Difficult Transition from Negotiations to Convergence

Israel will implement Convergence only after the option of negotiations with the Palestinans is exhausted. This position may lead to a political quagmire.

Essence of Warning

The Government of Israel (GOI) has announced that it will implement the Convergence Plan only after exhausting any options of negotiations with the Palestinians within the framework of the Roadmap.

The failure of negotiations, if they indeed fail, will "prove" that Israel has “no partner”, thus preparing the ground for the implementation of Convergence.

However, the Re’ut Institute forewarns that Israel may be trapped in negotiations, lacking the ability either to reach an agreement, to declare that negotiations have failed or to implement the Convergence Plan (see the Concept Vortex Effect of Negotiations). This situation is likely to occur since the international community may be either unable or unwilling to support a political move (Convergence) which, by its nature, implies the failure of negotiations.

Foreword

The political objectives of the Convergence Plan, 1 – primarily the international recognition of a permanent border – require coordination with third parties and international legitimacy. The international community opposes unilateral actions and the creation of facts on the ground by Israel, which could pre-determine aspects of permanent status.

2Therefore, fully exhausting the possibility of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could become a condition for receiving international legitimacy for the Convergence. In other words, Israel will receive international legitimization for Convergence only if relevant international actors are convinced that there is no partner on the Palestinian side.

Israeli Mindset: Possible to "Prove” that there is no Palestinian Partner

The Re’ut Institute identifies the mindset of the Israeli government regarding negotiations with the Palestinians as follows, following the victory of Hamas (1/06):

  • There is no Palestinian partner;

  • Hamas is unwilling to negotiate – The Hamas-led PA government is not interested in an agreement with Israel;

  • Abu-Mazen is unable to deliver – Palestinian politics are immersed in a severe constitutional crisis within the PA and between the PLO and the PA. Therefore, Abu Mazen as Chairman of the PA and of the PLO is unable to negotiate, sign, ratify or implement an agreement with Israel. 3

Negotiations will revolve around the implementation of the Roadmap – In principle, the Roadmap is the framework for the political process.4

Therefore, negotiations with the Palestinians will focus on the implementation of the Roadmap 5 and not on a comprehensive permanent status agreement.6

In parallel, the three demands on Hamas are preconditions for negotiations – the three demands placed by Israel and the Quartet upon the Hamas movement / PA government (to recognize Israel, to ratify existing agreements and to cease violence) are the preconditions for negotiations. 7

If Hamas does not meet these demands, Israel will not conduct negotiations with the Palestinians.This line of reasoning can convince relevant actors that there is in fact no Palestinian partner and thus no hope for negotiations. This conviction will ensure the international legitimacy necessary for Convergence.

Diverging Reality: The World is not Willing to Accept “Proof” of the Lack of Palestinian Partner

Several trends may undermine the mindset of the GOI:· Abu-Mazen claims to be a “partner” that can deliver – Abu-Mazen suggests that Israel conduct negotiations with him, in his capacity as chairman of the PLO. A permanent status agreement signed with him, will then be ratified by a national referendum throughout the PA.8

  • Elements in Hamas support negotiations – Some Hamas leaders agree, in principle, to negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.9
  • Abu-Mazen is a “darling” – the last Palestinian interlocutor
  • Failure of negotiations will be the failure of Abu-Mazen – The international community may try to prevent the failure of negotiations, fearing that it would reinforce those who object to negotiations with Israel and thus further weaken Palestinian moderates.
  • Unilateralism weakens Abu-Mazen – international support for Abu-Mazen has grown since Hamas' victory and due to Abu-Mazen's attempts to confront Hamas. Unilateral actions by Israel are seen as strengthening the radical forces and weakening the moderates headed by Abu-Mazen.
  • Sticking to the Roadmap is perceived as anachronistic – In Europe and the US there are increasing voices arguing that the Roadmap is leading to a deadlock.10

PM Olmert has also expressed this view. The members of the Quartet, apart from the US, are searching for different ways to update the Roadmap.

Therefore, Israel's demand that negotiations will focus on the Roadmap can be viewed as a political maneuver to obstruct negotiations, especially in light of the fact that Abu-Mazen is unable to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

Abu-Mazen proposes negotiations on Permanent Status

Abu-Mazen has repeatedly proposed that Israel enter into Permanent Status negotiations.11

Since the Roadmap is considered a weak political framework (see above), it is tempting to accept Abu-Mazen’s proposal and return to permanent status negotiations.

Opposition to Convergence is fundamental (and does not depend on exhausting negotiations) – various actors in the international community object to the Convergence in and of itself, regardless of the outcome of negotiations:

  • Jordan views Convergence as a strategic threat;
  • the West views Jordan as a strategic asset – Jordan has already declared that Convergence poses a strategic threat to its stability, especially following the victory of Hamas.12 In light of the crisis in Iraq, Jordan’s objection is not surprising. Jordan is perceived as an asset for the western world, especially the US and Britain.
  • Convergence is seen as another attempt to shape permanent status unilaterally – Israel has stated that the objective of the Convergence Plan is to demarcate its permanent borders. In principle, the international community rejects unilateral solutions.
    In other words, a significant portion of the international community is unable or unwilling to deal with the possibility that, at present, Israel and the Palestinians have no alternative policy.

Possible Significance – the Vortex Effect of Negotiations

The vortex effect of negotiations before the implementation of the Convergence Plan · Due to the components of the Convergence Plan, the political reality and trends described above, negotiations with with Abu Mazen will expose Israel to a combination of:

  • Inability to reach an agreement with the Palestinians;
  • Inability to leave the table and declare negotiations a failure;
  • Inability to advance the Convergence Plan.
  • Inability to reach an agreement stems from a combination of the following:
    • Disagreement over the subject of negotiations
    • While Abu-Mazen wants to discuss Permanent Status, Israel wishes to discuss the implementation of the Roadmap;
    • Disagreement over the essence of negotiations – Even if Israel agrees to conduct Permanent Status negotiations, there still exist fundamental gaps between Israel and the Palestinians in relation to "Outstanding Issues" such as Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees;
    • Negotiations under fire – Palestinian terror groups have previously attempted to obstruct negotiations. Terror and violence will make reaching an agreement more difficult and elongate the process of negotiations.
    • Inability to leave the table and declare negotiations a failure: Failure of negotiations = failure of Abu-Mazen – In other words, a declaration that negotiations have failed will be considered a recognition that the political option as embodied by Abu Mazen and Fatah has been exhausted.
      Such a declaration would strengthen Hamas and boost the argument that there is no point in negotiations with Israel. Therefore, the international community is prepared to make a great effort to prevent such an outcome.
      Failure of negotiations = legitimization for Convergence – There are political actors that reject the idea of the Convergence Plan in principle and prefer the present situation in the West Bank. Therefore, whenever negotiations reach a crisis, Israel will be under heavy international pressure to take additional steps towards the Palestinians.Inability to advance the Convergence Plan stems from the view that any unilateral move that is not negotiated is a deliberate attempt to harm the political process and the interests of the other party.

Policy Options

Having yet to receive formal American support, Israeli government spokespersons have already declared that the Convergence Plan will be implemented after the full exhaustion of negotiations. The trends this document has presented indicate that Israel may find itself politically entrapped: prevented from implementing the Convergence Plan without presenting any alternative policy. Therefore, Israel must examine the following alternatives:

  • Avoiding negotiations and advancing the Convergence Plan – Israel can impose political-legal demands that would enable it to elude negotiations with the Palestinians. For example, Israel can declare that its partner for negotiations is the PA and not the PLO; can demand changing the negotiations agenda; can turn the Convergence Plan into a building block for negotiations and can focus the political process on its implementation.

Before Negotiations –

  • Negotiate the terms of negotiations – Israel can conduct negotiations with the US and the Quartet regarding the subjects that will be discussed, identity of the Palestinian interlocutor and the terms for moving from the Roadmap to the Convergence Plan.
  • Form an "exit strategy" from negotiations, which would include defining criteria for what constitutes a failure of negotiations and for the duration of negotiation. Israel needs to form understandings with international actors around different strategic parameters.
  • During negotiations – If Israel reaches the conclusion that the political potential of negotiations is limited, it can utilize negotiations:
  • To coordinate day-to-day issues with the Palestinians – Due to the close-knit geographic proximity in such fields as the environment, health, traffic arrangements etc., Israel is unable to sever all ties with the PA. Negotiations with the Palestinians under the framework of the Roadmap could comprise a channel of communication with the PA for issues requiring coordination.
  • To discuss political issues more comfortable for Israel – Allowing for negotiations on subjects that are not related to the Convergence Plan, such as releasing prisoners, return of the refugees to Gaza, authorities of the PA and so forth. Conducting negotiations of this type with Abu-Mazen could strengthen him without damaging the objective of the Convergence Plan. Doing so would also demonstrate that Israel is acting in good faith.

