Finding realistic solutions without grabbing land

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The Independent Online

It all began two years ago with two ex-ministers, Yossi Beilin from Israel and Yasser Abed Rabbo for the Palestinians. Unlike Oslo, it was no cloak-and-dagger exercise. We didn't cover our tracks. People knew that something was taking place, but until the final meeting in Jordan this week nobody took it too seriously. It meant we were not under pressure.

Mr Beilin and Mr Abed Rabbo recruited drafters and mapping people, then gradually enlarged the circle to 10 to 15 people in each side. Most of the meetings were sponsored by the Swiss foreign ministry, but one gathering near London was under Japanese auspices.

The atmosphere was always positive. At the start the gaps were very wide, but the principles were hammered out during a long process, with many ups and downs.

We were trying to do two things: to show that moderate and pragmatic forces on both sides could find a solution; and to work on a win-win strategy. We were not trying to score points or get something we didn't need from the other side. For instance, we were ready to relinquish the area of the West Bank settlement of Ariel, even though the Palestinians had been willing to concede it at Camp David and Taba in 2000.

The approach on the major sticking points - what we call the Temple Mount and the Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif, and the Palestinian refugees - was one of realpolitik. It was clear to both sides that eventually they would not insist on a right of return to their old towns and villages in Israel, but we understood that they couldn't go home without sovereignty over the Haram.

If this had been suggested at Camp David in July 2000, I'm certain that we would have had an agreement that would have pre-empted the terrible tragedy of the last three years.

Ron Pundak, a veteran of the 1993 Oslo negotiations, is director of the Shimon Peres Centre for Peace.