The long experience of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations has taught us that the question is not whether to negotiate. If they are to resume, negotiations cannot be an objective in themselves, they are a means to achieve certain ends.
And though different parties to negotiations may have different objectives, they have to make sure that the conditions in which negotiations are held are conducive for them to move forward. This, of course, assumes that reaching agreement is the common aim for both sides. If it is not, the history of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations also shows that negotiations with little chance of success may be counter-productive because they create expectations that are not met and therefore affect the domestic balance of power.
There are certain conditions that will contribute to the likelihood of successful negotiations. One is to establish clear and agreed terms of reference. The absence of such terms of reference can lead talks in endless circles that will only reduce confidence in the approach and increase the search for alternatives.
The other important condition is to establish a clear and definitive role for third parties. The great imbalance of power between the Palestinians and Israelis can prevent a positive dynamic because the powerful party is always tempted to wield its might to impose its terms. This will only provoke a backlash from the weaker side and thus lead to a cycle of deterioration.
In the current context of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, however, Israel is trying to ignore both these requirements and the lessons learned from long years of failed talks. The Israeli demand for a resumption of negotiations "without pre-conditions" is disingenuous since it renders talks at the mercy of the pre-conditions that Israel is itself establishing on the ground. Israel insists on continuing to build settlements, thereby prejudicing the outcome of any process and undermining in particular the internationally accepted aim of a two-state solution.
Negotiations without pre-conditions ought to mean that Israel refrains from imposing any changes on the ground, whether settlement building, home demolitions or any other practices that pre-determine in fact, unilaterally and by force, the future of the occupied territories.
Hence it makes sense that the sponsors and mediators of this process should follow the logic and letter of the documents that are agreed on by everybody as the main terms of reference for negotiations, particularly the roadmap which was proposed by the Quartet and later enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution.
The logical sequence stipulated in that document expects the two parties to refrain from activities and behavior that are harmful to future negotiations, namely settlement expansion and violence, as a first step. There should be concurrent increases in activities and behavior that enhance chances of success. On the Israeli side these would include the re-opening of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, the removal of restrictions on Palestinian movement and reversing the re-occupation of Palestinian Authority territories. On the Palestinian side, there should be security sector reform and enhanced governance capabilities.
The international community, which has been instrumental in encouraging and facilitating the Palestinian side to fulfill its obligations under the roadmap, is now required to do the same with the Israeli side. That will be the shortest route to resuming meaningful and fruitful negotiations between the two sides.