is the fact that they have for the first time a real hope to fulfill their national aspiration. A Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is active on the ground, establishing quasi-state institutions and establishing legiti¬macy for its future entity (probably a state-to-be). Moreover, like Israel, the Palestinians achieved legitimacy around the world, especially in the American public and Administration, as well as with the international business community.
As I see it, almost nothing is sacred; neither the papers and documents which were signed in Oslo, nor the principles agreed upon, or even the deadlines and the target dates set. The only thing which is sacred in this process is the pursuit of and need to reach peace. If the price of reaching peace means changing some principles of the Oslo agreement, it should be agreed upon immediately by the two sides and implemented as soon as possible. If the Oslo agreement has to be revised in order to get to peace, let the two sides sit together and discuss matters with the same positive spirit which led the negotiations in Oslo.
The Current Malaise
The current situation is primarily gloomy because of the mood of depres¬sion in the two respective constituencies and the deterioration of the support base amongst those who were swept into supporting the process after the historic handshake of September 13, 1993. Those who have always opposed the peace process maintain their criticism, and this is true for both sides. But the present situation is turning into a vicious circle. Israeli Occupation, with all its humiliating aspects, continues everywhere except in Gaza and Jericho, which persuades the Palestinians that their expecta¬tions were not met. On the other hand are the Israelis who realize that most of their high expectations have not been fulfilled either.
The current vicious circle is characterized by Palestinian acts of terror which means less security for Israelis; Isra~l in turn makes things difficult for the Palestinians. These restrictions, like closures, which are imposed on the Palestinians, exacerbate frustration and despair in Gaza and the West Bank, which in turn strengthens opposition support and makes it even more difficult for the PNA to act against terrorism. As a result, Israelis per¬ceive the PNA as not acting in order to thwart terror, leading to disillu¬sionment in the process, and pressure on the Palestinian leadership to vio¬lently clamp down on the opposition - which seems today impossible ¬until the next bomb explodes. This in turn sets the cycle in motion again.
In the eyes of the Israeli public, the Oslo agreement means that "in return, above all, for one important thing, security, we will give them (the Palestinians) an entity, help in economic development, and grant legitimacy." Israelis are ready to concede an awful lot in return for peace and security. Popular Israeli opinion holds that the Declaration of Principles (DOP) was not signed out of a sudden Israeli love for Palestinians, or out of a sudden understanding of the Palestinian political demands, but rather out of a belief that the process will provide each individual more security and bet¬ter quality of life. If the price for achieving this is a Palestinian state, so be it.
The Impact of Terror
Muslim fundamentalist terror is not the direct outcome of poverty and low GNP. However, on the Palestinian side, the support for terror cannot be divorced from the perception that there has been no visible improvement in the social and economic conditions of daily life since the implementation of self-rule. This socio-economically motivated frustration and despair, already prevalent prior to Oslo, may have even been heightened by the thwarted expectations since the Israeli withdrawal. The territories, mainly the Gaza Strip, need massive economic aid and investments which will change the whole face of this process. Although economic measures will not stop terrorism, it is clear that even the best political solution will not work under conditions of social and economic despair.
On the Israeli side, the impact of the ongoing terror attacks on public opinion, and consequently the context within which Israeli political deci¬sions are made, cannot be underestimated. Prime Minister Rabin was eled¬ed because he was "Mr. Security," but now the public perceives that he has not delivered security. The Israeli public does not distinguish, nor care, which Palestinian group is trying to undermine the peace process. Without serious police and security activity on behalf of the PNA, the Israelis will hold Arafat responsible for their undermined security situation and the state of psychological siege.
Thus Israel’s ability to deliver on its promises has declined because of its problems with its own constituency. Rabin cannot promise the Palestinians that if they "behave," at the end of the road they will have a state. The Palestinian public does not understand this and wants to hear it said explicitly. Rabin, who is not in a position to say this, hints at it instead, par¬ticularly when he talks of separation.
Yet in many respects, Israeli opposition to the Oslo accords has barely begun and real opposition will be seen when withdrawal and dismantling of settlements starts. At present we only hear threats from the extreme right wing; in the future, not just talk but action can be expected.
