The article was published by the Jerusalem Post. Please access it at: https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-747147
By: James Holmes
I have previously noted that the words and actions of parties in conflict are mutually influential and contribute to the continuation of the conflict.
Now, just as before, fostering positive relationships is vital. And, if there is trust between conflicting leaders and public support for change, the chances for success are far greater.
If we look back to the attempts at peace during the early 1990s, we saw the obvious example that the agreements signed were not implemented in good faith. The basic concept of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process at that time was based on the idea of having an interim period of building trust before negotiating the core issues in conflict: Palestinian statehood, borders between the two states, refugees, settlements, security, and Jerusalem. As we saw in 1993, the primary purpose of the interim period in an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was to allow both sides to disengage themselves from decades of conflict and begin developing trust.
Many ethnic, religious, and national-identity conflicts are seen as entrenched. Some of them end up in peace processes either as the result of external forces or as the result of changes in political leadership on one or both sides. Sometimes it is the grass-roots movements in the conflicts that force their leaders to negotiate and find solutions.
Moving a conflict from acute violence into a peace process usually requires a minimum amount of recognition of the mutuality of rights and claims. This eventually leads towards confidence-building measures that enable negotiations based on the beginning of trust being developed. In more successful peace processes, leaders negotiate and are important actors in changing and shaping public opinion that makes previously unthinkable compromises possible. If there is trust between the conflicting leaders and public support for change, the chances for success are greatly increased
So with the current situation, where to now?
Fifteen years of Israeli governments and 18 years of Palestinian leadership under their respective leaders have resulted in a total freeze of the peace process, no negotiations and no intention of renewing the peace process.
There have been no real Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since 2009 except for a brief three months during the Obama administration under Secretary of State John Kerry.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has been ruling Israel for longer than any other Prime Minister before him and he is opposed to the two states solution.
I believe the way forward is an approach that builds on the past’s progress. In the case of Israel and Palestine, the public domain has been used to make fiery speeches and grandstands against the other side in the conflict, making public diplomacy radioactive. The pressure of public office hinders constructive dialogue. Previous leaders, however, are not burdened with the same political baggage and have an acute understanding of pitfalls. This is why we believe in engaging ex-officials that have held the highest offices and been at the forefront of building peace. Rather than be symbols of past failures, they can act as powerful reminders that leaders, when outside of the political arena, can build on the progress they helped to achieve and offer meaningful solutions. This is not to state that conflict dynamics do not change, but rather that solutions which were so close to being implemented can once more be the key to peace. At the very least, by finishing the once they started, previous leaders can begin to challenge the narrative that there are no partners to build peace with.
I also believe that we should challenge traditional diplomacy, and seek to accompany peace with an economic package. As an organisation, ICO is focused on exploring the relationship between peace-building and economic development. ICO recognises the need to integrate peace-building and economic development interventions, as poverty plays a critical role in the conflict. More accurately, inequalities across lines of divisions pose a significant barrier to building better relationships between divided people. Economic development, which addresses power asymmetries between peoples, focuses on creating long-term economic opportunities and promotes economic cooperation and interference shown to have a positive impact on peace.
I am also an advocate of secret direct back channels of communication and negotiations, particularly in frozen conflicts and especially in conflicts with failed peace processes. Secret direct back channels provide leaders from both sides to engage with a great deal of room to negotiate and establish common grounds that can develop into meaningful progress.
With this communication, helping excluded groups to find their voice, and working to address economic inequalities, the process can move forward again.
Mr James Holmes is the founder and Secretary General of the International Communities Organisation (ICO), an international organisation based in London in special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. ICO’s work in the Middle East is headed by Dr Gershon Baskin is an advisor to both Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process. He is the most recent recipient of the Luxembourg Peace Prize for Outstanding Peace Activist. He is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.