24 August 2007 - Public, Multiparty Negotiating Forums (PMNFs)
In preparation for my presentation next week at MECA, I’ve put together a little Q&A about one of the ideas Sapir Handelman and I will be presenting: the introduction of public, multiparty negotiating forums (PMNFs) in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. PMNFs won’t be the sole focus of our paper, but it’s one of the models we will be drawing attention to as part of a multi-faceted approach.
What is a Public Multiparty Negotiating Forum (PMNF)?
A Public Multiparty Negotiating Forum (PMNF) is an institution that facilitates open debate and negotiation between the parties in a conflict. A parliament or town council is a PMNF. However, PMNFs need not be institutions of representative government. Collective bargaining councils, multilateral commissions, community forums of various kinds and even debating chambers may be considered PMNFs.
Who participates in a PMNF?
In political negotiations, participants include representatives of all parties or organizations involved in a given conflict. Opposition groupings as well as governments may be included; smaller parties and external observers may join on a voluntary basis. The only firm rule is the exclusion of any party that has not ended or at least suspended any attempt to achieve its objectives through violent attacks.
How does a PMNF work?
The representatives to the PMNF can be appointed by the various parties on a voluntary basis, with perhaps a limited number of delegates from each side. Alternatively, delegates may be chosen through democratic elections conducted by an independent election commission. Proposals are introduced, debated, amended and approved or rejected by the PMNF in an open and procedurally fair manner.
Why is a PMNF necessary in the Israeli-Palestinian case?
A PMNF is necessary because it performs three essential functions, each of which addresses a weakness of previous negotiations: it de-legitimizes violence as a political tool; it allows moderates from each side to form coalitions with each other; it gives a wider variety of actors a stake in the success of the negotiations; it establishes the process and its goals as political realities in the public imagination.
Where has the PMNF model been used successfully?
The PMNF model has been used successfully in two other cases with which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often compared—namely, South Africa and Northern Ireland. In both cases, the negotiating institutions failed frequently and were interrupted by violence. However, these failures did not lead to the collapse of the peace process or a return to violence, and agreements were eventually reached.
When should the work of a PMNF end?
The work of a PMNF can end as soon as the conflict it was created to deal with has ended. Alternatively, it can be superseded or replaced by institutions that have greater power and authority. In some cases, the PMNF may continue its work after the main dispute has been resolved to provide a continuing foundation for relations between the various parties and to handle new disagreements as they arise.
What are the alternatives to a PMNF and why are they insufficient?
One alternative to a PNF is an externally-imposed solution to the conflict. There have been many attempts, by the UN or outside powers, to enforce a settlement or at least intervene between the parties. These efforts have established principles for a solution. However, external solutions cannot work because no outside force is willing or able to enforce a settlement against the will of one or both of the parties.
Another possibility is a unilateral solution to the conflict, adopted by Israel. This alternative is represented by the Gaza disengagement and the security barrier. Effectively, it is an alternative to negotiation. Unilateral solutions may reduce conflict, improve stability and demonstrate Israel’s commitment to concessions. However, they cannot end violence, and they impose huge costs on the Palestinians.
Another alternative is the use of internal reforms to guide each party toward peace negotiations. In the Palestinian Authority this would involve creating domestic institutions that can guide a process of nation-building. In Israel this would involve sweeping constitutional reforms. Internal reforms can prepare the two sides to make and enforce peace agreements but they do not resolve disputes between them.
A final alternative is the use of diplomacy between elites to reach political agreements, as in the Oslo process of the 1990s. Track I or formal diplomacy, combined with Track II or informal diplomacy, can move the parties towards resolution. However, these are elite processes, vulnerable to violence and to domestic politics, and disconnected from crucial public involvement and support.
What are the main obstacles to a PMNF and how can they be overcome?
One of the main obstacles to a PMNF is the mistrust between the two sides. The failure of the Oslo peace process and the deaths of thousands during the second intifada embittered both Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time, growing majorities on both sides support the two-state solution. A new institution that gave the public indirect involvement in the process might built trust in place of suspicion.
Another objection to a PMNF is that various forms of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation have been tried, and failed, before. These included the Joint Liaison Committee and a number of other cooperative arrangements. However, these did not address core issues or include mechanisms for dispute resolution. There were also some areas of success, which can be used as a basis for future cooperation.
Another obstacle would be the reluctance of each side to participate in a PMNF for fear that this would compromise the sovereignty of either. Previous cases of the PMNF model involve a unitary state or home rule. However, the model can be adapted to new circumstances. It could also draw on the federalist tradition in Zionist thought, and growing enthusiasm for a confederation arrangement.
An additional objection to the use of PMNF is that the position of Hamas in Gaza would preclude it from participating in any joint institutions. This is true, and would require the separation of the peace process into two stages. However, in principle the PMNF could remain open to Hamas, conditional on its suspension of violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and commitment to past agreements.
What are the outcomes of a PMNF likely to be?
The PMNF model is not designed to deliver success but to ensure better failures over time. However, there are numerous signs that the region is ready both for a new peace process and for new institutional innovations. A PMNF would support negotiations and encourage domestic reforms in both societies. It would also promote representative democracy, security and human rights in the region.
Would a PMNF be sufficient to guarantee success in the peace process?
The creation of an Israeli-Palestinian PMNF might be a helpful or even necessary condition of peace, but it is not sufficient. Ultimately, success will require inspired leadership and the patient efforts of ordinary people to achieve coexistence and reconciliation. The creation of a joint negotiating institution can allow such leadership and efforts to emerge and grow within and between both societies.