(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the chief of his negotiating team, Ahmed Qurei, say the size of the state they want is 6,205 square kilometers. This area includes the West Bank, Gaza Strip, parts of Jerusalem and even small areas of no-man's-land along the Green Line.
While many may assume that there is nothing new in this position, since the Palestinians have always demanded a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 cease-fire lines, it is the first time a number has been attached to the demand. The effect of the number is to imply that they would accept a land swap that meets the principle of a 100 percent Israeli withdrawal.
When asked by The Associated Press whether Israel might agree to this, Qurei said, "Why not?... I know the spirit is good, from what [Abbas] told me about his meetings with [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert. I think it's OK."
Not so fast. The first thing that must be said is that for the US and Israel to even enter such discussions distorts the road map almost beyond recognition, since the main principle of that document - which was accepted by both parties and the entire international community - was that final status negotiations would follow the cessation of terrorism. So there is the risk once again of repeating one of the cardinal mistakes of Oslo, namely to prove that agreements don't matter, because in the end both the US and Israel will ignore flagrant Palestinian failure to implement.
But set this aside for the moment, and give credence to the tenuous claim that this process does not veer off the road map because it will not produce a full-blown agreement, let alone the implementation of one, which will still go by the road map sequence.
Though Palestinian negotiators would like to assume that 100 percent of the territory is a natural starting point, with the only discussion being which 6,205 sq. km., agreeing to this basis would also be a major Israeli concession.
The history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the Arab side repeatedly rejecting partition of the land between Jewish and Arab states. Such plans were put forward, including offers made by Israel, in 1937, 1947, 1967 and 2000. Palestinian attacks against Jews followed their rejection of each opportunity, and each subsequent time the area offered for the creation of a Palestinian state was reduced.
This pattern is appropriate, since aggression should be punished, not rewarded. It did, and does, for example, make sense that the UN Security Council, in its landmark Resolution 242 at the end of the Six Day War, did not require Israel to return to the unstable 1949 armistice lines, but rather to "secure and recognized boundaries." This phrase was necessary because there was no logic in returning to the insecure lines that had invited the barely-averted Arab attempt to destroy Israel.
Indeed, the Arab and international assumption that Israel would never return to such borders became the bedrock of the peace process, since it was assumed that the Arab world, having become convinced of Israel's indestructibility, would finally accept partition of the land.
Accordingly, in his April 14, 2004, press conference with Ariel Sharon, President George W. Bush said: "As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders which should emerge from negotiations between the parties, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."
Israel should not be asked, nor should Israel agree, to any declaration that would render this commitment a dead letter. But there is a broader principle here that also must not be lost in the shuffle.
We hear from Palestinian leaders what they want, but nothing about what they are willing to give.
This may be understandable as a negotiating tactic. But it is equally understandable for our government to say, in the face of US demands for concessions, that Israel is willing to be flexible, but not to give something for nothing.
The value of concessions from a Palestinian leader who does not control Gaza and cannot or will not eliminate terrorism even in the areas he does control - indeed, even within his own Fatah - is open to question. But it is not even clear that Annapolis will produce the slightest "concession" from Abbas, such as mouthing the words "Jewish state" and not just Israel.