The IPI – Initiating an Israeli regional approach for peace By Horev Dor, Geneva, Switzerland.

Recent eruption of violence in the Middle – East, uncertainty whether the cease fire will last and what will be the final agreement between Israel and Palestinian Authority (whom delegation represents Gaza ruled Hamas in this case), brings up again the question whether there is a solution to this complicated conflict in this “troubled neighborhood”. People on both sides are very skeptical and the gaps of mistrust are widening. The collapse of bi-literal negotiations whenever resumed, the turned down offers and the disregarded agreements produces concerns and confusion in the Israeli and Palestinian publics.

The latest events, however, showed how massive involvement of Egypt and other countries, managed to bring both sides to cease their fire, especially decaying Hamas desire to continue firing despite the destruction and grave situation it brought to their people.

Since signing of the Oslo accord, over 20 years ago, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are struggling, not to say unable, to reach a long term permanent status agreement to end the conflict between them. Bilateral talks either fail or stuck, and when ignited, are at risk.

There are a few fundamental issues that affect these negotiations: The settlements, continuous rockets firing from Gaza, erupting armed violence rounds every few years, the request to recognize Israel as the Jewish State, threats to sue Israel in International Court of Justice in De – Hague, are just a few examples of what causes the a huge mistrust between not only the governments but between the people themselves, who are tired from having no solution and ability to live in peace and prosperity. Bold decisions are needed to bridge these gaps or at least create a “live together” environment as a start.

Obviously a different approach is required. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and finance minister Yair Lapid stated, whether for the sake of gaining political advantage or because of true conviction, that a regional solution of some sort is needed to end the conflict. In any case, it seems that they also understand a new course of action is in need to solve the conflict.

The conflict is regional, and not only an Israeli – Palestinian one. Mutual interests and shared threats are presented in front of Israel and its surrounding neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates and more. Security and stability are key challenges for the whole region:

  • The presence of destabilizing forces in the Middle East: Islamic fundamental groups as ISIS, Al – Qaeda, Salafi Jihadist, Hamas and Hezbollah. The civil war in Syria sliding into Lebanon and the Iranian nuclear ambitions all contribute to the instability of the region.

  • The economic, unemployment “ticking bomb” in the Arab countries that actually already ignited the “Arab Spring”. The need to find and make an economic horizon for all those young people is crucial for regional stabilization.

Designing the process to end the conflict and addresses the security challenges, bringing hope to the people of the region is crucial, now more than ever. The Palestinian Authority, headed by president Mahmoud Abbas is no different. It is threatened by terrorist groups willing to topple its regime, and continue engaging in an armed jihad against Israel.

IPI – Israeli Peace Initiative

Israel Yozemet” (Israel takes the Initiative), is an Israeli civil society group who launched its proposal for an official Israeli Peace Initiative(IPI) based on the Arab Peace Initiative (API), defining end-of-conflict vision and a regional process.

This non – political group, founded in 2011 by Yuval Rabin (son of late PM Yitzhak Rabin) and Koby Huberman (a business man and social activist) decided to respond to the API proposal from 2002, feeling obliged to do so as the API was addressed, not only to Israel leaders, but to the Israeli people as well. They formed a consortium of leaders from different disciplines in order to engage with like – minded people in the Arab world and other countries encouraging decision makers to re – engage in regional talks. It is politically diverse and has now over 700 prominent Israelis – business & High-Tech People, ex-Security, ex-Diplomats and the rest are coming from the academia, media and social services. The IPI has an overlook on challenges facing Israel, not only external but internal as well. From the fragile election system which blocks leaders from taking long – term bold decisions through the education system and socio – economic gaps threatening the growth and prosperity of the Israeli public. Along with other prominent groups in the Israeli society, “Israel Yozemet” is leading and coordinating these initiatives and partnerships to demand that any coalition will commit and implement the reforms needed.

Israel Yozemet” is unique in various aspects. First, it embraces the regional approach, believing there is a way to restart negotiations and reach the end of conflict. Talks should take place in parallel between Israel and the Arab states and Between Israel and the Palestinians. Secondly, it adapts a public diplomacy formula (based on polls) saying it is easier to sell a regional package to the Israeli politicians and public, especially targeting center – right and skeptical citizens. The third is its track record, being one of the only Israeli groups that has developed and actually influenced Israeli, Arab, American and European decision makers. Finally, the four pillars vision of transformation towards a stronger Israel where the regional peace is one of them.

The IPI focuses on three strategies:

  • Encouraging Israeli decision makers to re-engage in regional negotiations

  • Convincing Arab states to reassure Israelis through media outreach that will create psychological

 » game changers »

  • Convincing skeptic center-right Israelis to accept regional « end of conflict » package deal

In a press conference held in Geneva on May 15th this year, Co – founder Koby Huberman and senior board member Yigal Tamir laid out the group activities and vision for the region. Huberman first emphasized on the bilateral model, its constant failing regardless of leaders personalities. As an example he brought up four core issues that cannot be solved solely by the Israelis and Palestinians:

  1. Palestinian leaders need the support of the Arab world to make tough decisions and concessions to Israel.

  2. The Al-Haram A-Sharif (temple mount) status is an Israeli – Muslim matter, not an Israeli Palestinian one as it is under the responsibility of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco whose kings are decedents of Prophet Muhammad and the custodians of Al-Haram A-Sharif.

