While there is for probably the first time in decades a strong and historic opportunity to arrive at a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, there has been so far no similar breakthrough in the “technology” of negotiations, no broad-based negotiating or political process which has the political and moral legitimacy to arrive at a peace agreement strong enough that it will stick, will survive the inevitable setbacks, and can be implemented.

Given the failure of the classic model or “technology” of closed, behind doors diplomatic negotiating (which even if successful ultimately fails because all those not in the negotiating room invariably complain and refuse the outcome) we are proposing to use a totally different paradigm of negotiation: that of democracy. We argue that only this new “Democracy- Empowered Diplomacy” is powerful enough to implement the recent advances on the substance of negotiations made by Crown Prince Abdullah and the recent recognition by President Bush of a Palestinian State, and provides the powerful tool needed to fill in the major gaps that still exist between both sides.

“Democracy-Empowered Diplomacy” concerns not a particular outcome, but the process itself by which a broadly accepted outcome with the maximum perceived moral and political legitimacy (from all sides, including the Arab world, the G-8 and the rest of the international community) could be arrived at.

The proposal: a Joint Israeli-Palestinian Peace Assembly
The basic idea is that the two parties elect/select (on a proportional basis) representatives from their own peoples and that the two democratically selected groups meet in an open and open-ended joint session to negotiate peace. One variant calls for a sort of "conclave" where both parties are "locked up" by the pressure of the international community, their own and global public opinion, until they come to an agreement.

The groups could be the Knesset and the same number (120) of the Palestinian National Council. Or the same numbers plus civil society, religious, business and trade union leaders (with potentially observers of the international community and professional facilitators). The groups must be allowed to include representatives of all factions (even extremist ones), if these representatives are actually selected by the people, otherwise it defeats the purpose of a broad-based settlement.

Or there could be on both side SPECIFIC elections to elect 100 to 200 representatives of each side to negotiate a permanent peace. The campaign itself therefore would focus on all the candidates' visions for peace and would stimulate an open public debate on the fundamental issues. As before, it might be useful to add religious, civil society, community and business leaders in the mix to get a broader representation of society. These probably would not be elected, but selected by virtue of their position.

All proceedings would be totally open and televised, interned-streamed and both parties could call any experts or witnesses they wished. Many details, such as who might be observers, or should independent neutral professional facilitators be present, remain to be determined.

The entire process itself would in effect function as a collective catharsis, a sort of super Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Regional Israeli-Palestinian Parliament etc. The entire process of either selecting or electing representatives could be done within a matter of months and would presuppose rebuilding the administrative capacity of the PA and a large presence of international helpers and observers to have free and open elections. This in itself would have a peaceful influence in the entire country.

It would also demonstrate to the world the commitment of both sides to democracy and would allow present leaders to make their case in a public and forceful way to their citizens.

Given the emphasis and commitment of the international community about democracy, it would be an extremely appealing idea to people everywhere and is likely to be supported by an overwhelming majority of citizens and voters in all countries.

Such a precedent-breaking process would also address some of the criticism which the Palestinian Authority has been subjected to about the alleged moral superiority of the Israeli government (because it is a democracy), and would level the playing field and the “moral gap” which many (especially in the US) see between the two sides.

There are of course many questions to be answered, but the political attractiveness of such a proposal based on basic political principles seems evident, and the fact that those principles of democracy, openness and transparency are universally endorsed (though not always applied), makes this proposal for a broad and democratic process easy to defend.

Tactically, this proposal also offers a concrete roadmap to reopening the political dialogue, but this time on a broader and more stable basis than the very narrow basis of the past. The promise that all groups with any kind of popular legitimacy (the threshold has to be determined) will be heard, is also a way to start a bi-national healing process without which even the most “perfect” peace plan arrived at by experts will not succeed.

In a sense, this Democratic Super-Diplomacy, or “Democracy-Empowered Diplomacy” could be described as a process where the politicians are joined by traditional parliamentarians, civil society, religious and business leaders and other representatives of the people.

As Colin Powell said upon his arrival in Israel: “People need to be brought into a negotiating process that will lead to peace.” He may not have meant literally that “the people” should be brought into a process, but if we believe in the principle of “Government of, for and by the people”, how, after decades of failures, can the people of Israel and Palestine can be denied at last this one chance to make peace directly?

It does not seem to be hard to design a way for this to happen, and the vision of two peaceful states living securely and viably side by side, a vision endorsed by most Israelis, most Palestinians, the US administration and most international organizations, could become a reality much faster than anyone could have imagined.

We stand ready to assist anyone who wishes to help implement this idea.