ramat shlomo construction east jerusalem 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Too many, in their naïveté, think that US President Barak Obama’s recent pressure on Israel has left it with only two options – progressing towards peace or continuing construction in Jerusalem. This is a grave mistake. The president’s demands on Israel, precisely from the perspective of promoters of painful compromise, pose a deadly threat to chances of achieving an agreement.
In order to understand where Obama led us, one should bear in mind that we are already in the second decade of the so-called peace process, with results that are very “here and there”: an interim agreement here, a cease-fire agreement there, disengagement, another withdrawal... it’s two steps back for every step forward.
When former prime minister Ehud Barak offered to divide Jerusalem in 1999, he was rewarded with a negative answer from Yasser Arafat. When former president Bill Clinton enhanced the offer and came up with an unprecedented plan, Arafat again said “no,” despite having reportedly been warned by representatives of the Egyptian president and the Saudi Arabian king, before entering the White House, that rejecting the offer would be tantamount to committing a “crime against the Palestinian nation.”
Arafat committed the crime.
In the past three years, negotiations have taken place on two tracks – the first between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas; and the second, the more detailed one, between Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei in 2007. Abbas proceeded to reject Olmert’s generous offer at Annapolis, which included a division of Jerusalem and a symbolic right of return. The Palestinian Authority president demanded a mass right of return.
It was because of this, and not because Olmert was nearing the end of his term, that Abbas rejected the offer. He said this in his own voice. There was no need for commentator analysis.
In the parallel Livni-Qurei track, there was significant progress. The Palestinian side understood that there would be no withdrawal from the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. There were other arguments but there were also interim agreements that shouldn’t be scoffed at.
These agreements, despite not having been consolidated, were of serious value. In any future talks, the negotiators would know exactly what occurred with their predecessors.
This is precisely the reason why Europe, the Palestinians and the US government always demanded a cessation of settlement construction, but never raised the issue in relation to neighborhoods such as Gilo or Ramat Shlomo. Indeed, pursuing evacuation from these neighborhoods is not pursuing peace.
Primary aficionados of the peace process understand that making such a demand on Israel is like demanding the US evacuate Washington for the benefit of, say, Native Americans who may have once dwelt there.
In Ramat Shlomo and in Gilo, in comparison, there was never any Arab settlement.
SO WHAT has the Obama administration essentially done? It has persuaded the Palestinians to make demands they had already abandoned. If Obama demands Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, who are the Palestinians to take Binyamin Netanyahu’s side?
There are not many secrets relating to the basic parameters of a peace agreement. They can be found in the Clinton Parameters, or even in the Geneva Accords, which never received the two sides’ formal welcome.
Olmert reached the red line of the Israeli side’s capabilities with what he was offering during the Annapolis process. He even crossed that line when he agreed to a symbolic right of return. Supporters of the Geneva Accords – Yossi Beilin, the Israeli Left, and certainly Tzipi Livni – never called for that kind of concession. In fact, this is also true of the moderate Palestinians, who supported the Accords, and agreed to Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish neighborhoods of greater Jerusalem.
Until Obama came along, that is. To clarify, the president does not
stand with the peace camp on the Israeli and Palestinian sides. Quite
the opposite. In light of his recent behavior, it seems he stands with
the side of the Palestinian refuseniks. There is a role to be played in
pressuring Israel. Pressure is, after all, part of the game. But this
time, we’re not just talking about pressure, we’re talking about
bolstering Palestinian intransigence.
The big question now is:
Will Obama admit his mistake, or will he insist on a demand that will
strengthen the refusenik wing on the Palestinian side?
If the Obama administration wants to move forward on an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, it should go with the first option.The writer is a regular columnist at Maariv.