Teaching Israel How to Negotiate

Israel should strengthen its negotiating position with the Palestinians – by walking away from the table.

Orni Petruschka
Orni Petruschka
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Orni Petruschka
Orni Petruschka

For the experienced business executive, it's no secret: The strongest negotiation position comes from the willingness to walk away. When you can convince the other party you are prepared to walk away, he or she will come back with a better offer, if they need the deal. This tactic advances the prospects of closing the deal, and at a price more acceptable to the party willing to walk away. But it requires thinking about alternative ways to get to the prize.

Israel and the Palestinians have been intertwined in some form of negotiations for decades to achieve two states for two peoples. For the Palestinians, the prize is statehood in Palestine, where their national aspirations will be realized. For Israel, it is the fulfillment of the Zionist dream - a secure and democratic home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. All these years later, however, neither party has gotten significantly closer to the prize it covets.

With Secretary of State Kerry planning another visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah in the coming days, it’s time to consider a new approach to achieving progress towards the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As an Israeli business person, I have observed that, from a negotiation tactics point of view, Israel has been operating counter-productively. It keeps demonstrating that its fate rests in Palestinian hands. And by insisting that any progress towards the goal of a Jewish democracy must be achieved exclusively through direct negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel gives them a veto power over its own ability to reach its own coveted prize – a Jewish and democratic state. This policy gives the Palestinians the key to Israel’s future.

Palestinians recognize this. Israel’s leaders also have to – and to understand that Israel has an alternate way to get the prize: It can walk away from the table and get firmly on an alternative path towards attaining its goal, even without a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians, by creating a reality of two states.

We at the Israeli organization 'Blue White Future' call this alternative to direct negotiations “constructive unilateralism.” It envisions Israel taking unilateral actions that do not create obstacles to reaching an eventual agreement with the Palestinians and which, in fact, gradually improve that prospect.

Prime Minister Netanyahu should embark on this new approach – with U.S. backing – by announcing, independently of the status of negotiations, that Israel has no sovereignty claims over areas east of the security barrier, while in parallel stating his willingness to return to negotiations at any time.

Such statement, which by itself is a constructive unilateral step made in the international arena, will then require taking constructive unilateral steps in the domestic arena, regarding the settlements east of the barrier. They will entail enacting a voluntary evacuation and compensation law for those settlers who prefer to relocate to Israel proper following Israel’s renouncement of sovereignty in these areas, and preparing a blueprint for the absorption of all the settlers currently residing east of the barrier.

Under this plan, Israel would not be repeating the failures of its 2005 Gaza disengagement. This time there is proper advance planning, no coerced evacuation and no IDF withdrawal before an agreement.

This proposal is not a concession by Israel, as some claim. Rather, it moves Israel closer to its coveted prize of a Jewish and democratic state.

Furthermore, by demonstrating its willingness to take its destiny in its own hands via constructive unilateral steps, regardless of whether there is a Palestinian readiness to cooperate, Israel strengthens its negotiation position. After all, advancing the reality of two states is a clear and vital Israeli interest.

The United States and the EU should embrace this alternative plan. They should encourage and support positive independent steps by Israel (and the Palestinians, for that matter) that help create a reality of two states for two peoples. Over time, this approach will facilitate the resumption of negotiations and enhance the prospects for closing the deal and reaching the long-desired comprehensive agreement.

Orni Petruschka is a high-tech entrepreneur in Israel and co-founder of the Israeli independent, non-partisan organization, Blue White Future.

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