Israeli experts and former high ranking government officials voiced pessimism regarding the chances for any agreement with the Palestinians, at a conference Thursday at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA).
The conference, titled “Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations: Whereto?”, seemed to conclude that the current reality dictates that no agreement is possible and the best that can be hoped for is some kind of step-by-step agreement that does not seek to solve the fundamental points of conflict.
Efraim Inbar, director of BESA, said there would be no peace agreement, but that many states want relations with Israel because of their interests. For example, Asian Muslim countries want relations with Israel, but are not too concerned about the Palestinian issue, he said.
The Palestinian economy is better than in much of the Arab world. “The economy of Gaza is better than Egypt,” Inbar said.
The US’s turning attention to Asia does not help the Palestinians.
“Our situation is good,” he said, and the rest of the Arab world is in crisis.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, former IDF deputy chief of staff and National Security adviser to the prime minister, said that the Palestinians will not sign an agreement that says it is the end of conflict.
When asked by The Jerusalem Post if he is for or against releasing the fourth group of terrorists to keep the peace talks going, he said he is against it: “No more confidence building measures.”
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaacov Amidror, also a former national security adviser to the prime minister and head of the NSC, is joining the BESA Center as the Anne and Greg Rosshandler senior fellow. He said that Israel needs to prepare for a situation where a peace agreement could break down, and for that reason it is necessary to make security arrangements.
While the Palestinian issue is not important to most Arab leaders, it is important to the masses, he said, pointing out that today they are an important factor.
When looking at the negotiations, he said it is interesting to look at how the positions of the two sides have moved.
While Israel has moved toward the Palestinians, they “did not move an inch.”
Israel made two important concessions, he said. First, the government accepted a Palestinian state, and second, it agreed to have forces on the border with Jordan, and not in the Jordan Valley.
The US did not note this different position until we pointed it out to them, he said.
On Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he said that he is different from Yasser Arafat, who worked to build up the terrorist infrastructure.
Abbas realized that terrorism was bad for the Palestinians and decided to concentrate on the international arena. However, he still names squares after terrorists.
“I can’t name a single concession of the Palestinians since 1994,” said Amidror.
Prof. Uzi Arad from the IDC Herzliya was chairman of the Security Council for Israel, a former head of the National Security Council and a national security adviser to the PM. “It is now patently clear that no agreement on final status issues is likely,” he said.
Arad went through the history of the process and said that there have been two approaches to the peace talks: one that seeks an end to the conflict with a comprehensive, complete, and final peace agreement in one swoop, and a second, which seeks a phased approach.
The Oslo agreement in 1993 was a phased approach consisting of an interim agreement and later final-status negotiations.
At Camp David in 2000, it was an effort to make a final agreement, but the Palestinians rejected former prime minister Ehud Barak’s offer.
Then, in 2002-2003 the Quartet proposed a phased approach with the Road Map.
The first step under the Road Map to Peace in the Middle East called for the Palestinians to dismantle terrorist infrastructure, which they never did. Therefore, there was no move to the second stage, which was to have a Palestinian state with provisional borders, said Arad.
“In fact, the 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza made the Road Map even more irrelevant, since Gaza became a massive terrorism hub for Hamas.”
Two years later under the Annapolis process, again the discussion turned to final status issues, but “when Olmert proposed even greater concessions than Barak ever did, he was rebuffed by Abu Mazen [Abbas].”
US Secretary of State John Kerry is back again in the final status framework effort, he said, but then again, the Palestinians are essentially rejecting any of those Israeli conditions for a full agreement: accepting Israel as a Jewish state, acknowledging that there would be no further claims and agreeing that this would be the end of the conflict and essentially resolving the refugee issues without have any return to Israel.
“In other words, for potential concessions that Israel would give in a final peace agreement, Abbas is offering an open-ended agreement and not a closed one. And he certainly keeps future claims and grievances for future use,” he said. “There is no closure here.”
So this leaves us essentially on the Palestinian side with a partial, and not a full kind of agreement. This takes us back to the phased approach that “is more pragmatic.”
He is against “unilateral moves – to make concessions for free is nonsense and destabilizing.”
Instead, we should seek partial agreements, if they are doable.
It is not in Israel’s interest to take security risks for a deal if it is not in the context of end of conflict. Tragically, in their schools they teach their children to persevere with the conflict, he said.
He concluded by saying, “The Palestinians may miss opportunities. That has always been their tragedy. Consequently, it is also ours.”