Now is the time to act - Foundation Office Palestinian Territories
As the proximity talks are already on half-way, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Jerusalem and Ramallah used the opportunity to organize a high-level workshop on the lessons learned of the past negotiations and the role of public opinion polls. Additionally, the workshop included the presentation of a new book, which summarizes the joint Israeli Palestinian public opinion polls of the last ten years. These polls are supported by KAS and conducted by the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah. Moreover, the workshop took place ten years after the Camp David summit. Among the 300 participants were primarily politicians, journalists, diplomats, academics, including one of the main survey experts of Israel, Mina Zeemach, and the UN special envoy Mark Otte.
The first part of the workshop focused on the question which lessons can the negotiators of the current proximity talks learn from the past negotiations. With Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei, two key players of these negotiations were present during the workshop. Their last meeting took place during the Annapolis process in autumn 2008.
Prof. Steven Kaplan, Academic Director of the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University, opened the event and warmly welcomed the speakers and the participants. After his short introduction, the resident representatives of KAS offices in Jerusalem and Ramallah – Dr. Lars Hänsel and Felix Dane – provided a brief overview of the aims of KAS. Dr. Hänsel emphasized the special responsibility of Germany for Israel and the German engagement to support the efforts of both sides to find a sustainable solution. Felix Dane stressed the importance of opinion polls and their role for the implementation of a two-state-solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
After this, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), a member of the PLO Executive Committee and former Prime Minister, gave an overview of the past negotiations. He called the Oslo negotiations the "most important" and a "historical breakthrough" because the resulting agreement was the first of its kind between Israel and the PLO. Though, he also criticized the Israeli partners for their policy after reaching this first agreement. In this context, Ahmed Qurei mentioned the settlement activities, which continued steadily under all governments. He accused the Israelis not to comply with previous agreements and criticized their efforts to renegotiate existing agreements instead of going ahead. It is not the intention of the Palestinians to reopen the discussion of the achievements of the negotiation process with every new Israeli government, he said. Qurei also criticized the destruction of the Palestinian police apparatus during the Second Intifada and the construction of the Israeli separation barrier, which runs partly through the West Bank. Ahmed Qurei stressed that this process should not be forgotten. Concluding, he mentioned that he acknowledges the State of Israel and that he – of course – has a long standing relationship with Israel. Instead, he said, the real conflict is related to the core issues and these topics must be resolved by the political leaders on both sides. He mentioned that he could not understand why – after such a long time of direct negotiations – indirect negotiations were still necessary. Unlike Syria, for example, the Palestinians have relations with the State of Israel.
As well as Ahmed Qurei before her, Tzipi Livni, head of Kadima Party and former Foreign Minister, highlighted the close relationship between each other. During the Annapolis process, both acted as chief negotiators and met regularly. At the centre of the address stood her commitment that the two-state solution is the only way to save both, the Jewish and the democratic character of Israel. She pointed out that the two-state solution is not a gift to the Palestinians, the Arab states or the United States. Rather, it is in the genuine interest of the State of Israel. In her opinion, the two-state solution also contains the national ideals of the Likud party. Political ideals, with whom she once grew up. Livni argued that a lasting agreement could not be reached through the enforcement of some vague historic rights. Instead, the two-state solution will be at the heart of every meaningful agreement to protect Israel. She stressed that the price of an agreement is considerable lower than the price for not having an agreement and declared that the Annapolis process has not failed, but has only stopped. However, she remarked, the main principle of the negotiation process was that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed". With regard to the relationship of opinion polls and political leaders, she said that in the end the decision makers have to solve the (crucial) problems. One of the most important prerequisite is the public confidence in the abilities of the decision makers to end the conflict, Livni said. She expressed her hope that the public would support an agreement of this kind of leaders. "Now is the time to act," she said. She spoke in favour of a negotiated agreement – similar to the ideas of the Annapolis process – even if such an agreement would be implemented only at a later stage. In that context, Livni also emphasized the importance of support from the Arab states.
The second part of the workshop dealt with the publication of a study about the joint Israeli-Palestinian opinion polls during the Second Intifada, conducted by the Truman Institute and the PSR – both partners of KAS. At first, Prof. Yaacov Shamir of the Truman Institute provided a comprehensive overview of the theoretical framework used for the polls and the book. After that, Prof. Khalil Shikaki, director of the PSR, highlighted some of the most important results. He focused on the public opinion regarding the parameters of the peace plan of the former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Within this context, Shikaki also mentioned the disastrous effects of wrong perceptions by political leaders and of misconceptions between hopes and expectations of the population. Therefore, he concluded, public opinion polls are extremely important for all international negotiations.
The workshop concluded with the final comments of two other researchers. Prof. Tamar Hermann of the Open University and the Israel Democracy Institute focused on the lack of studies about opinion polls during the Oslo process. She explained that politicians are deliberately underestimating the importance of opinion polls in their public speeches. But in reality the same politicians are using these opinion polls for personal gains. Overall, she described the relationship between opinion polls and policy makers as complex. Prof. Herman also discussed the consistent observation that people on one side support certain agreements but on the other side showing a great degree of pessimism regarding the implementation of such agreements. At the moment, a constant majority of Israelis supports the policies of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, she mentioned. Walid Salem, Director of the Center for Democracy and Community Development, spoke about the prospects of the proximity talks and the expiry of the settlement moratorium in September. He concluded that neither the involvement of the United Nations Security Council nor a (renewed) unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state would be feasible. Therefore, the end of the proximity talks is not a real option. Thus, one possible outcome of the ongoing proximity talks could be the (undeclared) expansion of the current talks.
At the end of the workshop, it became obvious that the KAS is not only capable of bringing together two former chief negotiators and to present the genesis of the public opinion regarding the negotiation of the last ten years but also to make these kind of experiences open to the public. The workshop was not only recorded by multiple Israeli television stations but also by Al Jazeera. In addition, several newspapers reported about the event.