The Crown Center for Middle East Studies and the Master’s Program in Coexistence and Conflict hosted a book launch and discussion of Track-Two Diplomacy toward an Israeli-Palestinian Solution, 1978-2014, led by its author, Yair Hirschfeld, last Thursday. Hirschfeld is a professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Haifa, the co-founder of the Economic Cooperation Foundation and played a prominent role in negotiating the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Hirschfeld first gave the audience an inside perspective on track II diplomacy, which is a discussion run by non-officials of disputing parties with the goal of settling disputes in an environment that is less delicate than that of official negotiations, and elaborated on the implications of the recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Hirschfeld explained that his book reaches into the depths of track II diplomacy, which is a back-channel way of negotiating and, according to Hirschfeld, has the potential to help solve the conflict for many valuable reasons.

First, those who are a part of this type of secret discussion are not obligated to carry out the decisions, which allows participants to be more productive in ironing out differences; second, track II diplomacy allows a free flow of information and direct access to leadership; third, the actual actors have to be involved in the decision making process; and fourth, it allows for the opportunity to listen before talking. The author also presented examples in which track II diplomacy had been successful, such as the 1984 London Agreement, which outlined a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on United Nations resolutions 242 and 338.

In order for track II diplomacy to be a success, Hirschfeld said that issues that are agreed upon must be implemented immediately. Both sides cannot first attempt to solve the core issues of control over Jerusalem, borders, refugees and security, because those are the most difficult to resolve. Instead, progress should be made where it is possible, on less controversial issues, and then implemented in increments.

Hirschfeld was a part of the team that negotiated the 1995 “Beilin-Abu Mazen Understanding,” which was the first proposal for a permanent status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. He elaborated, saying that since those negotiating the agreement did not have the authoritative power to execute it, the understanding created an illusion that it was possible to solve the conflict. In the future, he said that this is what has to be done—building a sub-structure to move forward is necessary.

Hirschfeld continued on to explain how the recent war in Gaza was a “game-changer” because it has created a window of opportunity on behalf of the Israelis and Palestinians. He said it is essential for both sides to move forward, and for both parties, it is dangerous not to move forward.

Hirschfeld argued that there are four major conditions that need to be realized for the peace process to occur: the strategic environment, or the position of other regional and international actors, must be understood by both parties; the Israelis must make concessions in the West Bank and Gaza; internal dialogue between Israel’s right and left, as well as between Palestinian factions, must be built so that the peace process is not undermined; and Hamas must be prevented from rearming.

“[B]ased on this talk, I believe Dr. Hirschfeld’s work can help us gain a deeper understanding of both the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian talks and, more broadly, how track-two negotiations support conflict resolution,” Suzanne Rothman ’13, a Crown Center affiliate, wrote in an email to the Justice.