Diplomatic negotiations, as encouraging as they have been, have been going on for years with too little to show for. Some of the worst violence has occurred recently after a relative lull of several years when the Madrid and Oslo processes finally seemed to be bearing fruits. Our proposal is not to stop such processes, but to explore how a different (democratic rather than diplomatic) paradigm might be applied to the problem.

Rationale: both peoples are tired of war and interim agreements and many people now agree to the necessity of negotiating a final settlement, now that the alternate path of step-by-step confidence building measures has not only failed to create the needed confidence to resolve final status issues, but has led to more violence than ever before (e.g. see The Last Negotiation in May/June 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs). Moderate Arab states are also reported to be eager to settle the issue once and for all, especially Jordan and Egypt, since the longer it goes on, the more internal political difficulties this creates (e.g. see Everyone has a peace plan, New York Times, Week in Review, Sunday 12 May 2002).

The difficulties involved in negotiating a final settlement are mainly that it is extremely difficult to get the needed sustained political dialogue going, though all parties agree that such a dialogue must eventually happen. Yet there is no leadership at this time that is willing or capable to enter into a meaningful top-level dialogue. Unlike during Sadat’s time, there is not the necessary political leadership, which is at the same time pragmatic enough, courageous enough and articulate enough to arrive at a solution and sell it to their domestic and international public opinion.

This is why we suggest broadening the peace process and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem in a way that maximizes the largest possible perceived popular and political legitimacy, by creating a joint assembly where Israeli and Palestinian representatives jointly sit and negotiate the peace.

It seems obvious that there cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is not a very broad consensus on the ultimate agreement. While there will always be extremists holding out for more, the goal is to create the political conditions for such a broad public consensus. If a very broad public consensus were to exist, it would help to starve extremists from the popular legitimacy that ultimately sustains them. This is already starting to be the case since mid-May 2002.

Our proposal rests on the proposition that ultimately there will only be peace in the Middle East if the people themselves believe in and trust the outcome. Common sense, political realities and human psychology converge to say that people on both sides are more likely to believe in and trust the outcome if they are participants in the process, and barring that, that they feel intimately associated with the process via people they appoint or trust.

The challenge is to design a process which is practical and at the same time allows the most direct representation / legitimacy / participation of the people. It is not a process to bypass politicians as such, but rather enhance and broaden the political process with a broader spectrum of people involved, with politicians still involved.

The high political stakes today means that there is even more pressure on the old way of exclusive, closed-door negotiations to succeed.

The case for broadening the negotiating process rests on two simple observations: there are large numbers of people and interests which can be identified and which have a stake in promoting peace, maybe even a large majority. And there exist widespread support today for a 2 state solution, and a potential compromise addressing nearly all issues became close to formal acceptance (Taba). Yet there is no process perceived as legitimate which is able to finalize any agreement. (As an observer judiciously remarked, we see the light but we have no tunnel yet to get there.)

At the same time, there is an unprecedented support for more radical elements because of a rapid deterioration in the political and security situation.

The strategic challenge for those seeking peace is how to “harness” enough peace-loving forces while simultaneously “neutralize” (or better, transform into peace-loving forces), radical or violent elements.

Unless politicians and the world find a way to get the people on both sides to agree to and feel a sense of ‘ownership’ of a peace plan, even the most perfect peace plan will not have a chance.

In reality, since a perfect peace plan does not exist, i.e. one that we know that all sides would right now agree to, the survival of any plan rests on its broad political and popular acceptance. The degree of acceptance must be broad and strong enough that ultimately both Israeli and Palestinian societies accepts the fundamental compromises which will be inevitable in a final agreement, and that each society is ready to defend these compromises and ostracize elements in their midst who would resort to violence.

Basically, each society must believe so strongly in the final peace settlement that there will be huge social pressure to abide by the provisions of the agreement, rather than sabotage it.


