- Palestinian-Israeli crossfire on
"Negotiating strategies"

June 17, 2002 Edition 22

To subscribe to text e-mail edition, send an e-mail request to The following articles may be republished with proper citation given to the author and

This edition, past editions, related documents and information about us can be found at our website

>< "Both sides took the wrong approach" - by Yossi Alpher
The problem with the Palestinian concept is that in logical terms it obviates the need for genuine negotiation.

>< "An ongoing debate" - by Ghassan Khatib
In Palestinian circles, the most commonly heard criticism of the Palestinian negotiating strategy is simply of its perceived absence.

>< "Comments on the negotiating strategies of Israel and the Palestinians" - by Gilead Sher
Among the Palestinian negotiating team were some who sought agreement, compromise, moderation. But their influence over Arafat was nil.

>< "Reaping strategic mistakes" interview with Hasan Asfour
We became locked in a policy dependent on intentions, and we paid the price.

Both sides took the wrong approach

by Yossi Alpher

Both Israelis and Palestinians approached their mutual negotiating process with critically flawed concepts regarding ways to achieve their goals.

The Palestinian approach was clear-cut and unequivocal (assuming Yasir Arafat indeed sought to reach a conclusive agreement): We made all our compromises when we agreed to accept a state in only the 22 percent of mandatory Palestine that comprises the West Bank and Gaza. We already gave up 78 percent of our homeland. No one can demand more of us. Hence we are coming to the negotiations to hear how the Israelis are prepared to give us our 22%, along with East Jerusalem and, at least at the declaratory level, the right of return.

The problem with this concept is that in logical terms it obviates the need for genuine negotiation, which is generally considered to be a two-way process. It also presumes that the other side, Israel, can find a way to identify or empathize with the Palestinian narrative that informs this approach. Otherwise, negotiations are doomed to failure.

The Israeli approach assumed a bazaar mentality: The Palestinians are bluffing and ultimately will agree to compromises. After all, that's what negotiations are all about. To get the best deal possible we must begin with a minimalist offer, then increase it in small increments as the Palestinians themselves begin to compromise.

At the strategic level, Israeli negotiators failed to comprehend the Palestinians' inability to abandon their narrative and make compromises. But at the tactical level they unwittingly adapted to the Palestinian position. Hence every new Israeli compromise, when confronted with an essentially unbending Palestinian approach, was softened: "this is not our final word; we're prepared to consider additional compromises." A few concessionary comments from the Palestinians, and the next incremental Israeli compromise was forthcoming, following which the Israeli negotiators would complain that the Palestinians were only interested in squeezing concessions out of them.

In this way, for example, we witnessed a discussion of territory in final status that began with an offer by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's negotiating team of about 50 percent of the West Bank. It encountered an understandably contemptuous Palestinian reaction: nothing less than 100 percent of the territory, accompanied by a readiness to swap territories on a one-on-one basis to accommodate the Israeli requirement to annex settlement blocs. There then commenced a process whereby Israel offered a slightly larger increment of territory each time, only to encounter a Palestinian refusal to offer counter-concessions. Within less than a year, at Taba, Israel was offering nearly 100 percent, and the main discussion was over the nature of territorial compensation. But by this time both sides had worn out their credibility and the process ended in failure.

A better approach would have been--and still could be--to set aside each side's presumed territorial claims at the outset, and instead to engage in a discussion of vital territorial needs. If each side had begun by setting out its truly vital "red line" requirements in a two-state solution rather than one demanding 100 percent and the other offering 50 percent, the negotiations might have been shorter and more amicable. The Palestinians would have had to prove why they need 100 percent and not, say, 90 percent of the territory. Israel would have had to prove why its vital needs in terms of land, settlements and security require it to hold onto 50 percent, or 80 percent of the territory. We might have ended up with the Taba maps long before Taba (and the Intifada).

A second key conceptual problem concerns United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which is anchored in the Oslo Declaration of Principles as the framework for discussing final status. It is inadequate as a framework. It offers no guidelines for solving the refugee issue or the issue of holy places in Jerusalem. And its formulation regarding territory is controversial: while Israel adheres to the official English-language determination that it need only withdraw "from territories" (Barak even tried to argue at one point that 242 does not even apply to the Palestinian territories), the Palestinians have managed to convince themselves and much of the world that Israel is obliged to withdraw from "the territories." In fact, 242 was meant as a basis for negotiations between Israel and the sovereign state neighbors it fought in 1967, not between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

A better approach to dealing with 242 might have been to precede the actual negotiations with an attempt to agree on the parameters of that resolution's applicability to the process. Alternatively, the parties might have attempted, on the basis of their discussion of their vital interests, to formulate an alternative set of parameters.

