The term “win win” does not exist in Hebrew or Arabic. However, the opposite term, “zero sum game,” does exist and is even popular. Now, when talks between Israelis and Palestinians are resumed, not only language needs to be reinvented, but also the thinking patterns that were acceptable so far in negotiations.
An Israeli – Palestinian agreement will only be achieved when both parties will feel victorious. The natural but harmful desire of each side to show it defeated the other is maybe good for wars, but is bad for those who want peace. The formula to forming positions must be one that results in achieving a good agreement, and not one that measures how many of the other’s positions will be rejected.
Sometimes, success in negotiations is dangerous. Let’s assume Israel will insist on the right to build in the settlements during the process, and that the Palestinians would agree to it. Will such a step ultimately improve the chances of reaching an agreement based on the two-state vision or hurt them? It’s understandable why those who oppose a Palestinian state will support expanding Jewish settlements in the territories, but the interest of those who want to reach this goal is to create a situation in which the division to two states will be possible. Or, let’s assume that the Palestinians will insist on the right to require the involvement of international institutions in the negotiations and Israel will be convinced of it. It is clear that an attempt to impose acts by organizations that are not pro-Israel will not be accepted by the Israeli public and its elected representatives, and the chance to reach an agreement will become smaller.
Abbas (L) with Kerry in Ramallah (Photo: AP)
In every negotiation course, it is taught that a condition for its success is that there is an initial understanding that there is a zone of possible agreement, or ZOPA. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 20 years after Oslo, 13 years after the Clinton parameters and nearly 10 years after the detailed model of the Geneva Initiative, it is clear to the whole world how a possible outline for an agreement will look like. One can agree or oppose it, but the decades and previous processes have already shown that another patent does not exist. Those who enter negotiations in good faith and real intention should realize that a positive outcome can only be achieved in the known zone of agreement.
The second relevant term from negotiations theory is known as BATNA - best alternative to an agreement. Each side, when entering the conference room, needs to understand what its best alternative is in case there is no agreement. In our case, there are no good scenarios. The Palestinian people will have to continue fighting for their rights and independence, while paying heavy prices, against a stronger entity. Israel risks losing its Jewish or democratic identity, international isolation, economic consequences and sooner or later even violence.
Theoretically, the existing conditions – recognizing the future agreement and understanding the danger of its alternatives - should lead to successful negotiations. Along with American involvement, the regional contribution of the Arab world and the international interest there is a reason for optimism. However, one necessary and critical component is missing: Courage of leaders. Ultimately, these are two people who in one given moment would have to put political and personal considerations aside, and prefer the historical and national considerations that are really good for their people. In this moment of truth we will know if the two parties won or lost. Any other outcome, in which one side wins and the other loses, will never occur here.
Nidal Foqaha and Gadi Baltiansky are the director generals of the Geneva Initiative in Ramallah and Tel Aviv, respectively