Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking: What Can We Learn From Previous Efforts?

Written by | Monday, October 1st, 2018

The struggle to establish peace between Israel and Palestine has been here for the past 25 years, since the 1993 ‘Oslo I’ agreement, which established the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as a negotiating party with Israel, up to and including the 2017 Paris conference. The Chatham House project ‘Israel-Palestine: Beyond the Stalemate’ aims to evaluate these peace efforts and examine the ways in which regional states have contributed to Israeli–Palestinian peacemaking to date, and the potential of such efforts to achieve more.

Those trying to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians have sought to devise ways of tackling the core issues of the conflict, namely Jerusalem, refugees, security, borders and settlements. In so doing, they have been operating in a reality in which the parties are not two states but rather an occupying state and an occupied people. This context, moreover, is one in which the state concerned – Israel – has a privileged relationship with the US, the most powerful international actor involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Several different approaches have been adopted over the past quarter of a century, for example the Oslo approach, which was incremental, avoided spelling out the shape of a final agreement, and depended too much on the progressive building of trust and confidence between the two parties involved. These different approaches offer valuable lessons for those engaging in future attempts to end the conflict.

The structure of any peace process is also important. One of the factors to be considered is whether it should be incremental or should seek to reach a deal in one go. An incremental process may look attractive, as it offers the opportunity to build confidence between the parties before moving on to the more difficult issues. However, such processes have been shown to be vulnerable to disruption by extremists, whose actions may well destroy confidence more effectively than supporters of peace are able to build it.

Moreover, no future Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are likely to succeed without effective support from the international community, which can also mitigate the deterioration in relations which occurs during periods of stagnation consequent upon insufficiently committed leadership on either or both sides. The Arab states represent a particularly important group of third parties, as they can offer a comprehensive, regional peace agreement, including acceptance for Israel by the Arab world as a whole. However, Arab leaders need to promote their proposals more effectively than they have done to date.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that leadership is crucial to the success of peace efforts. Leaders on both sides must be committed to peace and prepared to make the concessions necessary to reach agreement. In order to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion, they need to secure their domestic base in terms of political allies and a majority of the public. But leaders who try to maintain support that is broader than the necessary ‘critical mass’ will never be able to make bold moves for peace.

‘Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking: What Can We Learn From Previous Efforts?’ – Briefing Paper by Yossi Mekelberg and Greg Shapland – Chatham House / The Royal Institute of International Affairs.

(The Briefing Paper can be downloaded here)

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