IN THESE DAYS OF DIPLOMATIC paralysis, it is particularly interesting to take note of a new book by Henry Fishman and Dr. Ephraim Lavi detailing the 17 political initiatives undertaken over the past ten years in an attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If the Peres Peace Center, which sponsored the publication, wanted to expand the perspective and list initiatives taken since the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967, they would probably have had to list dozens, perhaps even a hundred or more.
Researchers Fishman and Lavi have invested tremendous effort in analyzing these initiatives, but that isn’t what makes the book interesting.
In fact, one might say that this is actually a fairly boring book – although certainly not because of the level of the research, but rather because these initiatives are all so similar.
Not that this is surprising.
Despite the changes over time, the reality of the two national communities who live next to, and within, each other in Israel and the Palestinian territories has remained more or less constant over all these years, and so has produced similar, almost identical, proposed solutions.
The important efforts over the past ten years, all intended to bring about an overall solution, include: US president Bill Clinton’s initiative in December 2000; the Arab Peace Initiative (based on the Saudi peace plan) in March 2002; US president George W. Bush’s Road Map in June 2002; “The People’s Voice Peace Initiative,” proposed by Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon in July 2002; the Geneva Initiative of October 2003; and the Annapolis Declaration of December 2007, which subsequently served as the basis for the negotiations between then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
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There have also been initiatives dedicated to achieving a limited or short-term resolution, unilateral initiatives such as Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in August 2005, and numerous conflict-management proposals, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Economic Peace” program. But even the most knowledgeable individuals will soon become confused by all the details of all the plans – it’s hard to imagine that there is anyone who could readily point to the differences between the Road Map, “the People’s Voice” and the Geneva Initiatives.
THESE PROGRAMS, PLANS AND initiatives are all similar because, first and foremost, both sides have real red lines.
Regarding the Israeli position, one could ask, for example, if the State of Israel could continue to exist without a security border along the Jordan Valley. The answer is that yes, it could, because there are sophisticated THE JERUSALEM REPORT JULY 18, 2011 19 warning mechanisms and advanced intelligence with which it is possible to guard the Jordanian border without maintaining an Israeli military presence along the Jordan river.
The State of Israel can also exist without settlements in the West Bank and even without East Jerusalem. The Jewish State existed for nearly 20 years within the 1967 borders and some Israeli administrations have, indeed, been willing to cede most of the settlements and East Jerusalem.
Israel’s true red line is the right of return: the State of Israel cannot continue to exist if it allows hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions, of Palestinians to choose to return to their homes and lands within the borders of the state. The return of the refugees would destroy the State of Israel. That is almost universally agreed upon by all Israelis.
The Palestinians understand this – but it’s not clear that they are willing to accept it. In mid-June, I participated in a conference of Israeli and Palestinian journalists. Former Israeli cabinet minister Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords and the Geneva Initiative, told the participants that he has conducted dozens of meetings and discussions with senior Palestinian official Nabil Sha’ath.
During one of these meetings, Sha’ath told him that he understands that Israel opposes the return of the refugees because the Jews would then lose the clear majority that they have in Israel and their rule would be destabilized.
“True,” answered Beilin.
And then Sha’ath, as if thinking out loud, asked, “And what percentage are the Jews in the United States? Twenty percent?” “No way,” answered Beilin. “Perhaps 10 percent,” Sha’ath continued. Beilin was quick to disabuse him of his misconception. “Jews make up less than one and a half percent of the population of the US. That’s all,” Beilin said.
Sha’ath, who probably already knew this, then said, “Look at the strength of the Jews in America, even though they make up only one and a half percent of the population. So why are you afraid that you will lose your strength in the State of Israel, in which you compose more than 80% of the population?” But Sha’ath’s musings don’t change the fact that, given the current political circumstances, an influx of refugees would put an end to the Jewish character of the State of Israel.
IN THIS CONTEXT, WE COULD also ask, what are the Palestinians’ true red lines? The answer is even more simple, since, for the past 20 years, ever since the Madrid Conference in 1991, Palestinian spokesmen have repeated the same answers again and again. From their point of view, they have already given up 78 percent of Palestine (referring to the Land of Israel according to the British Mandate) and they are willing to establish their independent state in the remaining 22 percent, that is, in the West Bank and Gaza, with their capital in East Jerusalem.
At one point during the July 2000 Camp David summit with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat and moderated by Bill Clinton, the Americans offered various compromise proposals with regard to control over the Temple Mount. One of these proposed that the Jews would have access to the area known as Solomon’s Stables, which is located under the areas of the mosques. That is, the Jews could pray under the Temple Mount, while all of the area of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque would be controlled by the Palestinians (the Muslims.) According to one of the Palestinian representatives, Arafat suggested that Clinton call any Arab leader that he wished. “If even one of them agrees to this, then I will be the second leader to agree,” Arafat said. We now know that Clinton called President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and asked him for his opinion.
Mubarak replied: not a chance. No Muslim could agree to a Jewish presence on the Haram al-Sharif, (the Muslim term for the Temple Mount), not even in the basements of the mosques.”
Indeed, the Temple Mount area is not a red line solely for the Palestinians. Jerusalem is known as the “first kiblah” (the direction of the first prayer in Islam is towards Jerusalem) and the “third mosque” (after Mecca and Medina.) It is sacred to more than a billion Islamic believers throughout the world.
According to Muslim thinking, Al-Aqsa does not belong to the Palestinians, or even to the 350 million Arabs; it belongs to all the Muslims in the world and the Palestinians have no right to give away something that does not belong to them.
THE PALESTINIAN AND ISRAELI red lines are well-known to everyone who deals with the conflict and anyone who has tried to propose any kind of compromise. As a result, the evolving agreement between the two sides is very simple: Each side has to stand by its own red line and give up or compromise on everything else.
The Palestinians have to give up on the right of return; and the State of Israel has to give up on East Jerusalem and return to the 1967 borders.
This is the only possible deal – and this is why all of the plans and initiatives and programs are so similar.
Of course, at the same time, there are some differences in emphasis with regard to the central issues – security, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements – and there is some consideration of the new circumstances that have evolved in Gaza and the West Bank over the past few years.
These circumstances include the halfmillion Jews who now live in the territories conquered by the IDF in the Six Day War.
More than 300,000 Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, and close to 200,000 Jews live in Jewish neighborhoods that were established in East Jerusalem – which is, as we have noticed, a Palestinian red line.
But is it really? Out of all of the plans and initiatives, it would appear that those conducted by Olmert and Abbas based on the Annapolis Plan brought us closest to resolution.
Olmert contends, and rightly so, that it is possible to compromise over leaving the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem under Israeli control – and it will also be possible to evacuate settlements and settlers.
The question is – to what extent.
According to Olmert’s idea, the settlers in the majority of the settlements that would be evacuated from the West Bank (some 70,000) would not have to return to within the borders of the State of Israel. They would live within the blocs of Jewish settlements that would remain in the West Bank. For example: the settlers from the Hebron Hills and Kiryat Arba would move to the Etzion Bloc.
But unfortunately, Olmert and Abbas were not able to reach an agreement. Like all the other dozens of plans and programs and initiatives, they, too, failed.
In examining the various plans, it would appear that both sides are fairly well aware of the parameters of an agreement – retreat to the 1967 borders in exchange for forgoing the right of return – but this requires both the will and the power to make this happen. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are capable of this.
The failures of all these programs have built up walls of enmity and lack of trust. And so, this new research published by the Peres Center for Peace is one of the most pessimistic documents to have been published in the past few years.
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