barry rubin 88.
(photo credit: )
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is about to be the topic of an international summit and optimism is breaking out all over.
A breakthrough to comprehensive peace, however, is very unlikely. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip; the Palestinian Authority-Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is weak; Fatah is still overwhelmingly radical and has not conducted the internal debate - much less public education effort - necessary for a change of policy.
At the same time, however, a situation breeding persistent crisis and violence won't go away. It is important to try to prevent the conflict from growing worse, including a possible Hamas takeover on the West Bank, or full-scale war. If this is a long-term stalemate it needs to be structured in a way conducive to greater stability. And if it is possible to move even a bit toward building an eventual peace, that is a good thing.
So the immediate question is whether intensive Israel-PA talks and the summit meeting can keep the mess from getting worse, or even help bring some modest improvement.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated: "We must give negotiations a chance. Israel has excellent excuses to justify stagnation in the talks. I don't mean to look for excuses. I'm determined to give a chance to a meaningful diplomatic process."
Or, in other words, even though we have every reason not to negotiate with an unstable regime that cannot meet commitments, we're willing to try in hopes that it could work.
That makes sense, albeit with the reservations expressed below.
Olmert explained, "The current Palestinian leadership is not a terrorist leadership. [Abbas] and Prime Minister Salam Fayad are committed to all the agreements signed with Israel, and I believe that they want to move ahead together with us."
OLMERT CHOSE his words carefully. Abbas and Fayad want peace and would like to keep their agreements. But he would find it hard to add any more names to that list.
Most Fatah leaders do not think that way. And even those who "want" to advance probably cannot and will not do so. They may not personally promote terrorism, but they do little to stop it, even failing to curb the extremism of official PA-controlled media.
Is it worth trying talks? Yes. Aside from showing the world Israel's peaceful intentions, there might be small successes. The level of conflict could be lowered, PA-Fatah preserved, international help obtained, Arab states brought into deeper engagement.
Yet in almost all this discussion, debate, international policymaking, and media coverage there is a missing element. There is lots of talk about what the Palestinians want, and what Israel might or should give, in negotiations. But there is virtually nothing said about what Israel should get for running these risks and making these concessions.
Or, as Bob Dylan put it, "Oh, no, no I've been through this movie before!"
THE PA-FATAH demands are clear: An independent Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem and borders on the 1948-1967-era cease-fire lines. All Palestinian refugees and their descendants must be allowed to live in Israel; all Palestinian prisoners, no matter how many Israeli civilians they deliberately murdered, must be released.
We know all this already. The "return" idea is unacceptable, and this won't change. It is a sign of Palestinian insincerity, since the goal of that demand is to wipe Israel off the map. If Palestinians want a state of their own they should insist the refugees settle there. Prisoners might be released only if it is certain they will not return to terrorism, either because a Palestinian government allowed it or even encouraged them to do so.
ISRAEL IS ready to accept an independent Palestinian state. There is debate about east Jerusalem and the 1967 lines, but a solution could be found. For example, in 2000 Israel's government offered most of east Jerusalem and almost all the West Bank, with territorial swaps to make up for any land annexed by Israel.
But what does the Palestinian side offer Israel? That is very unclear. What does "peace" mean? A full end to the conflict? An energetic will to stop anti-Israel incitement and cross-border terrorism? And what of Hamas?
THE FOLLOWING points are what the Palestinian side must give. None of them are too onerous, especially compared to the rewards they would get:
The conflict would be ended. Over. Finished.
Palestinian refugees would be resettled in Palestine.
The PA-Fatah-PLO would work energetically to bring Arab states into the peace arrangement.
Palestine would block terrorist attacks from its territory on Israel by force, if needed, and stop the systematic incitement of hatred, certainly on the official level, against Israel.
No foreign troops would be permitted on Palestine's territory.
There also has to be serious international recognition, safeguards and guarantees for the risks Israel is taking. Israel is negotiating with people who have no control over much of the territory or people on whose behalf they speak.
Hamas will reject any agreement and do everything possible to wreck it, including killing PA leaders and launching terrorist attacks to force Fatah to guard Israel's borders or throw away the agreement.
Beyond this, if Hamas were to take over the West Bank or any Palestinian state, it would immediately restart the conflict, using Israeli concessions to be more deadly.
And there's more bad news. If Abbas and Fayad made a deal along the above lines - or even better ones for the Palestinians - all the supporters of Hamas and smaller radical groups, plus up to half or more of Fatah itself, would denounce them as traitors and reject the agreement.
Focusing only on what Israel must give and ignoring the other side of the equation is a formula for continuing conflict.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at IDC Herzliya and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal.