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Monday, July 01, 2013

Getting to the table is the easiest part

Contrary to what US Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to impress upon us, getting Israel and the 'Palestinians' to the table is the easiest part.
The reason the launch is so tough, Kerry said, “is because both sides want to understand what the parameters are, how you will negotiate and what you negotiate about. And once you get to that, then you can begin to dig in and get to the hard work.”
The history of the last 20 years of negotiations, however, belies that rather rosy assumption. Barak and Arafat were able to launch talks, that was the easy part. What they could not do was conclude them. The same with Olmert and Abbas. They launched the talks and had dozens of fruitful and convivial discussions. They couldn’t conclude the agreement.
And they could not seal the deal because the over-used mantra that “everyone knows what an agreement will look like, and all you need to do is get the sides into a room until smoke comes out of the chimney” is empty.
Not everyone knows what an agreement will look like. If everyone knew what an agreement would look like, it would have been reached long ago.
Not all Palestinians know, or accept, that Har Homa – let alone Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim or Ariel – will stay in Israeli hands. Not all Israelis know tens of thousands of Jews living beyond the Green Line will have to be uprooted.
Not every Palestinian knows that they are going to have to give up dreaming of “returning” to Haifa, Jaffa or Safed. Not every Israeli knows that Jerusalem will not be Israel’s undivided capital for eternity.
Those things are not known, the parameters are not agreed upon by all.
The gaps on these issues are huge, and it is reckless to promote the expectation that if you just sit down and talk again, everything will work out.
The difficulty in launching the talks is only a skeleton of the difficulties that will emerge once the talks are launched. If that was true in 2000 when there was only one Palestinian entity, not one in the West Bank and another in Gaza as today; and if that was true in 2008 when the region was not imploding as it is now, then it is even more the case today when those two elements no longer exist.
I'll go a step further: It's downright dangerous to raise expectations by claiming that reaching an agreement is easy. It's not easy. Not only does everyone not know what an agreement will look like - if one is possible at all - NO ONE knows what an agreement will look like. That's why all these do-gooders should stop their pursuit of both a legacy and a Nobel peace prize, leave well enough alone and stop raising expectations that are impossible to fulfill. The first rule is to do no harm.

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