Negotiations and red lines

The architect of Oslo, Yossi Beilin watched it falter between September 1993 and September 2000 as a series of Israeli leaders allowed it to slip through their fingers or, as below, juggle with it until it fell on the floor. This exerpt is about red lines outside which there is room for compromise and beyond which, none.

In any agreement, reciprocity is taken for granted; no party wants to fulfill its side of a contract without the compliance of the other side. However, in a political agreement, you are both a party to the agreement and its judge; it is necessary to sometimes turn a blind eye to a minor breach in order to sustain the agreement itself. For example, the Egyptians and Jordanians withdrew their ambassadors to Israel following the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. This is counter to the original statement and we could have said “If you are recalling your ambassadors, we will do the same” – that would have been reciprocity. But no one even suggested it, not even the far right, because in such a delicate situation, both sides were invested in the success of an agreement.

It might be acceptable, in private life, to insist on complete reciprocity in every interaction. But the truth is that nobody will appreciate this, and you will be seen as an unrealistic person. The question becomes, what are the red lines? If you allow the other side to breach an agreement in a way that goes against your national interest, then you are not a responsible leader. But if you turn a blind eye to something which is marginal because you know that down the road there are more important things, then you are a realistic leader.

With Netanyahu, the truth was very clear: he had no use for the Oslo Agreement, and he manipulated the situation to his benefit. He didn’t have to lie – the other side was breaching. When he said “I will not tolerate any breach of the agreement” it was not out of fidelity to the Oslo Accords or a desire to hold the Palestinians to their word, but rather because he was eager to be free of the agreement itself. The other side delivered just the right pretext. Netanyahu wasn’t disturbed by the Palestinian violations; in fact they gave him license to violate the agreement himself.

Territory, Jerusalem, refugees, security.  Where will the red lines be for Israelis and Palestinians at this autumn’s peace summit? Maybe the media apathy about the peace talks will serve to give the negotiators a break from the wreckers this time. No swaggering around on Temple Mount, no tunnelling, no riots and no cancellations.

Beilin, Y. (2004). The Path To Geneva. New York: RDV Books. pp57-8

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