Bush's Visit - Political Turning Point?

The new goal for the political process and division of negotiating groups may constitute a change in the political process

Both before and during his visit to Israel, President Bush stated that the goal of the political process is defining what "the parameters of a Palestinian state will look like" This goal differs from the one discussed at Annapolis which determined that the sides would aim to reach a Permanent Status Agreement within a year. It is currently unclear whether Bush's statements have the agreement of Israel and the Palestinians or reflect their positions.

In an apparently unconnected incident, the heads of the negotiation teams, Tzipi Livni and Abu Ala, have agreed on the framework for negotiations with discussions due to take place on three levels;

  • Olmert and Abbas will continue to meet every two weeks to focus on the progress of the negotiations and resolve any disagreements between the negotiating teams.

  • Livni and Abu Ala will discuss the core issues (refugees, Jerusalem and borders).

  • In parallel, six separate committees will deal with security, trade, economics, water, electromagnetic space and civil issues.

The combination between the new goal for the political process (if it is adopted by both sides) and the division of negotiating groups, may constitute a dramatic change in the political process due to the following reasons:

  • Breaking the 'All or Nothing' dynamic - The agreed agenda of the Annapolis process, according to which the sides would reach a PSA within a year, 'pushes' Israel and the Palestinians into an 'all or nothing' dynamic as failure to reach agreement on all the issues ends the chances for an agreement. An agenda based on 'defining the outline of the Palestinian State' however, allows the sides to progress on issues connected to State to State relations in parallel to negotiations over the core issues and disconnects the dependence between them.

  • More Appropriate to the Sides' Political Carrying Capacity - The more limited the negotiation agenda is, the easier it will be for Israel's Prime Minister to maintain his coalition on the one hand, and the greater legitimacy Abu Mazen has to negotiate with Israel on the other.

  • Promoting a different 'give and take' negotiation dynamic over the core issues - One advantage of the new negotiation framework is that it allows a 'trade off' between the different core issues that are being discussed in the main committee.

However, the new negotiation framework fails to provide a structural response to the issue of security. The Palestinians are expected to oppose those Israeli security demands that include an 'intrusion' into their sovereign space (such as the demand for demilitarization of the Palestinian State).

Similar to the Oslo process, mutual Israeli-Palestinian demands to use one another's sovereign space will continue to be discussed in separate negotiation groups. This situation may prevent a 'healthy give and take' dynamic around the 'intrusive issues,' that may undermine Israel's ability to achieve its security interests.

Sources

Barak Ravid, Ha'aretz, 1/9/08; full article.

Israel's Bargaining Chips for achieving its Security Demands