Indeed, in view of the failure of 242 to generate a peace settlement, this is precisely what the rest of the world has been doing in recent months. The Clinton principles, the Saudi plan, and now the Mubarak plan are all designed to supplement 242 and compensate for its inadequacies. So are the recent UN Security Council resolutions and the US policy statements affirming the need for a Palestinian state (which is not mentioned in 242). These are important efforts, which quite justifiably seek to compensate for the weaknesses of both Israel and the Palestinians as negotiating partners.-Published 17/6/02 (c)

Yossi Alpher is an Israeli strategic analyst. He is former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

An ongoing debate

by Ghassan Khatib

In Palestinian circles, the most commonly heard criticism of the Palestinian negotiating strategy is simply its perceived absence. There is a widespread impression among many Palestinians, especially analysts and intellectuals and those who follow the negotiations closely, that the main defect of the way that the Palestinian leadership has been negotiating is its lack of a coherent strategy. To be fair, it is possible that the great imbalance of powers between the two sides is responsible for this lack of strategy, since Palestinians always find themselves in the talks in the position of asking and only sometimes receiving.

In the early stages of negotiations, i.e., in Madrid and Washington, the Palestinian teams tried to develop a clear negotiations strategy. This did not work and negotiations came to an impasse broken only by the successful negotiations in Oslo, Norway--talks that at that time had no strategy. This resulted in a debate among Palestinians over whether the negotiators should be as practical as possible and look for results, no matter how small, that would change the status quo, or if the negotiators should stick to a concrete strategy despite the possibility that this could endanger agreement or make it very difficult.

Judging by the results, the nature of the agreements between the two sides has demonstrated weakness in the Palestinian negotiating performance. For example, the lack of strategy on the Palestinian side (and the long-term vision on the part of the Israeli negotiators) resulted in the creation of the areas A, B and C dividing the Palestinian territories. If the final objective of the Palestinian people is to end the occupation, then they should have insisted on one level of authority, not matter how minimal, over all of the Palestinian territories. Because Israel has in mind giving up control over only parts of the Palestinian territories while keeping hold of other parts, its strategic emphasis was to offer Palestinians different levels of authority in parts of the territories. In other words, Israel's strategy served its objectives. Palestinians, on the other hand, either did not have a strategy serving their objectives or had the wrong one.

Another component of the problem is a conceptual one. The conventional wisdom is that any negotiations involve compromise, and therefore the principle of compromise is not up for discussion, only what or how much will be compromised.

But Palestinians began these talks after they had already made their big compromise. Palestinian rights include those beyond the Green Line, in what is now Israel, rights that they sacrificed in order (they thought) to get all of the land occupied by Israel in 1967. But because Palestinians came to the negotiations after making this compromise, they ran headfirst into the Israeli assumption that negotiations were to progress over the territories occupied in 1967--i.e., that more compromise would follow.

In the final status negotiations, Palestinians seemed to have learned these lessons. More or less, they had a comprehensive vision of what they wanted and their performance did not contradict that vision. The result was the collapse of negotiations.

Now the same question raises its head. Are we now destined to repeat the previous experience of entering negotiations for practical objectives, no matter how painful the compromises? Or is it simply that the Palestinian leadership's back is to the wall because the issues up for compromise--Jerusalem and the refugees--have the power to cripple its public position and power?-Published 17/6/02(c)

Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the new Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.

Comments on the negotiating strategies of Israel and the Palestinians

by Gilead Sher

What was each side's strategic objective in the peace process during the years 1999-2001?

Israel sought to exploit the chance to reach a framework agreement on final status that would constitute the end of the conflict and resolve all mutual demands. The government of Ehud Barak opted for a political process that would focus on what is genuinely vital: the long-term existence of a Jewish democratic state within internationally-recognized borders; the strategic goal of a stable and fair peace, one that would endure even at times of crisis.

The Palestinian concept was not monolithic, but can be generalized as based on emotions of justice and grievance, and on the exploitation of political negotiations as an additional phase in a clash of cultures and as an instrument for righting an historical wrong. A political solution was understood by some in the Palestinian leadership (first and foremost Yasir Arafat) as a temporary, tactical tool, one not intended to bring about an end of conflict, but rather only to enhance the Palestinian position in anticipation of the next phase in the struggle.

This conceptual gap affected the unfolding of events far more than the mistakes made by each of the parties and the mistrust that characterized their relationship along the way.

