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‘My aim is not to resolve the conflict’ — former top Israeli negotiator

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“My aim is not to resolve the conflict. My aim is to secure a Jewish democratic Israel . . . the Zionist vision that came true 70 years ago,” Gilead Sher tells Gilad Halpern and Dahlia Scheindlin at the Tel Aviv Review. If you ever wonder, why is there no peace with the Palestinians, you need look no further than this.

Gilead Sher is an attorney who served as Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians under Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001) for the Sharm el Sheik Agreement, the Camp David Accord, and the Taba Agreement.  Today Sher heads the Center for Applied Negotiations at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.  The program discussed Sher’s co-edited book Negotiating in Times of Conflict, which offers a panorama of perspectives on how to overcome obstacles in peace negotiations, looking at examples from around the world. The Institute does good and valuable work and Sher has helpful insights to offer.

But when it comes to Israel, Sher’s focus appears to be all tactics and manipulating advantage. Based on this interview, justice is not the focus.

Gilad Halpern states the obvious:

Halpern: “The end goal is to see the conflict resolved.”

Sher:  “Right.”

That seems correct, and should go without saying. But Sher is not at ease with his answer, and he quickly doubles back to revise.

Halpern: “Going back to the settlers . . . . they live in many ways much better with the conflict going… than… with the end result of resolution (of the conflict), which would most probably mean their evacuation from the land.”

Sher:  “Well, there is a few points that I have to address about your question. First, my aim is not to resolve the conflict. My aim is to secure a Jewish democratic Israel based on the fundamental principles that are encompassed within our Declaration of Independence of 1948. The basics of the Zionist vision that came true 70 years ago. So in order to do that we have to possibly disengage with the Palestinians and hopefully through a negotiated agreement.

“Second, when you look at the settlers, 80% already live adjacent to the Green Line in major blocks, and they will become part and parcel of Israel in any agreement. You are dealing with maybe up to 100,000 settlers that would have to be resettled in a permanent status agreement if Israel and Palestinian disengage one from the others. And for that an internal dialogue is needed.”

End of conflict is not the goal, suggests Sher.  If the conflict must continue in order to preserve the Zionist vision as expressed 70 years ago, with permanent Israeli Defense Forces occupation of all of the West Bank and “separation” with the Palestinians, so be it. The goal, says Sher, is to preserve the Jewish state as envisioned in its declaration, and “in order to do that” he says, “we have to possibly disengage with the Palestinians.”

But we have seen what disengagement means: it means walling off Palestinians from Jewish settlements, walling off Palestinians from their farmlands, walling off Palestinians from their watering wells; it means checkpoints and separate infrastructure; it means military rule for West Bank Palestinians and civil courts for West Bank Jews. It means institutionalized violence, intimidation, discrimination, and control of Palestinians. It means turning Gaza into an open-air prison. It means no justice. It means continued conflict.

I’m sure Sher would say he is in favor of ending occupation, in favor of civil courts for West Bank Palestinians, and harmonious relations with Gaza. (If only the Palestinians were more peaceful!) But this is not realistic. If your goal is “separation, hopefully through a negotiated agreement” over “resolution of the conflict,” what you’ll get is conflict and military occupation.

And I’m sure Sher would point to some of the idealistic provisions of the Israeli Declaration of Independence: ” [Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” it promises.

And it’s true, Israel is struggling and making an effort to meet this promise within the Green Line. But Israel is making no effort to honor this promise for Gaza or the West Bank and East Jerusalem. If the border is at the Jordan river, Israel has abandoned this promise.

The Declaration promised “equal citizenship” to its Arab inhabitants, but Israel then played fast and loose with the concept of citizenship, by differentiating between citizenship and nationality. It’s akin to placing a big brown “A” on the lapels of its Arab citizens.

The Declaration asserted that Israel “is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the . . .  economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel” (meaning Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank).  Israel has not been serious in this enterprise. It is fundamentally incompatible with occupation.

Prioritizing separation over conflict resolution assures the conflict will not be resolved. Israel’s negotiators need to make conflict resolution their top priority if the conflict is to be resolved.

This post first appeared on December 9 on Roland Nikles’s site. 

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… Sher: “ … my aim is not to resolve the conflict. My aim is to secure a Jewish democratic Israel based on the fundamental principles that are encompassed within our Declaration of Independence of 1948. The basics of the Zionist vision that came true 70 years ago. … The goal of Jewish supremacists (Zionists) was, is and always will be Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine.… Read more »

Always seemed to be a bit of hesitation among Israeli negotiators to work toward peace or justice. We should not be surprised. Zionism takes as an unquestioned and unquestionable axiom that a Zionist (but probably not anyone else) taking someone else’s homeland is a good thing. So giving part of it back would seem a bad thing. No surprise. Without outside pressure, to create carrots and sticks beyond those Israel can make for itself, no… Read more »

“And it’s true, Israel is struggling and making an effort to meet this promise within the Green Line. ” Sorry, but don’t make me laugh so hard! “The Declaration promised “equal citizenship” to its Arab inhabitants, but Israel then played fast and loose with the concept of citizenship, by differentiating between citizenship and nationality. It’s akin to placing a big brown “A” on the lapels of its Arab citizens.” As evidenced below: “Following Riots, Israeli… Read more »

“We must define our position and lay down basic principles for a settlement. Our demands should be moderate and balanced, and appear to be reasonable. But in fact they must involve such conditions as to ensure that the enemy rejects them. Then we should manoeuvre and allow him to define his own position, and reject a settlement on the basis of a compromise position. We should then publish his demands as embodying unreasonable extremism”. –… Read more »

re: “The Declaration promised “equal citizenship” to its Arab inhabitants, but Israel then played fast and loose with the concept of citizenship, by differentiating between citizenship and nationality. It’s akin to placing a big brown “A” on the lapels of its Arab citizens.” I’ve seen this alluded to in various ways over the years that I’ve been following Mondoweiss. I’ve never felt that I understood it. I imagine that my confusion reflects the intent of… Read more »