If there is not a very strong sense by the population on both sides that a final agreement is fair, short of the instauration of 2 police states, no amount of force or imposition from outside will bring peace. And the US Congress will never impose a solution on Israel if Israel adamantly refuses it. To believe otherwise is politically na?ve.

Therefore, peace in the Middle East (and possibly the much greater stake of the peaceful transition to democratic societies of the entire Arab world as well as world prosperity and stability) rests on a final peace agreement that is strongly rooted in acceptance by both Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

The ambition and the claim of this proposal is that given the present level of hatred, such a strong proposal is only possible if the negotiating process itself is much more democratic.

Broadening the process would thus fundamentally serve two purposes:

It would give a voice to and legitimize politically moderate voices on all sides.

It would neutralize the extremes by “diluting them” and putting them face to face in the same room with moderates under the glare of global public opinion.

In practice, it would probably also:

Bring some radical elements over to the moderate side (because of the open and public nature of the proceedings which would lead them to tone down their rhetoric)

Lower the temperature of Arab public opinion since all sessions would be televised and millions of Arabs everywhere would be likely to watch the proceedings, thus participating vicariously in the process.
To reach these goals, the design of the Assembly is paramount. That is why it is necessary to look at various scenarios and explore their pros and cons, as well get feedback from potential participants from all sides.

This basic approach is a principled one that seems to fit perfectly with both official UK government and European Union policies, and with their reliance and emphasis on international law, democracy and basic inalienable human rights.

How to do it? A Joint Israeli-Palestinian Democratic Peace Assembly

The simplest such process is one which mandates the legislative representatives of both people to directly negotiate a peace agreement. A simple way to achieve that could mean the Knesset and the Palestinian National Council (but same numbers on both sides). More complicated arrangements call for special elections on both sides (allowing a more exact representation of the electorate and a sharpness of focus on the reality of negotiations), possibly with seats reserved for religious, community, business, trade union, civil society etc. leaders and with other variations on electoral democracy. It may be useful to have representatives of the Diaspora of both sides.

One of the key advantages of a Democratic Peace Assembly would be to put both people in front of their collective responsibility. It is a well known fact of political life that people are usually less confrontational and extremist when they find themselves in a position where they are actually able to effect political change, and have a political responsibility, as when they are shut out from the process, and do not have to face the direct consequences of their actions.

Here some of the questions that need to be answered:

1. What are the reasons to believe that parliamentarians and people at large are more likely to come to an agreement than the diplomats? Why direct political negotiations by representatives of the people?

2. What are the political advantages of the process and how can it rein force existing diplomatic negotiations?

3. How could the proposal enhance the success of the US/EU/UN/Russian agreed international conference?

4. What is the potential role of the UN in the process?

5. How to maximize perceived legitimacy while retaining practical relevance?

6. Are existing bodies (Knesset/PNC) enough and adequate for the task at hand?

7. If not, why not and how can better ones be devised

8. How many people should take part in it? Is the size of the Knesset a good rough guide for the number for each side? If not, what could be?

9. Should there be special elections for the process to increase a broad public debate on the issue, given the clear mandate that the delegates will have the power to negotiate a binding settlement, and thus airing a public debate prior to the Assembly meeting?

10. Can the process be designed to have a cathartic quality to it, and heal some of the deep wounds, both old and new?

11. How broad should the process be? Should Jordan or others be drawn into it?

12. What rules might be proposed for the Peace Assembly to function effectively? Should the PPA set its own rules and if so, what should/could be done if it stalls on the very first item of its own procedural rules?

13. What should be the role of the international community in guiding/ensuring the integrity of the process? What carrots/sticks can be used?

14. What other role might there be for outsiders?

15. What is the role of the media?

16. How could this concept be promoted to both sides?

17. How could the process be “sabotaged”, how can this be prevented, and how might it be designed to be as robust as possible, to withstand provocation from any side?

18. What are the psychological and political mechanisms that could be brought to bear to ensure the success of the Peace Assembly?

19. What are potential roadmaps to establishing this Peace Assembly?