Is it really possible to solve such a complex, multi-dimensional, ethnic-religious-national conflict by means of political negotiations? The final status issues for the most part have multi-dimensional ramifications: national, emotional, primordial, religious, existential, sovereign.

The government of Israel replied in the affirmative. From its standpoint, this was a conscious decision in favor of a painful historic compromise that would respect the rights of the other side: ending the occupation through mutual compromise.

Evidently, though, this would not have been the Palestinians' perception, had they been asked at the time. Their suspicions that Israel was seeking a way to deceive the world and perpetuate the occupation prevailed over any logical explanation. As they see it, time is on the side of the Palestinian cause. Hence there cannot and will not be an end to the conflict, neither officially nor at the practical level.

Against this backdrop of each side's political strategy, we can now analyze their tactical approaches.

The Barak government had to choose one of two options: a FAPS--Framework Agreement on Permanent Status--that would deal with all "core issues" (settlements and territory, borders, refugees, Jerusalem and security arrangements) and determine for each a substantive solution and the mode and duration of its realization; or an additional interim agreement that would postpone dealing with the heart of the conflict.

The permanent status issues are interlinked, rendering it impossible to isolate any single issue from the others. The approach adopted by the Israeli negotiators was predicated on a readiness to discuss far-reaching ideas for solving all these issues, as long as nothing was considered agreed and binding until everything was agreed.

Accordingly, we focused on an attempt to find the common denominator, and devoted most of our time to this endeavor. Through an analysis of shared interests (e.g., peace, a practical solution to the refugee problem, security separation, economic prosperity) there emerged over time additional options for a settlement, along with creative bridging formulae. From the outset Barak was prepared to make an historic decision, and this approach informed the instructions he gave his negotiating team.

Among the Palestinian negotiating team were some who sought agreement, compromise, and moderation. But their influence over Arafat was nil. The negotiators that confronted us had no more than a virtual mandate. With a few who will remain anonymous (in order that they not come to harm in today's threatening atmosphere) it was definitely possible to reach a reasonable agreement. But when it came time for a command decision Arafat dismissed the achievements of his negotiators with the wave of a hand. Even before Palestinian violence erupted, Arafat did not consistently and clearly project a readiness to reach a true historic compromise with Zionism, one based on the partition of the Land of Israel into two independent political entities. And in the absence of any other directive from above, the ongoing hostility and wild incitement fell on fertile ground.

Thus the tactic employed by Arafat was based on the facade of a political process, but in practice on a totally passive approach. Dennis Ross, head of the American peace team, recently stated that at Camp David, Arafat--unlike his designated negotiators--did not propose a single negotiating idea throughout the 15 days (other than the claim that the Temple Mount never existed in Jerusalem, but rather only in Shechem [Nablus]). After the summit, according to Ross, intensive negotiations resumed between the sides, with the participation of Ben Ami and Sher, Erikat and Dahlan. Arafat's delegates told him that the emerging ideas looked good, and he knew that the US was preparing to present its own proposal based on these understandings at the end of September. It was clear that a reasonable agreement was possible in the foreseeable future.

Throughout this period Arafat sought the appropriate timing and excuse to introduce an additional element into the arena: violence. Arafat, Ross notes, did not lift a finger to prevent the encouragement and outburst of terrorism and violence. Toward the end of December President Clinton did indeed present his proposals, based on thousands of hours of direct negotiations and his own best judgment as to what the parties could accept. Arafat rejected them all, both practically and at the official level. Deep down, according to the head of the American team, Arafat could not end the conflict with Israel, because this would have meant his own personal demise.

Thus from the end of September 2000 the dominant Palestinian strategy sought to exercise pressure on Israel through terrorism and violence, portray Palestinians in the eyes of the world as innocent victims, evade any substantive political decision--yet maintain the appearance of willingness to continue the political process. In parallel Arafat sought to consolidate international legitimization and national unity in the Palestinian camp, along with active Arab financial, material and diplomatic support.

The disputed issues will not change, nor will the solutions. When the time comes for the parties to end their terrible bloodletting, and when a balanced and responsible Palestinian leadership emerges, the two sides will agree on the formula for permanent status. It may be phased; it may be preceded, as a means of ensuring the democratic Jewish existence of the State of Israel, by Israeli-initiated separation. I assess that the agreement will be very similar to the formula that emerged during the period 1999-2001.-Published 17/6/02(c)

Gilead Sher, 49, an attorney, was one of the chief Israeli peace negotiators during the years 1999-2001. He served as Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister's Bureau from October 2000 until the elections of February 2001.

