Abbas olmert walk 224.88.
(photo credit: GPO)
Even in the era of fast-flowing information that tickles curiosity, the failure of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008 did not arouse public discussion. But as the international diplomatic peace effort revives once again, it is vital to try and understand the reasons for this failure, based on the known facts.
Never had conditions been so conducive to the attainment of a permanent solution between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority as in 2008. The Oslo agreements were defined from the outset as interim, and the blame for the failure of the permanent-status negotiations in 2000 could be put on Yasser Arafat, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who never changed his spots. However, in 2008 negotiations were held between PLO leaders known to be very moderate and an Israeli government known for its readiness to walk an extra mile on the road to peace. Indeed, Hamas took over Gaza in June 2007, but even this did not divert the negotiators from their goal; the decision was to try to reach an agreement between Israel and the PLO and to then shelve it until it was ripe for execution.
Since the failure of these negotiations was not regarded as a public scandal, it did not arouse public discourse or any attempt to deeply explore its reasons; only lately have some disturbing reports surfaced. The Washington Post on May 25 reported that according to PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), prime minister Olmert accepted the principle of the "right of return" for Arab refugees and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. Abbas also said that Olmert offered him 97% of Judea and Samaria (after Israel had already withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). In addition, last week Newsweek reported that Olmert had told them that he proposed that Israel would give up its sovereignty in the "Holy Basin" in Jerusalem and suggested that it be jointly administered by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the PLO, Israel and the United States; this was confirmed by PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Why, then, didn't the moderate PLO leadership embrace such an extreme Israeli offer? The answer given by Abbas to The Washington Post surprised many: "The gaps were wide." However, it is also quite surprising that a full month has elapsed since that interview was published and yet no public discussion has taken place attempting to explore the meaning of that statement and to understand what is left for Israel to do to fill those gaps and contribute to a successful outcome of the negotiations.
THE TRUTH IS, of course, that nothing more can be done on the part of Israel. Unintentionally, Olmert took the veil of moderation off the face of the PLO. When the claim is raised that the PLO would actually suffice itself with a symbolic gesture concerning the thorny refugee issue, its refusal to accept Olmert's proposals proves that the PLO truly intends to apply the "right of return" of refugees to their original homes in Haifa and in Jaffa, in Lod and Beersheba. PLO leader Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) explained lately to Haaretz that "it's not fair to demand that we recognize you [Israel] as the state of the Jewish people because that means... a predetermination of the refugees' future, before the negotiations are over. Our refusal is adamant." To prevent misunderstanding, Mahmoud Abbas, in his Washington Post interview, rejected the possibility that the PLO recognizes Israel as a Jewish state because it would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees.
Although the Arab Peace Initiative includes two articles explicitly dealing with the "right of return," it should be recognized that the resettlement of refugees in Israel is not the goal but the instrument. All signs indicate that the goal is the cancelation of Israel as a sovereign state in Palestine, and that this is the source of the PLO's adamant refusal to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Hence, even Israel's withdrawal to the 1949 armistice demarcation line - even that which runs through Jerusalem - and even its agreement to assume responsibility for the plight of the refugees and resettle thousands of them in Israel, will not bring about the termination of the struggle, but will rather lead to the next chapter of prolonged hostility.
The real dispute does not concern the natural growth of Ariel (in Samaria) but the natural right of the Jewish people to sovereignty in Carmiel (in the Galilee).
THIS IS not a futile theological debate but a practical and vital issue. Its severe significance was proven last year, when in the course of talks PLO negotiators were explicitly asked whether, after an agreement is reached to their satisfaction, they would agree to include in it a specific article stating that this puts an end to the dispute and terminates all further claims. The government did not bring to the public's attention the fact that to this simple question, the PLO leadership ominously answered in the negative.
The necessary conclusion therefore is that the moderate organization for the liberation of Palestine from Jewish sovereignty is not interested in the "two- state solution" but rather in a "two-stage solution." In the first stage, an Arab state is to be established alongside Israel and in the second stage, following the resettlement of refugees within Israel, one Arab state is to be established, stretching from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea.
In an attempt to test this conclusion to the utmost and to refute it, Israeli governments have resorted to all possible political experiments. All excuses have by now been used up. In other words, as a mechanism for establishing permanent peace west of the Jordan River, the "two-state solution" cannot be realized. There will be no end to this dismal hundred-years dispute so long as the position of the Arab leadership in Samaria, Judea and Gaza does not fundamentally change.
The writer is a Likud cabinet minister.