Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 21, 2003
WAR: The Famous Process
The first step on the "road map" to peace in Israel and Palestine is supposed to be stopping terrorism. This is a bad idea. I'm not opposed to a "peace process." But the key to understanding the uses and limitations of such a process is that you can't negotiate about terrorism.
Some people say that you can't negotiate with terrorists. Not so; sometimes, there's nobody else to talk to. Once you've decided not to kill them, talking always has to be an option.
But you can't put terrorism on a negotiating table, for three interrelated reasons:
1. Negotiations require parties who can be held responsible.
First, you have to find someone willing to take responsibility for having ordered or at least permitted terror attacks in the past. But even if you get there, who will be willing to admit to responsibility for more attacks in the future? It's the easiest thing in the world to let attacks happen, blame them on "extremist militants," and then complain about a "cycle of violence" when the other side backs out of the agreement.
2. Successful negotiations require that proportional consequences for violations be set out in advance.
The core of a negotiating process isn't just concession and agreement to the current deal; it's also agreement to what happens if part or all of the deal breaks down. But negotiating responses to terrorism is problematic in the extreme. Anything that's subject to negotiation is legitimized, and the responding party may find its freedom of action restricted. And how do you negotiate meaningful provisions that put an acceptable price on this? "Could you stop sending teenagers to blow up restaurants, please? What do you want in return? What do you want for blowing up just a few less civilians? How about just not blowing up any little children for a few weeks? Our lawyers have drafted some reps and warranties, and even an arbitration clause in case there's any disputes over whether you've exceeded your quota . . . Take a look at the language and get back to me in the morning."
3. Negotiating over terror gives independent terrorists and outside agitators an incentive to wreck the deal.
If terrorism is part of the contract, then somebody who's cut out of the deal can break it by sponsoring attacks. This relates back to problem #1, but it's a distinct problem -- there are the separate issues of one side creating "deniable" terror attacks and that side negotiating in good faith but actually being undercut by extremists.
The way to make any peace process work is, instead, to just take terrorism off the table. You don't have to say, "no negotiations until it stops," although you can reserve the right to respond to attacks outside the process. Instead, the process should be not a peace process (the very phrase assumes that there's a legitimate military conflict going on, which there isn't) but an independence process, with steps on both sides building towards the creation of meaningful Palestinian institutions. Israel has to deal in hope: a carrot to give ordinary Palestinians hope that peace will produce positive results, and a stick to remove any hope that terror will accomplish anything. De-linking terrorism from negotiations to the greatest extent possible is the only way to make use of both carrot and stick.
Which doesn't mean you can't put things on the table that aid in Israel's security; but they have to be concrete positive steps or steps tied directly to responsible parties (conficating a certain amount of weapons, ceasing the use of hate-inspiring textbooks in schools, etc.) rather than negative promises about terror attacks. That's the only way to make a process function in a contructive way.