January/February 2001
Western Wall

The Peace Paradox

by Henry Kissinger

The realities that produced the peace process… have not changed. Neither side can defeat the other. The Palestinians cannot win because Israel is too strong militarily, and Israel cannot win because the Palestinians are too strong politically. Both sides are therefore condemned to coexistence…

Failure to keep these fundamentals in mind was a principal cause of the breakdown of negotiations. President Clinton and P.M. Barak had convinced themselves that the peace process resulted from nothing less than a Palestinian conversion to peace in the abstract rather than from the pursuit of historical Palestinian objectives by less violent means…

Israel regards peace as a culmination of the struggle for a homeland and defines it as a normality that ends claims and determines a permanent legal status… The Palestinians… live by convictions more comparable to those of Europe during the 17th-century religious conflicts. To them… territorial compromises proposed by Israel and U.S. mediators are viewed as amputations of their cultural and theological patrimony.

When Barak opened the Camp David summit by offering Arafat something like 92 percent of the pre-1967 West Bank territory, he was going far beyond any previous Israeli prime minister. But to the Palestinians, the 1967 borders represent a concession in themselves…

If [Arafat] risked accepting it at all, he was bound to treat it as a stage in… the ultimate fulfillment of Palestinian demands… It is also why the Israeli Camp David demand that the quid pro quo be a formal renunciation of all future claims… proved impossible for Arafat…

The emotional outpouring that followed Yitzhak Rabin's handshake with Arafat… to treat the peace process as a mutual psychological adjustment… All this obscured how deep-seated the conflict really was…

In the process, it was forgotten that the important operational aspect of Oslo was a tacit bargain, which deferred the most difficult issues – final borders, Jerusalem, demilitarization – to some final negotiation down the road. It was hoped that, in the interval, a process of reciprocal moves would build confidence between the parties. The opposite happened…

It now becomes crucial to draw the right lessons from the experience:

First, negotiations must not start where the last ones left off. The parties are not ready for a final settlement… At this stage… the formula of the second Sinai accord of 1975 – that the agreement stands until superseded by another agreement – would serve the purpose.

Second, the challenge of coexistence remains. Any new negotiation… should attempt to reduce friction between the two societies by separating them to the greatest extent possible.

Third, the territorial issue should be settled separately from other issues. But the resolution can no longer be… the 1967 borders, in which Israel's major cities are linked by a corridor only nine miles wide…

Fourth, in defining these borders… Palestinian territory should be made more contiguous and Israeli checkpoints… reduced…

Fifth, the next U.S. administration should seek to redefine the purpose and direction of a new “coexistence approach” before launching its own diplomacy…

Sixth, thoughtfulness will be more important than speed.

© 2001 The Los Angeles Times
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