A Piecemeal Peace in the Making

An outline for taking the first step towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

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Palestinian women show their IDs at an Israeli checkpoint on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

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This upcoming September will mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. When the agreement was first signed, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the date set to reach a permanent agreement – May 4th, 1999 – would pass without mention and that two decades later, Israelis and Palestinians would still be playing an endless blame game.

Ironically, the greatest advocates of the Oslo Accords today were the major opponents of the same agreement 20 years ago. Then, they were afraid that it would lead to a painful compromise, but today they see it as the best umbrella under which to preserve the agreement's transitory nature for as long as possible in order to prevent what they resist most: the division of the land into two sovereign states.

The Palestinian Authority was never meant to serve as a substitute for a state, but rather play an important role in its founding. The Oslo Accords were meant to be a transitional agreement for only five years. We must not allow them to become permanent. It is time to make a historic move and Secretary of State John Kerry deserves praise for his efforts.

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The main factor hindering peace talks has been Palestinians' fear that they will be trapped in never-ending negotiations. In addition, Kerry, who has been shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah, is finding it difficult to have both sides reach Terms of Reference and a shared vision. His proposal to base negotiations on a U.S. vision has been rejected by the Palestinians, as President Mahmoud Abbas wants to hear the vision directly from the Israelis.

It would be a tragic missed opportunity to allow the surprising U.S. resolve to mediate the conflict end in disappointment, with the main concern being that the failure of efforts is likely to lead to violence. Such an outcome will only reduce both parties' trust in reaching their goals: on the Israeli side, to remain a Jewish and democratic state, and on the Palestinian side, to achieve independence.

From talks with leaders on both sides, I believe it is possible to reach a shared Terms of Reference outlining a vision for negotiations. Such a document would open the door to serious negotiations about an agreement that will initially grant sovereignty to a Palestinian state with temporary borders and, in the upcoming years, lead to a permanent agreement. The main tenets of the vision would include:

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

  • The purpose of negotiations is to establish an independent sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside the State of Israel.
  • Al Quds will be the capital of the Palestinian state, alongside Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.
  • The 1949 Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement will serve as a reference point for the exchange of land, upon which negotiations will be held towards a permanent agreement.
  • The Palestinian state will be non-militarized. The parties will negotiate security arrangement details, including the role of the Palestinian police force and equipment, as well as warning mechanisms which will allow Israel to defend itself against attacks by a third party.
  • The Palestinian state will make sovereign decisions as to who will enter its territory and receive citizenship. An international framework will be established for this purpose, with Israel compensating the 1948 refugees for their plight, the assets of their families and their absorption into different places, in line with the sovereign decision of the receiving countries and taking into account relevant U.N. resolutions.
  • The agreement will recognize the right of both the Jewish and the Palestinian people to statehood, without prejudice to the equal rights of the parties' respective citizens.
  • The permanent agreement will end mutual claims and mark the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.