Reaping strategic mistakes

an interview with Hasan Asfour
================================= From your experience, what have been the strong and weak points in the negotiating process?

Asfour: First of all, when you look at the negotiations on the Israeli side, they are all dependent on who makes the understandings. The Palestinians have not changed their strategy, but from the Israeli side, we have seen many strategies.

From the beginning, when we prepared for the Oslo talks, we put the core of our effort on ending the occupation over the territories of 1967 and how to establish our national state with rights for refugees, according to [United Nations Resolution] 194. I think that all the faults of the Oslo agreement are very clear now. Its base is very clear--how to end the occupation gradually. You will find that in the agreement itself, the West Bank and Gaza Strip are one territorial unit. The base [of the agreement] was that this is Palestinian territory, and that the talks would put an end to the occupation. In the peace process negotiations, we spoke about "Gaza and Jericho first" and we discussed an interim agreement for the West Bank. In the West Bank, we set a gradual redeployment with three phases after the first redeployment, and we began this. It was after this that the Israelis began to challenge this concept.

About Jerusalem, which was a difficult issue alongside the refugees, we agreed that Jerusalem was to be part of these talks. Beyond that, we discussed the Palestinians in Jerusalem, that they were a part of the Palestinian people, and that they would participate in the Legislative Council and in elections. We got that. Was there a basic strategy that you used?

Asfour: Our strategy was to use the interim solution to continue towards the final. This was the clearest point of our strategy. Towards that, we got the Israelis to agree that the territories were based on [United Nations Resolution] 242, meaning that historical Palestine would be divided into two states--a Palestinian state of the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem, and the Israeli state on the other part of historical Palestine.

During this time, the Israelis started to focus on "peace and security." We succeeded in some areas of security and we failed in others. In the beginning, they [the Israeli side] changed some strategic elements and the concepts of Oslo gradually. In the Gaza-Jericho agreement, they asked about some issues that were new obstacles. It was a big mistake for the Palestinian side to agreed to some of these elements, for example, when they agreed that the international passages in Rafah and Jericho would be considered military installation areas. This was then used to put up many obstacles opposing the movement of Palestinians and to concentrate on security, not political, concepts.

The other element that gave them new ways of concentrating the occupation, rather than moving to end the occupation, was when a zone was created around the settlements, especially in the Gaza settlements. This zone was used not for security, but to expand settlement activities and make Palestinian movement more difficult around this area.

Further, they used the three lateral roads to put new obstacles inside Gaza itself. Later, we saw that practically the Israelis can cut Gaza in three or four areas using the settlements, the roads and the beach of the Gaza Strip. How did this affect the outcome of the talks?

Asfour: The Israelis were not looking for peace, they wanted to use security as a solution. This became more apparent when we came to the interim agreement for the West Bank and they asked and succeeded in changing the concept of the Declaration of Principles to divide the West Bank into A, B, and C, the populated and unpopulated areas. This was the first stone to break the [back of the] Oslo agreement and give the Israelis the upper hand in controlling the agreement itself. In my mind, it was a strategic mistake for the Palestinian side to agree. They then became locked in a policy dependent on intentions. And we paid the price.

What has happened now is that they have used all of this against us, especially when the Likud came to power. Maybe with the Labor Party, we could have continued after this strategic mistake. But when you have the Likud party, which is already against Oslo itself, this strategic mistake was used against the Palestinians and against the peace process. They put up obstacles and opened the road for settlement activities.

This was when Palestinians lost hope. It started with the coming of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the changing of the concept of the relationship itself. Instead of having peace, we had to protect what we had gotten. How can things progress?

Asfour: At this time, with Sharon, I think it is very difficult, unless the international community wants to close the file. In spite of all that happened with [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak and all of his stupidity, at Taba we built for the future. We have the paper that was published by Miguel Moratinos, the understandings of Taba that outlined more than 90 percent of the issues and opened the road to closing the file.

I think we are very close to closing it--and very far from closing it. We have documents to close the file, but we don't have a partner to close the file. Instead of using the paper to close the file, the Israeli side is using tanks to close it. This strategy puts the people under pressure. The Palestinian people want to protect themselves against Israeli aggression and the Israelis feel that the Palestinian intifada will continue. Despite what is on the paper, they don't even look at it. As I told you, if there are no real international efforts, we will live in the mentality of war.-Published 17/6/02(c)

Hasan Asfour has served as a member of the Palestinian negotiating team and Palestinian Authority minister of non-governmental organizations.

To unsubscribe from e-mail list, simply write to with "unsubscribe" in the subject line. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at and, respectively. is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.