TIRO and TINP are obstructing clear thinking and solutions.
As editor of a truly independent Jewish magazine, I find myself traveling in many circles, listening to many different points of view. One of the topics that I regularly hear about is the two-state solution. I can’t help but notice—it is so glaring—that when talk of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority arises among Jews, two diametrically opposing mantras are repeated ad nauseam with equal solemnity: “Time is running out (TIRO)”—its sister variation is “Time is not on Israel’s side”—and “There is no partner (TINP).” Those who believe peace should and can be achieved through a two-state solution in the near future regularly invoke the first. Those who don’t usually utter the second.
TIRO / Time Is Running Out!
These mantras and other similar ones have become the ultimate conversation stoppers; they obstruct serious grappling with facts and impede real discussion. As one high-level Middle East peace negotiator told me recently: “They are emotional arguments not based on reality. But you have to break them down because there are elements of truth in each one.” And elements of untruth as well.
TINP / There Is No Partner!
How did TIRO and TINP become fixed in the constellation of two-state solution-speak? Let’s start with TIRO, which is almost always expressed with alarm, although it’s been around for decades. Commonly employed by mediators to build a sense of urgency and to apply pressure, TIRO has waxed and waned with shifting prospects of the two-state solution ever since the Peel Commission recommended partitioning Palestine in 1937.
But TIRO didn’t make its debut in popular parlance until the mid-1990s, fueled by excitement generated by the Oslo Accords that a two-state solution might be imminent and fear that it might be the only way to maintain the Jewish character of Israel. It got plenty of official wear and tear, too. Two months after the spectacular failure of negotiations between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in July 2000, Barak told the UN: “Time is running out, and I don’t believe that President Clinton or Israel will be able to negotiate, in the same terms, two months from now,” referring to the fact that Clinton’s second term would soon come to an end.
Use of TIRO declined in 2001 after inconclusive talks at Taba and during the second intifada, but by 2004 it was hot again. “Arafat says time running out on a plan for separate Palestine, Jewish states,” reads one subhead in an Associated Press article not long before the Palestinian leader died. With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas toward an agreement, hope surged and TIRO went “viral.” It was like a “ricocheting echo chamber,” one influential Middle East analyst told me.
Although Abbas rebuffed Olmert’s September 2008 offer, TIRO has remained popular. (Olmert speaks of TIRO to this day.) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, shows a fondness for TIRO, but in reference to action in Iran, not two states. For that he prefers the euphemism “status quo,” yet another way of saying that nothing need happen.
The second brain freezer, “There is no partner (TINP),” has its own trajectory through history. Discussions about who is Israel’s partner in peace talks have been ongoing since 1967, but nearly all I spoke to agree that TINP was coined in 2000, after the dual failures of Camp David and Taba. Numerous observers attribute it to Barak, who needed to invent an immediate explanation of why talks with Arafat had failed.
TINP’s popularity soared in 2008, after Abbas rejected Olmert’s offer. The thinking was that if Abbas—who never explained why he didn’t accept the offer—couldn’t say yes to Barak or Olmert, then nobody could. The other rationale behind TINP was that Abbas no longer controlled Gaza after the 2009 elections. Propelled by this thinking, TINP reverberated throughout Israel and the American Jewish community, especially among those lukewarm to two states, including some Republicans in Congress. “But it never resonated in the policy world,” said one analyst, “because there they see Bibi is not a partner. So we go round and round.”
Experienced negotiators I’ve talked to on both sides of the political aisle say these terms are pure spin. Not only is it not true that “There is no partner,” but “Time is not running out.” Both phrases demonstrate less than reflective thinking about why talks have failed, and even the nature of mediation. Says a Reagan-era Middle East diplomat: “The reality in Middle East negotiations is that if you can’t get it done today, you can get it done tomorrow. The train does not leave the station until the train is ready to leave. There is no schedule, and the train doesn’t have to get to the final destination. It just has to get to the next stop.”
Unfortunately, mantra-spinning has been taken up by the Palestinians as well. They too now say “There is no partner” or “Bibi is not a partner” to shift blame to Israel to explain why no talks are underway. Especially common is “We’ve negotiated for 20 years and gotten nothing (WN20=0),” which reflects the prevalent view in Arab and some European circles. It is jargon to justify why the Palestinian Authority went to the UN for statehood rather than engaging with offers Israel has put on the table since 1993.
These slogans, easy ways to deflect the responsibility for peacemaking, obscure progress that has been made. Psychological barriers binding us to the past and blinding us to the present, they need to be set aside in order to see the future. Their banishment could alleviate topic fatigue and reenergize a necessary discourse. So let’s decide together that time is running out for all these tired phrases. To use an oft-quoted line from Pirkei Avot, the third-century collection of Jewish ethics: “It is not upon you to finish the work: neither are you free to desist from it.”
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know when you first heard these terms, and your opinion. I’d love to hear it!