A victory for our side?

Both Palestinian and Israeli leaders contributed to the failure of peace talks in Jordan.

By
January 30, 2012 21:57
PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu

PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu 390. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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The Palestinian and Arab media reports that the Jordanian-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian talks have failed. Palestinian politicians and factions are recommending to the PLO leadership to put an end to what they call a farce. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will ask the Arab League to support the Palestinian decision to suspend the talks until Israel accepts a full settlement building freeze and agrees that negotiations on the borders must be based on the June 4, 1967, lines.

The Palestinian leadership has claimed that although Israel finally did present its starting point for negotiations on a future border, the principles presented by attorney Yitzhak Molcho, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, were a nonstarter from their perspective. Not only did the Molcho principles not come close to the Palestinian position on borders, the Israelis once again refused to put anything in writing.

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The Palestinians have repeatedly presented their positions for negotiations in writing. US President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy at the beginning of his administration, George Mitchell, had received a detailed paper of some 14 pages from the Palestinians on their positions on all permanent status issues. Israel, to this day, has not presented its positions in writing.

The Palestinians understood this problem very well even during the time of the Olmert-Abbas talks, when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert refused to put his far-reaching offers in writing and even refused to allow Abbas to take the map of Olmert’s proposed borders with him back to Ramallah. When Abbas sat with his team of advisors to brief them on Olmert’s proposal, he took a piece of paper from his desk and drew the map that Olmert had proposed.This certainly does not demonstrate a serious intention to negotiate. How can you claim to be serious about negotiating the end of such a conflict when nothing is in writing?

So the Palestinians are fed up with what they perceive to be stalling tactics while Israel continues to unilaterally determine the borders by expanding settlement building throughout the West Bank. At the time of the Madrid Conference 20 years ago, thenprime minister Yitzhak Shamir justified his decision to participate in the process by saying that we would negotiate with the Palestinians for 20 years and move half a million Israelis into Judea and Samaria. That was perhaps the most honest thing an Israeli prime minister has ever said about negotiations with the Palestinians, and Shamir’s vision or plan has been realized.

Shamir understood that by doing so Israel would prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. Apparently, Netanyahu has improved the “Shamir plan,” or has adjusted it for phase two after having completed Shamir’s vision.

Netanyahu’s addition to the plan is to speak openly about creating a Palestinian state next to Israel, without ever really meaning it, while at the same time adding tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of more settlers to the West Bank landscape. The latest addition has been to legalize the unauthorized outposts which Israel was obliged to remove under the road map. But why remove, when we can build more? Netanyahu has already demonstrated that Israel’s ability to muster international support and pressure against the Palestinians is far greater than the Palestinian ability to do the same against Israel.

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Now the name of the game is how to make the world believe that it is the Palestinians who don’t want to negotiate? It’s not so difficult. The Palestinians are playing along so nicely with the Israeli plan. Netanyahu says every day “I want to negotiate with Abbas; it is he who refuses to meet me. I am even ready to travel to Ramallah to meet him and to negotiate with him.”

Today everyone knows the Palestinians are saying no to negotiations. I hear it every day from ministers in the government, from the Prime Minister’s Office and now even from some diplomats representing Israel’s best friends around the world.

Netanyahu says “all of the issues are on the table.”

I had a meeting last week with a Palestinian minister. He told me what was on the table “was a loaf of bread – and as we speak the Israelis are eating the bread slice-by-slice, but saying the loaf belongs to both of us, let’s talk about how to slice it.”

I think that the Palestinians are making a mistake by refusing to sit at the table, even with the very slim chance of reaching an agreement. But as an Israeli, I think that Netanyahu is making an even bigger mistake by refusing to be serious in the negotiations. We are not doing a favor to the Palestinians by agreeing to a two-state solution, we are serving our own interests for not ruling over another people who refuse our rule.

The same Palestinian minister who I met and who is a strong advocate of the two-state solution and a strong believer in Abbas’s ability to reach an agreement with Israel that would put an end to the conflict also said that soon, so little of the “loaf of bread” will be left that we simply will not be able to negotiate about anything. He added “I am willing to take Israeli citizenship and to fight for my equal rights along with my Palestinian brothers and sisters who have been citizens since 1948.” That is becoming the Palestinian position.

Next month there will be a conference at Harvard on the one-state option. More than 300 people have already registered for that meeting. If a similar event were to be organized on the two-state solution, I doubt half that number would show up and that those who did show up would have very much to say.

Personally I have tried over and over again during the past months to impress upon Netanyahu to urgency of the need to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians. I have received clear messages that there is no intention during 2012 to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. I am honestly coming to the conclusion that after 2012, the terms of reference for any future agreements with the Palestinians will no longer be partition and two states. It looks like the “one staters” on both sides are going to succeed. I cannot understand how we can consider this a success or how any Zionist can call this defeat of the Palestinian state a victory for our side.

The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the host of All for Peace Radio.

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