Published On: Wed, May 18th, 2016

2016 is an opportunity to build a diplomatic runway to break the deadlock

abbas and netanyahu
When looking at diplomatic possibilities to restart the stalling “peace process”, the following picture becomes clear:

  1. Attempts to reignite Bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PA continue to fail.
  2. The current “Intifada” is not merely a security challenge, but rather it has eroded the last shreds of trust between the Israeli and Palestinian people, despite closer security cooperation between the PA and Israel during this period.
  3. The situation in Gaza is a ticking bomb and the recent exposure of tunnels is a proof of Hamas intentions. The lack of any horizon for the Gazans ensures that Hamas will continue to engage in such efforts.
  4. In the region there is a sense of lower priority of the Israeli-Palestinian issue due to other issues on the regional

 

Agenda:

  • Major regional players (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan) focus on Syria and fighting ISIS
  • Saudi Arabia is focusing on Iranian-led frontiers (Yemen and Syria) and on ISIS as well as leading an economic transformation
  • The Russian position regarding the issue is unclear
  • President Abbas calls for negotiations yet at the same time proceeds with international efforts to approach the UN
  • The US is about to elect a new president and the current administration plan is unclear
  • Europe has no clear and united policy (although France promotes its initiative)
  • Israel’s strategy is not clear, as is the potential for a new coalition Government

 

Key Insights

While there is still low probability of igniting negotiations in 2016, the vacuum is an opportunity to redefine new platforms and new approaches for negotiations. There is an increasing consensus that the way forward would require “regionalism” – an integrated Israeli-Regional-Palestinian negotiation model, and potentially a renewed interest in the Arab Peace Initiative. New approaches may require the idea of a phased permanent status agreement, and new schemes of constructive unilateral steps.

Thus, until the new US administration forms its policy, and while the current US administration is considering its Middle-East legacy, the leaders in Israel, the leading Arab States, the PA and the international community can use the time to build a “diplomatic runway” – and prepare the groundwork for renewing the process. Clearly, the current and next administration will be a critical player in the process yet the stakeholders must take responsibility now. We would like to briefly articulate potential sketches of such alternative runways. Here are several options:

 

  1. An Israeli initiative for an Israeli-Regional-Palestinian initiative (Netanyahu-Sisi Runway)
  2. An Egyptian-led initiative, coordinated with Israel and backed by Saudi Arabia (Sisi-Netanyahu-Salman)
  3. The French Initiative (with revisions)
  4. Quartet-led Initiative based on a report to the GA proposing a new negotiation framework
  5. A Presidential Speech by President Obama
  6. An American Initiative
  7. A UN resolution driving the parties to reignite the process

 

Our Analysis and Recommendation 

  •  We clearly prefer Runway no. 1 but believe that an Israeli-led initiative by PM Netanyahu, and even a Netanyahu-Sisi initiative is unlikely without major changes in Israeli coalition government, and a dramatic policy change.
  • We prefer Runway no. 2 – where Egypt is leading an initiative which is pre-coordinated with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the PA. The recent transfer of Islands and the general quiet rapprochement between Israel and KSA suggests that a potential scheme based on an API-like approach could be created. Specific proposals on how an integrated model could work are discussed in various circles and appear to be reasonably feasible to the parties. Furthermore, as this Viewpoint is finalized, President Sisi announced today his commitment to move forward on the peace process, and his call was immediately and positively responded to by Netanyahu.
  • We believe that Runway no.3 – the French Initiative – has positive elements in it, as it attempts to combine the bilateral negotiations and the wider regional players. However, in order to become a valid option, the initiative should be better coordinated and shaped with Israel and key Arab players (especially Egypt – and Sisi’s announcement today is helpful).
  • Runway no.4, led by the Quartet report to the GA, has positive potential too. In an effort to re-think the model going forward, this dynamic could bring Israel and the PA to negotiations with Arab states based on a nuanced embracement of the API and the Roadmap (a traditional Quartet position). However, we see risks in the approach taken in framing the current situation and the measures offered.
  • We believe that Runway no. 5 – a Presidential Speech – may not be enough to pave the way forward. It might be read as a legacy speech, yet the parties have little trust in an American-led framework. A speech with a concrete plan and a platform may be even more damaging than useful. However, if the speech is cursory to one of the other runways mentioned above – it could be a useful tool, thus encouraging other players to take the lead while the US “leads from behind”.
  • We think that Runway no. 6 – an American-led initiative led by Secretary Kerry, is highly unlikely to succeed. We think that the current Administration lacks the trust of the parties in Israel, the PA and the region. And once failing, it would leave an even more complicated situation at the doorstep of the next administration. However, we believe that the US can quietly support the other “runways”.
  • Finally, any attempt to build Runway no. 8 – a UN-forced process or parameters – is going to be detrimental and will not offer a viable option to make progress.

We therefore continue to believe that our best bet forward is a regionally-led initiative between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel, which will help ignite Israeli-Palestinian-Regional talks based on a nuanced embracement of the API by Israel.

The Israeli peace Initiative (IPI) Team

 

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