This then outlines the current malaise. However, one should not deny the unquestionable achievements of the Israeli-PNA cooperation. On the bureaucratic level there is greater openness between offices of various min¬istries as well as an increased readiness for serious political dialogue. A fine example, to the surprise of many, of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation is the joint patrols of the Palestinian and Israeli security forces. Moreover, national reconciliation is a real and ongoing process, making considerable achievements in its slow path. There are many more ties today between Israelis and Palestinians and many more fruitful dialogues. These new ties are in the field of human resources, development programs, joint communal health planning, medical training, economic and business cooperation, etc. But all this is unfortunately dwarfed by the sense of malaise felt by both sides.
As a result of the opposition to the process, there is a sense of mutual mis¬trust among the masses of people on both sides. It is human nature to gen¬eralize, and in the eyes of many Israelis" all Arabs think the same; they all hate us." On the other hand, if a soldier humiliates an Arab at a roadblock, in the eyes of many Palestinians "all the soldiers humiliate them." If a Palestinian cannot get his child to East Jerusalem for an operation because he is stopped at the roadblock imposed as a result of the closure, why should he believe in the peace process?
A Possible Way Out
The Oslo principles are based on a recipe of an immediate agreement, fol¬lowed by an interim period and then a final settlement. This formula of a time frame of two years for the first period, followed by the start of talks on final settlement, with an entire interim period of five years, can be changed. This time frame was inherited from the 1978 Camp David accords which was signed by Menachem Begin seventeen years ago. It was adopted by us in Oslo mainly because we felt that it was a language under¬stood and accepted in Israel, not necessarily because five years is better than four or three years.
If this model, this framework, becomes itself an obstacle during its imple¬mentation, then both sides should recreate the model more suited to deliv¬ering peace and security within the new context and reality. We are now, in effect, at a point where every year that passes is to the detriment of the process. A way to solve the interim period problem is to enter immediate¬ly into intensive talks on final-status issues, in order to achieve possible disengagement and final settlement as fast as possible.
Final status could mean a Palestinian state, preferably confederated to Jordan. In this respect, an interesting Israeli paradox exists: on the one hand, most Israelis oppose the creation of a Palestinian state; on the other hand, they believe its creation is inevitable. Thus, one should consider, for example, whether Israel, which for the first time has a government that wants to help the Palestinians, should declare at the start of the final-status negotiations that, under acceptable conditions, it will not oppose a Palestinian state.
We need to capitalize on the momentum gained to date, and create irre¬versible facts before the 1996 elections, in case an ultra-right-wing govern¬ment comes to power in Israel. The Israeli opposition has no real alterna¬tives to the current process, and the Likud has no magic formula for halt¬ing terror. The only alternative to a political solution is stalemate which will bring many more years of bloodshed. The Israeli public can be con¬vinced that both sides must push forward while taking serious measures to protect its 5ecurity.
Thus, today, we need to embrace a whole new approach in order to achieve final settlement as quickly as possible, and address all the difficult subjects: Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, borders, security arrangements, water, etc. We can ill-afford a situation where public opinion leads the process. Ben¬Gurion provides a historical precedent of a leader who achieved his aims, even when he was in the minority. In 1993, Israeli public opinion vehement¬ly opposed talks with the PLO, as it was viewed as a terrorist organization, yet the government decided to negotiate with it. The vital importance of leading the public, and not being led by it, is relevant for both communities.
Two possible approaches exist: to progress gradually and hopefully counter the erosion of public support, or to enter an accelerated process and carry the public along. It is my belief that the only approach is to move quickly, leading the public. In taking this approach, the Palestinian National Authority should take all possible legal procedures and security actions to curb the militant opposition and fight terrorism; while the Government of Israel should adopt a more generous and flexible attitude toward the Palestinians, even involving calculated risks, and the Israeli public must recognize that terror will not disappear altogether. The point is to pursue a certain policy, with the risks involved, now, in order to pre¬vent an endless war. All these decisions should be proactive decisions, not frustrated reactions to a situation seemingly out of control. It is possible to give the Israeli security services and military more power, but it should be remembered that the Palestinian police force is Israel’s ally in fighting ter¬rorism and Israel needs to give it more support.
To conclude, even now, it is safe and realistic to assume that at the end of the final settlement there will probably be two states, hopefully enjoying open borders, free trade, and Israeli-Palestinian geo-strategic cooperation.