Not an agreement in sight

The ‘Palestine Papers’ underscore the reality that it is near impossible to expect a comprehensive solution to more than a few of the major outstanding issues any time soon.

By
January 26, 2011 04:51
4 minute read.
JERUSALEM: RESETTLED upon its desolation

Jerusalem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The leaked “Palestine Papers” of the talks between the official Palestinian leadership and former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, underscore the reality that it is almost impossible to expect any time soon a comprehensive and final agreement on more than a few of the major outstanding issues.

Jerusalem is one, refugees is another – nor did there seem to be any meeting of the minds on Israel’s fundamental strategic security requirements.

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Already 23 years ago at the Leeds Castle Conference, the late Moshe Dayan stated that there was no line one could draw on the map which would satisfy both Israel’s security requirements and the Palestinians’ national aspirations.

This hasn’t changed.

It is, therefore, no great surprise that even the Olmert government which, according to the leaked papers, was willing to go a long way to accept Palestinian demands, had reservations in this matter.

On another matter, the idea of land swaps may be reasonable – in theory, but if one looks at the map which Olmert purportedly submitted to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the result of the proposed swaps would be putting a large number of Israel communities, including Nachal Oz, Be’eri and Kisufim, on the very border of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip – clearly putting their populations in harm’s way.

THE NEWS is not all bad, however; as evidenced by some of the Palestinians’ positions during the meetings, it could be that they may finally begin to understand that aggression and ongoing terror come at a cost – though perhaps not sufficiently, judging by their insistence on the “right of return” for the Palestinian refugees and their fifth generation offspring. The refugee issue is indeed a harrowing one and it would have been solved long ago if it were not for the refusal of most of the Arab states to integrate the Palestinian populations in their countries and solve the problem, similar to the way other refugee problems were solved around the world.

In the context of possible financial compensation to the families of erstwhile Palestinian refugees, it is shocking that neither Olmert nor Livni raised the question of compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

To give credit where credit is due, Olmert and Livni perhaps did not go to the extremes that previous Israeli negotiators had gone to in the 2000 Camp David and Taba negotiations, i.e. on Jerusalem and in particular on the Temple Mount.

But the tendency to cavalierly ignore fundamental Israeli interests, such as the need for defensible borders with particular emphasis on the Jordan Valley – a requirement which is doubly imperative in the light of of a revived “eastern front” in the wake of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and of the de facto Iranian takeover of Hamas-dominated Gaza – should make Israelis thankful for the fact that future negotiations will be in more responsible hands.

ONE VITAL point of contention on which the Palestinian leadership was and still is completely intransigent is recognizing Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat disingenuously and somewhat cynically told Israeli negotiators: “if you want to call your state the Jewish State of Israel, you can call it what you want.”

There are well-disposed people around the world, including even some Israeli politicians, who share Erekat’s view, deliberately or unthinkingly ignoring the fact that the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as the Jewish state derives from their rejection of Jews being a people and a nation, thus negating their claim to a state of their own in any part of Palestine.

This is not some outlandish assessment but an exact interpretation of the views publicly and privately expressed by the present Palestinian, supposedly moderate, leadership – formally reiterated by Fatah in its official summation of its 2009 Bethlehem conference.

Whether the talks in 2008, as evidenced by the leaked documents, could have led to an agreement is irrelevant today, given the fact that Messrs.

Abbas, Ahmed Qurei and Erekat at the end of the day rejected even the extremely generous proposals made by Olmert and Livni – a refusal exacerbated by their present unwillingness to engage in direct talks with the current Netanyahu-lead government.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict may be one of those historical problems which are unsolvable in the short-to-medium term. This does not mean, however, that the two sides should not make an effort at least to find ways and means to improve the situation for the benefit of both sides, (though the Palestinians, judging by what is appearing on Al Jazeera, apparently aren’t very credible partners in confidential negotiations).

The current Palestinian leadership still believes that they can avoid talking directly with Israel, apparently hoping that international players, to wit, the UN, the Quartet or the US will do the job for them. It is up to the US administration, looking at the options and its own list of priorities, to disabuse them of this thought process.

The writer is the former Israel Ambassador to the US, and currently heads the Prime Minister's forum of US-Israel Relations.


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