by Danielle Bella Ellison:
Inhibiting preconditions have been a key factor in stalling negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Currently, Israeli talks with the Palestinians and the Syrians are both halted due to Israeli opposition to conditions it deems inappropriate and dangerous to accept before talks have even begun.
Historically, Israelis and Palestinians have both had preconditions for negotiations, which, for both groups respectively, represented issues on which they felt they needed security before they could begin talking. Israeli preconditions have included the need for Palestinians to renounce violence and terrorism, and the need to accept Israel as a Jewish state. This second condition is particularly important to Israel: it would serve as an assurance that the Palestinians would not seek to destabilize Israel or change its Jewish character if a two-state solution were reached. However, no Palestinian leader has thus far accepted this concept.
On the other side, Palestinian preconditions have generally asked that Israel stop settlement activity in the West Bank and formally recognize the pre-1967 lines as the borders of the future Palestinian state. The first condition is the Palestinians’ logical effort at making sure Israel does not encroach on the land of their future state while negotiations take place. Although in the past Israel has stopped settlement building in order to meet this precondition, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction, negotiations between the two parties broke down in September 2010.
The Quartet on the Middle East, which consists of the US, the EU, Russia, and the UN, is currently attempting to restart negotiations without preconditions between the Israelis and Palestinians. Although not without serious qualms about Palestinians’ not renouncing terrorism or accepting Israel as the Jewish state, the Israelis have agreed. The Palestinians, however, are insisting on their preconditions. But since Israel refuses to stop West Bank construction or recognize those borders, negotiations are currently stalled—again.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have legitimate requests and concerns in their preconditions. Ultimately, they will have to be faced. Nevertheless, at this point it seems that insisting on preconditions that are barriers to negotiations is unproductive. At some point, you need to just start talking.
Meanwhile, talks between Israel and Syria have hopes of resuming; they have been on hold since January 2000. Israeli President Shimon Peres called for starting up negotiations between Israel and Syria without preconditions—but Syria wants to talk based on where they left off in terms of certain land swaps. Syria also wants anything regarding Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon to be kept out of consideration.
But the problem that arises by accepting Syrian preconditions is that Israel effectively gives up a huge amount of bargaining power, before negotiations even begin. As Peres explained, Israel would lose leverage to achieve its own ends if it agrees to “accepting the Syrian positions and then starting negotiations.” There is a point at which it is not acceptable to put everything in the preconditions, therefore halting the process before the two sides even get to the negotiating table. After all, the goal of the talks—not the preconditions—is to settle the issues at hand.
Danielle Bella Ellison ’15 is in Davenport College. She is a Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger, focusing on Israel and its regional politics. Contact her at email@example.com.