  3. The refugees issue concerns Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Gulf states, not only Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

  4. Borders security must involve Jordan and Egypt, as well as other moderate Arab states to be able to confront and constrain growing extremist’s spoilers.

The API is revolutionary in its approach and offers a true breakthrough: if Israel fulfill the Arab demands (full withdrawal from Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese Territories), it will be granted the diplomatic benefits from the 22 states which signed the API (it was then adopted by 35 Muslim states – reaching 57 states overall). It provides legitimacy to Israel. It reflects a huge transformation of the thinking of the Arab World. This is a genuine initiative from 22 heads of States. At the beginning it was a “take it or leave it” offer but since 2007 Arab leaders repositioned their initiative and agree to negotiate it.

Israel’s duty and responsibility was to respond” stated Huberman, “but since the government didn’t respond, and since the API was addressed to the people of Israel as well, we decided to respond and we accepted it as a framework going forward. Since then, we were warmly received by the Arab World and welcomed by leading thinkers and people from all over the Arab world”. Huberman went on saying that one of the major changes with the Kerry initiative was to bring the Arab league into the picture, willing to show more flexibility.

The IPI recommendation for Israel’s policy and diplomatic initiative:

  1. Israel will recognize the API as part of regional and bi – lateral negotiating frame.

  2. Israel, Along with the Palestinian Authority and the new unified government will endorse a working formula, based on accepting the API, enabling them to progress. The API should be accepted by all Palestinian government parties and by effective measures against terror bringing both the West Bank and Gaza under the ruling of Mahmoud Abbas.

  3. Israel will demand Hamas acceptance of the API and the quartet resolution.

  4. Israel will suggest 3 parallel negotiating teams: A regional channel that will deal with the implementation of the API (end of conflict, normalization, regional security and economy structuring). 2 channels with the Palestinians of which will be based on the API and the Clinton outline promoting later on the discussions on building the Palestinian state and its economy.

  5. Depending on progress of the negotiations, multilateral channels will be initiate, and only when relevant an Israeli – Lebanese, Israeli – Syrian Channels in the future.

As people who come from the region, the group knows that patience is crucial for the process to succeed, they acknowledge the fact that internal politics took over at this time, whether it is the Arab league concentrating on Syria and Iraq, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas refused to American suggestions and wait with talks, later going to a unity government with Hamas, and Israeli PM Netanyahu insisting on the Jewish state recognition. They have the patience…

Polls taken by the IPI group, shows that despite the great suspicion towards the Palestinians, Israeli public majority (70% – 75%) will accept the regional solution for the “end of conflict”. As far as known it is quite the same on the Palestinian side. These figures are in total contrary to the percentage of people who lacks thrust in the other side (about 80% on both). At the end it is the people who will have to live in peace and security, accepting a holistic solution with its concessions, rather than standing by for the next round of violence…

The IPI Group is not alone in its regional vision. In a recent and rare opportunity, former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki Al – Faisal, posted an article in an Israeli newspaper (“Ha’aretz”, 7/7/2014), stating that the API is valid than ever and is the base formula for ending the Israeli – Palestinian/Arab conflict. “Arab world’s continuing to endorse it at every Arab League summit over the last 12 years and at every summit organized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and by the Gulf Cooperation Council” stated Prince Al – Faisal showing the commitment of the Arab world to this suggestion and expressed his disappointment from the fact that no Israeli government yet responded to the API. He did present a breakthrough statement by stating that the API is not a « take it or leave it » proposal – but one that can be negotiated.

The IPI is an attempt to bring decision makers to change their mind set by accepting the regional approach. Voices promoting this approach are heard by Israeli leaders from the center – right of the political map. The time is right for igniting regional negotiations and to form a strong regional coalition to confront the security and economical challenges. Besides the U.S.A that traditionally is deeply involved in the process, the Europeans should “dig in” as well. Illegal immigration and rising tensions with Islamists, can be confronted by creating an economical horizon for all those unemployed in Arab countries (mainly north Africa) allowing them to stay, work and support their families in their home countries. The interests of the extremists do not end in the Middle East.

What if this process fails?

At the press conference, Yigal Tamir defined himself as an optimistic realistic. For the last three years he is talking to decision makers, ex generals, retired generals. All are very close to the PM. “We really have a product! The question is how fast we are going to market it, but this is the right concept”.

Koby Huberman added that the process outlined above requires that on the outset, Israel embraces the API and offers an IPI, which together present a similar vision and a framework for the end of conflict. If the parties fail to achieve a permanent status agreement, and instead try to reach interim/transitional/co-unilateral agreements, then the endorsement of the API is still the key – as it offers a horizon. Consequently, even those who promote interim, transitional or co-unilateral steps – must endorse the API!

We can just hope the leaders wake up, take bold decisions and start ending the endless cycle of violence. It is possible, one must believe.