“Proximity talks”: an element in a change strategy.

“Proximity talks”: an element in a change strategy.
By Neri Bar-On

In this article I wish to point out a systemic-perspective suggesting the “proximity talks” as a tactical move through which Israeli, Palestinian and American leadership can work within one strategy to reduce the power of the radical elements in their society. While many question the content-value of the “Proximity talks,” many neglect the power structure it creates as an opportunity to put pressure on the radical elements within these societies and open the gate to agreement between Israel and Palestine.
The concern should be the drift of the moderate elements in these societies toward radical reaction that will block opportunity for change. The inner conflicts within Israel and Palestine are blocking the progress and need to be contained for the establishment of a Palestinian state in near future.

“Proximity talks”:
“Proximity talks” are neither negotiations nor “talks”. In the current situation, “Proximity talks” can be a useful element in a change strategy. They can be used by Palestinians and Israelis as a method to defuse the radicals’ influence within each of their societies. “Proximity talks” are a signal of commitment to end this conflict beyond negotiation rituals: Natanyahu, Abbas and Obama can open a gate for change by maintaining these “proximity talks,” regardless of the reactive violence that erupted lately, as this violence actually shows what a great potential hides behind this gesture.

What we see:
Since Netanyahu’s return from the US, the tension between Israel and the US is more visible. The visit also exposed the internal tensions within Israel, where Pro-settlement agents in the Israeli governance organizations and government manage to sabotage the opportunity to start the “Proximity talks”; the announcement of new Jewish building in east Jerusalem provided justification for Palestinian radicalization calling for “rage day”. Qassams from Gaza strengthen the Israeli radicalization fear that this will be repeated when a Palestinian state will be established and Israeli armed reactions prove to the Palestinians how violent occupation is.
There is a natural collaboration between Israelis and Palestinian radicals. These reactions already claimed death in an effort to block change that may close the options for the radical’s view of the future.

Radicals usually advocate that their ideas of the future and of reality are the only valid ones and act to make them politically dominant. The Settlers will push announcements of building in disputed east Jerusalem in the Obama administration’s face, forcing the internal Israeli politicians to claim again that building in Jerusalem is unquestionable. In parallel, Palestinian radical factions flame aggression and fire Qassams into Israel that lead automatically to Israeli armed reaction that force the Palestinian leaders to avoid any talks.

Naturally, we have radical elements in any society; “radical factions” are normal social elements strengthening through the continuation of conflict. These people clearly become dominant actors and manage to block progress in the development of the relationship between Jews and Arabs. Their target is to be recognized as the “voice of the whole” in each society and they are pointed to as the “voice of the whole” by the other side’s radicals.
The radicals may succeed as they succeeded in the past unless we replace “negotiation” that pushes each side to the extreme with “proximity talks” that force Israel to halt the settlements and push the Palestinians to end their political divide.

Many focus on blame of Netanyahu, Ishay, Obama or Abbas for a hidden agenda to jeopardize “proximity talks” that play too into the radicalization – no solution – claims.
Sadly we see many practical moderates fall into this trap, attracted by the opportunity to blame their political opponents and try to convince us that Netanyahu, Abbas or Obama cannot partner for the peace so needed in our societies.
These activists are ignoring that Netanyhu, Abbas and even Obama are playing within a complex aggressive system of inner-politic, within their societies, and outer-politic, between nations. With that, confusing information is channeled to the public through a mass media driven by strong aversion to dramatize our reality. This brings many people to radicalization missing the opportunity that can be created by commitment to “proximity talks” to reduce the radicals’ influence and power.

How “Proximity talks” work:
What gives these radicals power? There is no majority for radical views, but they manage to shape the public sphere. Some criticize them for loud voices and harmful acts. I want to suggest that one very influential factor for their strength and influence comes today from the “moderate” belief in negotiation as a way to end the conflict.
Negotiations as zero sum games make each side try to get the maximum for itself; hence it usually ends with the radicalization in both sides and dissatisfaction of the weaker side. This is where the radicals get their power, as within each society the question of what we will get and how we get it translates into political claims in inner conflict.

“Proximity talks” as Talks are important for building trust, but they do not necessarily create the change, as they do not influence the social factions that do not take part in the talks. Some radical elements that are left out are using media, demonstrations and violence to claim their position.

When we step out from this paradigm and suggest “proximity talks” not as negotiation, we reflect that the Palestinians and the Israelis with the support of the US and EU know today where we are going. It is a two state solution where a Palestinian state with valid borders will emerge and enable the Palestinians to self govern and become a full member nation. Negotiation is the last thing we need. System wide planning is what we need and that cannot start till both societies engage their inner conflict: In Israel the conflict is about the settlements and in Palestine the conflict is about political cohesion.

In Israel, the inner conflict is about the settlements. One group within the Israeli society claims that Jews/Israel has a right to enlarge its territory for their historic/religious rights or for the opportunity that since a Palestinian national state never existed the international law is confusing. This group within the Israeli society has today the power to influence the governments and create Jewish settlements that blur the 1967 lines that planned to be used as a basis of the border for the Palestinian state.

Netanyahu, as an Israeli politician, cannot ignore these people as they are part of the Party electoral, but while we have these “Proximity talks,” Israel is forced to freeze the settlements. The longer we freeze the settlement the more we weaken this group and enable Israeli government to agree on valid borders for the Palestinian state and to find a solution for the settlements’ population.

In Palestine, the inner conflict is about the governance legitimacy, the group within the Palestinian society that thinks that Palestinian has a right to get back to the original pre-1948 condition. Their claim is that their historic/religious Arab rights are justified by international law. This group within the Palestinian society split itself from the Fatah agreement and is, in general, supporting Hamas factions or other radicals. This split created violent war within the Palestinian society. This is a Palestinian internal conflict for power domination; its outcome is the ability of Hamas group to hold Gaza and disable the Palestinians Authority as a representative of the whole Palestinians to sign any agreement.

Abbas cannot ignore these people as they use force and do not accept PA, but while we have these “Proximity talks” Palestinians can see freeze settlements and improvement in West Bank. The longer we freeze the settlements, the more we weaken this group and enable Palestinians to shape social agreement toward the Palestinian state and enable Fayyad to build Palestine governance, social, economic capacities.

Both internal challenges need to be resolved in order to enable progress toward the next stage of signing agreements and mapping and declaring Palestinian state.

This is why “proximity talks” serve us. They can lead to the entrance of Kadima to the Israeli coalition, creating a government that can make courageous decisions for Israel while Fayyad also creates major changes in the West Bank and the PA manages to provide more and more needed social services as education, improved economy and security that weaken the Hamas position.

So what we can get from “proximity talks”:
The more we hold “proximity talks” we will see settlements in Israel defused and Palestinian acceptance for Palestinian national unity agreement. This will come after some violent eruption; we cannot avoid it. The more potent the change is, the more it attracts reactions from radicals. For the long-term, this is what it takes for cooling down the flames that the radicals create. Cooling down the radicals will enable us, as one system of Palestinians and Israelis, to end the settlement activity, creating new political structure in Palestine. This internal transformation in our societies will open a new gate for a new era in Palestine, Israel and the Middle East.

© Marc Gopin