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Rewriting the Rules of International Diplomacy

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.



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