The Unknown Incentives for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Dr. Nimrod Goren December 2015
Op-eds / The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

The deep freeze in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has led the international community to examine new ways of acting to further clarify the character of a future two-state solution, the benefits that Israel and the Palestinians will receive from such a solution, and the price the two sides will pay if it is not reached.

One of the possibilities discussed in this context is the more effective use of incentives to convince Israelis and Palestinians of the value of striving for peace. Incentives are a tool with great potential to advance the processes of conflict resolution, but it is a tool that has yet to play a central role in the IsraeliPalestinian peace process. Israel may have received American aid in the past in return for concessions it made in the peace process, but this aid was in the form of compensation, and did not serve as an incentive presented in advance to create a change in the positions of the public and its leaders.

The need for incentives was also unclear for years. The vision of peace was enough to enlist public and political support. But when the belief in the feasibility of peace and its value faded, a search started in Israel for alternative and concrete benefits that would justify making concessions to its neighbors. The United States, which in any case had already granted Israel almost all it had asked for, did not have much more to offer. The involvement of other countries and institutions was needed.

Security, normalization, upgrade

Precisely at this current juncture, at which the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is in a deep freeze, for the first time in the history of this conflict Israel is looking at three separate incentives for making peace, presented by key players in the international community:

The first one is a commitment to American security guarantees. These were present in earlier stages of the process and were updated in a plan formulated by General John Allen during the last round of negotiations. The second is a promise for normalization of relations and an end to the conflict, as presented in the Arab peace initiative from 2002, which has been repeatedly ratified by the Arab League. The third incentive is a promise to upgrade Israel’s relations with the European Union to the highest non-member status possible, a “special preferred status,” which the Union proposed to Israel and the Palestinians in 2013.

However, these incentives have so far failed to melt the diplomatic ice, mainly due to opposition to and total disregard of this proposal by Israel, and also due to the decentralized manner in which these guarantees were presented by international players at different times.

In addition to the specific impediment in each incentive, there is a problem common to all, which hinders their ability to generate a change in Israeli public opinion Israel’s government contributes significantly to this state of affairs. The lack of response to the Arab League proposal since it was proposed over a decade ago; refusal to discuss the upgrading of relations with the European Union due to an opposition to linking relations with the Palestinians to relations with Europe; the disdain shown towards the efforts made by General Allen and the disqualification of elements he proposed as the basis of his plan – all of these helped conceal these initiatives from public awareness, thus harming their effectiveness.

New opportunity

Nevertheless, there is currently an opportunity for a further significant step with regard to these incentives, one which will make it difficult for Israelis to remain indifferent. Inspired by the negotiations conducted with Iran, the international community is now trying to establish a new mechanism that will accompany and promote the peace process. This involves a refreshing of the Quartet (UN, U.S., EU and Russia) and the establishment of an international support group that will also include Arab countries.

Such a new international framework could realize the potential inherent in the use of incentives. To do so, it will have to create and present a coordinated package of incentives, to be presented by the international community. This package will include upgraded versions of the incentives presented so far, while addressing the strengths and weaknesses of each individual one, an updating of previously proposed incentives in accordance with current regional realities, with the addition of components that are important to the two sides of the conflict.

Such a package could serve as a mega-incentive to achieving peace. It will demonstrate to the Israeli and Palestinian publics the attractiveness, feasibility and the tangible advantages of achieving peace. This should be done in a manner that will be endorsed by key players in the international arena, which will evoke a public discourse of hope, which will strengthen politicians who are interested in thawing the diplomatic freeze and promoting peace-pursuing policies. This kind of package will be hard to ignore.

(originally published in Haaretz)

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