Prof. Assaf Sharon
Co-founder and senior fellow
10.10.2013 commentary by Prof. Assaf Sharon
Photo: US Embassy Tel Aviv
Photo: US Embassy Tel Aviv    

Beyond the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation fetish

Assaf Sharon challenges the current paradigm of direct bilateral negotiations and argues for more robust process

A joke I was told by a Palestinian negotiator captures the stagnation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Ronald Reagan, Nikita Khrushchev and Yasser Arafat each had an encounter with God before they died. Reagan asked the Almighty, “When will the whole world embrace democracy?” “It will happen, but not in your lifetime,” the Lord replied. Next, Khrushchev asked, “When will capitalism finally collapse?” to which the Divine answered: “It will happen, but not in your lifetime.” Finally, Arafat inquired, “When will the occupation end, and Palestinians will have a state of their own?” After a deep sigh Allah responded, “It will happen, but not in my lifetime.”

This gloomy fatalism is curious for two reasons. First, it is gaining traction just as the contours of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine are becoming clearer than ever. The prospects of a solution may have appeared dubious twenty or thirty years ago, but decades of negotiations have made the parameters of an agreement well known. Yet, as the solution crystallized, skepticism about its attainability has only intensified.

Second, it is difficult to square this widespread incredulity with the fact that all involved—Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and the international community—are so invested in another round of talks. While all, in their official capacities, remain committed to the peace process, expressing optimism about its prospects, it seems that, unofficially, everyone regards its failure as foretold.

There are many reasons for pessimism about the negotiations. A weak Palestinian leadership sits in a room beside an intransigent Israeli government; the Americans presiding over the talks are timid. Decades of failure certainly warrant doubt. But lessons must be drawn with care. Some observers dismiss the very possibility of dividing the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. The most recent example of this increasingly popular trend is Ian Lustick’s New York Times op-ed, “Two State Illusion.” Lustick spares no insult from the two-state solution, calling it “a fantasy,” “a chimera,” “a mirage,” “a blindfold” and, of course, an “illusion.” His argument: The fact that “the last three decades are littered with the carcasses of failed negotiating projects.” From this he concludes that the solution itself must be unfeasible. But this argument is plainly false.

Doubting the two state solution because the peace process failed is analogous to concluding that New York doesn’t exist because one keeps failing to get there using a map of Canada. It is a confusion of ends with means. The simple fact that the conditions for signing a deal have never materialized in no way means that partition is unattainable, it merely entails that the means employed were inappropriate.

To read the full article at the Cairo Review, click here.

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