An enduring peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. This fact sheet outlines reasons why bilateral talks are the best path to peace and recognition of a Palestinian state.
- Only bilateral talks can ensure an enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- Under the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords, both sides agreed to resolve final status issues bilaterally through direct negotiations.
- Every major breakthrough toward peace in the Middle East, from the Camp David Accords of 1978, through the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement of 1979, to the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994, was achieved through direct, face-to-face negotiations between the parties.
- A deal can only work if both parties enter it willingly, feel vested in it, and intend to implement it. Without buy-in from the two parties and the publics they represent, no accord will be viable.
- While both parties understand the parameters of the “final deal”, the key issues remaining include the Palestinian claim for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants (around 5 million), the division of Jerusalem and recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. Israel will not accept a right of return for all Palestinian refugee descendants because it would likely end its existence as a nation-state of the Jewish people. Any peace agreement should recognise Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people. If these issues are not resolved directly they are likely to be continued sources of violence.
- A negotiated peace deal would require both sides to make painful compromises. However, outside of a negotiated agreement, international recognition of “Palestine” reduces the Palestinian leadership’s belief in the need for compromise.
- Australia under the leadership of both the Coalition and ALP, as well as other countries including the US and Canada, have all made statements on the importance of direct negotiation
2. “Palestine” does not meet the requirements for statehood
- Under the Montevideo Convention a state requires (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states. Currently, the Palestinian territories do not have a “defined territory”.
- Regarding the ‘1967 lines’ – these are based on the 1949 Armistice Agreements entered into by Israel and its Arab neighbours, which stated that these lines ”are without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.” These are not and have never been internationally recognised borders. Final borders are likely to include “land swaps” that include the major settlements in the West Bank. The notion of land swaps has been agreed to by the Arab League.
- The Palestinian territories do not have a single “government”. Currently the Palestinian “government” is divided between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is recognised as a terrorist group in Australia. Recognition of “Palestine” would give legitimacy to Hamas – which continues oppress Gazans and provoke conflict with Israel via rocket and tunnel attacks. Hamas has refused to abide by the conditions of international Quartet – to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous agreements.
- The Palestinians have not held elections since January 2006, when they voted for a new parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council. The vote resulted in a victory for the Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform list. One year earlier, the Palestinians had a presidential election, which brought Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to power. The next parliamentary elections were supposed to be held in 2010, while the presidential vote was scheduled to take place in 2009. But the Palestinians have since failed to hold new parliamentary and presidential elections because of the dispute between Fatah and Hamas, which reached its peak with Hamas’ violent take over of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Today, it appears that Hamas and the PA have no plans to schedule elections. Many analysts are concerned that if there was an election Hamas would takeover the West Bank. A Hamas takeover of the West Bank would have dire concerns for Israel’s security as Israel’s largest population centres are close to the West Bank.
3. Unilateral recognition undermines previous international agreements:
- UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 called upon the parties to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and stressed the need to negotiate to achieve “secure and recognized boundaries.”
- Oslo II (1995) established that ”neither side shall initiate or take any steps that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations”;
- The Roadmap for Peace which set out a series of complementary steps leading to a two state peace;
- Statements by the Quartet which call for a mutually negotiated and agreed resolution to the conflict and no unilateral acts;
- Unilateral acts could also unravel the institutionalised legal and administrative framework that underpins existing Israeli-Palestinian relations, which include bilateral arrangements in over forty spheres of civilian activity and which serve as a basis for economic, legal, and security cooperation. Unravelling these might well precipitate new and violent confrontations.
4. A Palestinian state can still be achieved via direct negotiations with Israel
- The PA has been offered a Palestinian state by Israeli prime ministers Olmert in 2008 and Barak in 2000 and 2001 but walked away from these offers. The 2008 Olmert ”package” included: a territorial solution offering the Palestinians territory equivalent to the 1967 borders, with ”land swap” modifications on both sides and Jerusalem divided, with east Jerusalem Arab neighbourhoods under Palestinian sovereignty. Israel offered to accept an agreed number of refugees for five years on humanitarian grounds, and to support the creation of an international fund that would compensate all the refugees. The PA rejected Israeli offers for statehood primarily because it has refused to relinquish its claim to a ”right of return” to Israel for descendants of 1948 refugees. Its willingness to reach a reasonable accommodation on Jerusalem is also very much in doubt.
- Despite reports to the contrary, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu still supports a Palestinian State. For example in an MSNBC interview on March 19 after the Israeli election he said, “I don’t want a one-state solution” explaining, “I want a sustainable two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change.” Netanyahu’s comments before the election indicating that he would not support a Palestinian state “today” under current conditions, were intended to refer to the security concerns in the region – the rise of the Islamic State and the lack of a peace partner on the Palestinian side.
- However, despite such rhetoric, in action, Netanyahu has made advances towards peace as Prime Minister. For example, in Roger Cohen’s New York Times article “Why Israel Palestinian peace failed” (23/12/14) he interviewed then Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who described these Israeli advances which were rebuffed by the PA:
“On March 17, in a meeting in Washington, President Obama presented Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, with a long-awaited American framework for an agreement that set out the administration’s views on major issues, including borders, security, settlements, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem. Livni considered it a fair framework, and Netanyahu had indicated willingness to proceed on the basis of it while saying he had reservations. But Abbas declined to give an answer in what his senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, later described as a “difficult” meeting with Obama. Abbas remained evasive on the framework, which was never made public.
This, in Livni’s view, amounted to an important opportunity missed by the Palestinians, not least because to get Netanyahu’s acceptance of a negotiation on the basis of the 1967 borders with agreed-upon swaps – an idea Obama embraced in 2011 – would have indicated a major shift.
Still, prodded by Secretary of State John Kerry, talks went on. On April 1, things had advanced far enough for the Israeli government to prepare a draft statement saying that a last tranche of several hundred Palestinian prisoners would be released; the United States would free Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel more than 25 years ago; and the negotiations would continue beyond the April 29 deadline with a slowdown or freeze of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Then, Livni said, she looked up at a television as she awaited a cabinet meeting and saw Abbas signing letters as part of a process to join 15 international agencies – something he had said he would not do before the deadline. She called Erekat and told him to stop the Palestinian move. He texted her the next day to say he couldn’t. They met on April 3. Livni asked why Abbas had done it. Erekat said the Palestinians thought Israel was stalling. A top Livni aide, Tal Becker, wrote a single word on a piece of paper and pushed it across the table to her: ‘Tragedy.”‘
- Moreover, according to recent reports there have been secret talks between Israel the PA for several months. The Times of Israel reported on July 17:
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday to convey his wishes for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan. Netanyahu also told Abbas that the citizens of Israel want peace and that Israel would continue to act toward regional stability, according to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday. The Palestinian news agency WAFA said Abbas told Netanyahu it is important to reach a peace deal next year. It was the first official, publicized call between the Israeli and Palestinian leader since June 2014…. But secret contacts between Netanyahu and Abbas have been taking place for several months, according to recent reports, including in The Times of Israel. Those reports have been denied by both the PMO and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. Sources had told Times of Israel correspondent Avi Issacharoff this week that both sides have taken a number of steps over the past three months, including, on Israel’s part, a slowdown in settlement construction, in a bid to calm the situation in light of the instability spreading across the Middle East. The steps were taken “not by agreement but as part of a reassessment of the situation in the region,” a Palestinian official said.”