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Analysis

Fathom | Einat Wilf: Constructive ambiguity has not worked. Peace needs constructive specificity

Einat Wilf is one of the most creative Israeli thinkers on the peace process. In this talk to a Fathom Forum in London on 15 June 2017 she argued that it is time to drop the dogma that “constructive ambiguity” helps advance the peace process. In its place, Israelis and Palestinians need to adopt a new strategy of “constructive specificity” regarding what is required from each side if the process is to result in a realistic peace. Below is an edited transcript.

What I am going to be discussing today is based on part of a paper that I wrote for the Washington Institute that looks in detail at the strategies that are needed by foreign policy decision-makers in the West if they are truly interested in ensuring that the path to a the two-state solution is kept open.

From ambiguity to specificity

I am going to reflect on something central to the thinking of many policy-makers working to achieve peace. It is the notion that given the animosity, the distrust and the competing understandings of history, the way to make peace is through “constructive ambiguity”. Shimon Peres, with whom I had a chance to work for a few years, used to say that “in love-making, as in with peace-making, you need to close your eyes”. I’m not going to discuss people’s preferences in the bedroom, but with respect to peace-making, I think that this perspective is not very helpful. The idea that we can close our eyes a little bit, that we can fudge the issues, that we can use words knowing that we understand those words one way and that the other side understands those same words in a completely different way – I think by now we have enough experience to know that this method is anything but constructive.

We now have two decades of experience with constructive ambiguity and it’s clear that we should really call it destructive ambiguity. If we are to move forward what we need is constructive specificity. We need to be very clear about what we mean on the key components, on what makes peace possible and what it means to divide the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean sea into (to use the words of the UN) “a Jewish state and an Arab state”. If we are to finally complete the partition, I believe that what is needed is for us to be very specific.

Read the full transcript in Fathom.


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