To coordinate the Convergence Plan with the Palestinians – Israel will be able to take advantage of these negotiations to coordinate technical aspects of Convergence, while making it clear that the core, essence and contours of the plan are not up for discussion.


1 Benn, Ha’aretz, 5/4/06 (Hebrew). See also the Concept Convergence Plan.

2 Rosner, “Western Diplomats Worried by Prospect of Israeli Unilateralism”, Ha’aretz, 5/11/06, Reuters, “Egypt and Jordan push for revival of peace talks”, YNET, 4/29/06.

3 The powers and authorities of Chairman Abu-Mazen, partially overlap with those of the PA government. According to the Basic Law, the authorities of the executive branch of the PA are divided as follows:- The President (Chairman of the PA): (1) is authorized to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister (Section 45); (2) is authorized to veto laws. The veto of the President can be overruled with a two-thirds majority of the members of the legislative council (Section 41); (3) is the Commander-in-Chief of the Palestinian security forces (Section 39); and (4) appoints diplomatic representatives of the PA (Section 40).- The Prime Minister: Forms the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet), manages and supervises its operations and is responsible for all residual authorities which are not allocated to the President (Sections 63, 66, and 69).

4 The Roadmap was first presented by the Quartet 7/15/02, and officially given to Israel and the Palestinians on 4/30/03. Israel formally accepted the Roadmap on 5/25/03. During the Aqaba Summit (6/4/03), attended by King Abdullah of Jordan, President Bush, Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abu-Mazen, the Palestinians also accepted the Roadmap. However, due to continuing violence, the First Phase of the Roadmap has yet to be implemented.

5 In his victory speech (3/28/06) Ehud Olmert addressed Abu-Mazen: “An agreement can be based only on negotiation, conducted on the basis of mutual recognition, compliance with past signed agreements, the principles of the Roadmap, and, of course, cessation of violence and disarming of the terrorist organizations." The principles of the Roadmap include three phases: during the First Phase of the Roadmap the Palestinians are required to dismantle terror infrastructure, reform the security apparatus and cease incitement against Israel; in the Second Phase a Palestinian State with Provisional Borders is to be established; and in the Third Phase all relevant parties will negotiate a Permanent Status Agreement.The roadmap is considered to be performance-based (See interview with Dov Weissglass, Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz, 10/8/04) (in Hebrew). This principle also appears in Israel’s 14 Reservations to the Roadmap (See Section 1, 5/25/03).

6 Abu-Mazen rejected the idea of a Palestinian State with Provisional Borders under the Second Phase of the Roadmap and has continued to call for negotiations on the Third Phase of the Roadmap (NY Times, 2/14/05), “Abu-Mazen: Convene International Conference to Advance Direct Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians” (Ha’aretz, 4/26/06) (in Hebrew).

7 Olmert declared that in the coming months he would attempt to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, on the condition that it abides by the three demands of the international community: recognize Israel, abandon terror and violence and honor previous agreements. (Ha’aretz, 5/14/06) (in Hebrew).

8 Resuscitating the status of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people will enable Abu-Mazen to conduct negotiations with Israel in his capacity as Chairman of the PLO. Abu-Mazen could theoretically place any agreement up for a national referendum and in doing so circumvent the elected parliament in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (See Saeb Arekat, NY Times, 3/1/06).

9 Regular and Harel, “Haniyeh: We will not oppose negotiations between Abu-Mazen and Israel”, Ha’aretz, 3/30/06. (in Hebrew).

10 Eldar, “The Resistance Front Model 2006”, Ha’aretz, 3/6/06 (in Hebrew).

11 “Abu-Mazen: Convene International Conference to Advance Direct Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians”, Ha’aretz, 4/26/06 (in Hebrew).

12 Interview with King Abdullah of Jordan, YNET, 5/7/06.