Could 'Framework' Offer Elusive Breakthrough as Peace Talks Sputter?

Ami Ayalon Sees Kerry Plan as Game-Changer

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By J.J. Goldberg

Published March 20, 2014, issue of March 28, 2014.
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What’s needed, Ayalon says, is a “change in the architecture” of Middle East diplomacy. For decades leaders have insisted on resolving the conflict through direct negotiations — “the two sides will meet, confidence will be created and things will move. It’s never worked. It collapsed repeatedly. Each side was held hostage repeatedly by its extremists. But direct negotiations became a principle in their own right.”

Israelis and Palestinians became prisoners of a failed paradigm, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That’s Einstein’s definition of insanity.

In fact, Ayalon argues, the idea of a negotiated two-state peace pact simply isn’t plausible. “No state was ever created as a result of negotiations,” he said.

But Kerry’s framework could change the architecture. The secretary spent the last eight months probing the two sides, learning what they want, what they can live with and what they can’t live with. The framework is a general outline of what a permanent solution should look like.

What it doesn’t say is how to get there, which reflects a harsh reality. “Between 60% and 70% of the population on each side would be willing to accept the other side’s bottom line,” Ayalon said, “but neither side believes that the other side means it.”

If the framework is put in writing and adopted formally by the United States, the Quartet and the United Nations, “then for the first time we will have a clear goal.” Then the sides can begin taking their own steps, acting independently, coordinating with each other but without waiting for the other’s approval. Ayalon calls this “constructive unilateralism.”

“Every independent step that each of us takes to bring us closer would be approved and compensated,” Ayalon said. “Steps that take us further away will be disapproved. Once you have a clear goal you know what is negative and what is positive.”

Born in Tiberias in 1945, raised on a nearby kibbutz, Ayalon was a career naval commando who rose to become commander of the Israeli navy. In 1996 he was tapped to rescue the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, which had been shattered by Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Retiring in 2000, he partnered with Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh to form The People’s Voice, which collected nearly a half-million signatures on both sides for a model two-state peace agreement they drafted. In 2003 he gathered his fellow ex-Shin Bet chiefs for a group interview in Yediot Ahronot that eventually inspired the film “The Gatekeepers.”


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