Seeking to shed light on the steps the Obama administration can take to reinvigorate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations during this critical period, Carnegie hosted a discussion with Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian on the recent Baker Institute report  "Re-engaging the Israelis and the Palestinians: Why An American Role in Initiating Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations is Necessary and How It Can be Accomplished." Carnegie Vice President Marwan Muasher moderated. 

An Urgent Call for Action

  • High Stakes: Djerejian stated that while some in Washington may see working to reinvigorate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations as a “fool’s errand,” the stakes are too high geopolitically and strategically for the administration to avoid engaging. If the goal of the Israelis is to have a democratic Jewish state, Djerjian said, “the clock is ticking.”
  • The Only Viable Option: Djerejian asserted that the only viable political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a two-state solution. Under a one-state solution the Jewish population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean would become so small that Israel would no longer be a Jewish state. He added that a one state solution would cause the occupation to continue, and “you can’t be an occupier forever and be a democratic state.” The contours of a two-state solution are known; they’ve been negotiated with success and failure since 1967, he argued. Djerejian added that Israeli leaders have long recognized that there is no military solution to this conflict and it can only be “won” through political solutions.
  • Integral U.S. Role: While both the Israelis and Palestinians recognize that the status quo is untenable, the power imbalance between the parties remains too large for successful negotiations and agreement without substantial third party participation, Djerejian explained. The United States is the only power that can effectively take on that role, he argued. Djerejian added that without the president’s strong engagement, it will not be possible to reinvigorate the process. 

Concrete Steps Forward 

  • Rebuilding Trust: Rebuilding trust between parties is essential to reviving negotiations, Djerejian explained. Strengthening the Palestinian state-building effort by expanding the political, administrative, security, and economic control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) over most of the West Bank is an achievable step that could create substantial headway in the short term and pave the way for solving outstanding core issues of the conflict, he added.  
  • Clarifying Terms: Djerejian explained that “any successful American approach must clearly define a political horizon with terms of reference for an acceptable end state for both parties.” He added that the terms of reference must be broad enough to “allow buy-in from both sides,” allowing the parties themselves to fill in the gaps as the negotiations go forward.  
  • Reshaping the Environment on the Ground: The diplomatic process must also reshape the environment on the ground, Djerejian argued. This can be done by agreeing that all measures implemented shall be without prejudice to remaining issues and subject to the terms of reference and rules of engagement of the negotiating process. The essence of this principle is to transform the economic, social, and security environment on the ground while working to achieve breakthroughs on permanent status issues, he explained. This will require maximizing regional and international support, building the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 into a new international framework, and attempting to engage Hamas in accordance with the accepted framework for negotiations led by the PA, he added.
  • Five U.S.-Led Actions : Djerejian laid out five U.S.-led actions toward a peaceful solution: 

    1. Announce American terms of reference for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, including principles for the end state and modalities to support the negotiations. 
    2. Conclude parallel U.S.-Israeli and U.S.-Palestinian memoranda of understanding, which will shore up the confidence of all parties involved.
    3. Define and broker negotiations along a “fast” and “graduated” negotiating track.
    4. Engage regional and international support through a new international group expanded from the Quartet (the United Nations, United States, European Union, and Russia).
    5. Facilitate a monitoring and oversight structure for negotiations.

Addressing Controversial Issues

  • Economic Development: Djerejian argued that building up the Palestinian economy will be crucial to a peaceful solution. This can be done through steps such as renegotiating the 1994 Paris Protocol to establish economic relations on the principle of two independent states, developing tax and customs capability within the West Bank, and agreeing to joint approaches to the development of shared water resources and environmental concerns of both sides.
  • Territory, Borders, and Settlements: The ambassador put forth several key steps for dealing with the controversial issues of territory, borders, and settlements. He called on Israel to reach an agreement that the quantity of territory included in the West Bank, Gaza, and Dead Sea territorial waters as defined by the 1967 lines will equal the amount of territory of the Palestinian state following land swaps with Israel that are equal in size and value. He also argued that it is necessary to identify and transfer territory in locations that both sides agree will be included within Palestinian borders and identify territory that both sides agree will be included within Israeli borders, and prevent settlement expansion into territory that could be included in Palestinian territory as part of a final agreement. At the same time, Israeli officials should present a proposal in the graduated negotiating track to transfer territory that is equal in size and value to the PA, he said.
  • Security: Djerejian emphasized the importance of expanding Palestinian internal security capacities. It is vital that the state authority, rather than militia groups, has a monopoly on military power, he said.
  • Refugees: Djerejian also outlined the Baker report’s suggestions for addressing the refugee issue. The PA should work with Israel to identify refugee groups living in particularly hazardous conditions in their present areas of residence and facilitate their relocation to the West Bank based on special needs or humanitarian considerations, he said.
  • Jerusalem: Djerejian argued that the two sides must agree to realize two capitals for two states in Jerusalem on the basis of the 1967 border, while recognizing the principle that Jewish neighborhoods will become part of Israel and Palestinian neighborhoods will become part of Palestine. He added that both sides must reopen Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem and halt Palestinian house demolition and displacement. He also suggested establishing a committee for the coordinated management of the city, with particular attention to its holy sites.
  • Prisoners: Prisoners are an important issue in the Palestinian community and taking serious steps to release certain Palestinian and Arab prisoners would be a key step in support of the peace process, Djerejian argued.