Of all the many problems that overwhelm peace and fuel the Middle East conflict, plaguing both Palestinians and Israelis, the main problem is the failure of the negotiation process.
Part of the problem is that they both approach negotiations from different perspectives, strategies and needs. Instead of negotiating as rivals, they should try negotiating as partners.
Partners in failure
Both want something for themselves separately rather than for themselves as a partnership. Palestinians and Israelis are unavoidable partners in Palestine, both claiming the same land as their own.
It is a partnership because they suffer together - not individually - when peace talks fail as we continue to witness, although in terms of the numbers of human fatalities, the Palestinians clearly bear a heavier burden.
The whole concept of a “two-state solution” is based on a partnership that is rarely explored, for obvious reasons of selfishness on both sides.
They are partners in failure but can only make the two-state solution a reality if they act as partners in success.
Dictating an offer
If Israelis and Palestinians approached negotiations as a partnership, where both sides not only address their own needs but also are mindful of the needs of the other, peace talks might succeed.
Israelis continually blame the Palestinians for the failure of peace, but that’s all propaganda. Israel is as much to blame as the Palestinians. The whole idea that Israel “offered” Palestinians the “most generous offer” is an example of the arrogance that undermines the true nature of a peace process.
In the context of Palestinian and Israeli history, an “offer” is really a dictate, an ultimatum and one that shames the entire concept of peace based on compromise.
Never mind that the Israeli offer from Prime Minister Ehud Barak to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was lacking and far from a compromise at all, or that during the entire “negotiations” Barak refused to hold any face-to-face meetings with Arafat. Everything was transmitted through President Clinton who conspired with Israel on what to offer and what to hold back.
Maybe understanding why Palestinians and Israelis don’t act like partners can explain why the peace process continually fails.
Israelis approach negotiations differently than Palestinians and here is how.
Israelis have their state. They can envision where they hope to be through negotiations and where negotiations will lead, the vision. What they lack is acceptance from the Palestinians who dispute their claims. So, Israelis focus on the details not the long term vision.
The Israelis have a vision of what they want because they are living it, for the most part. They can envision how their state works, see how their society can evolve and imagine their place in the international community.
If only they could resolve their differences with the Palestinians.
The bottom line is Israelis don’t need to see a vision of where they are going in negotiations because they are already there. So they focus on the individual negotiating points.
For Palestinians, it is the reverse. They need a clear vision of where negotiations will end.
Palestinians do not have a state. Although they have a government and a people and some structures of a society in place, all of it is under a military occupation by the very people they are forced to negotiation with.
Not a good position to be in when you have to negotiate at the point of a gun.
Defining the end point
Still, the real difference in this from Israelis is that Palestinians do not exist in their vision as the Israelis do. They live in a conflict of details. They must be able to see a clear vision of where negotiations will lead for negotiations to be successful.
Palestinians need to know where they are going first before they can take on and resolve the tough details like the right of return or more compromises on the city of Jerusalem.
Israelis view negotiations as a step-by-step process. They move forward from one issue to another. If one is resolved, they feel they can move to the next.
It can’t work for Palestinians if the negotiations fail to define up front where they are headed. Palestinians need to know the end result before they can move forward towards achieving it. It has to be one giant step, first.
That means Palestinians need to know that they will have a state and they need to know its general borders. They need to know that what they give up from their idea of a state will be balanced off by what they get in return for lost lands (Israeli settlements).
They also need to know, up front, the status of Jerusalem. Will it be shared or divided. And, they need to know how Israel will approach the issue of the Palestinian Refugees and their legal Right of Return.
Israelis don’t like that approach because it conflicts with their negotiation needs. More importantly, the Israelis are not in negotiations to arrive at a fair compromise. They approach negotiations in the true sense of bartering, which ironically is a supposed Arab trait. Israelis negotiate to get as much as they can.
It’s a good strategy if this were about buying a car. In that case, both sides would negotiate selfishly. The difference, of course, is that once the car is sold, the buyer leaves and rarely sees the dealer unless there is a problem with the car.
In the case of Israelis and Palestinians, they can’t approach negotiations like a car dealership where Israel is the dealer and the Palestinians are the customer.
That won’t result in peace. It’s certainly not the kind of partnership that will result in real hope for Palestinians and Israelis.
Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American journalist, author and co-host of the online Internet TV show “CounterPoint.” He can be reached at www.hanania.com .