(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
One sometimes wonders what planet diplomats and journalists live on. Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy czar, for instance, recently told European parliamentarians that (in Haaretz's paraphrase) "the most worrisome aspect of the peace process is Israel's lack of interest in discussing borders with the Palestinians." US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants Israel to negotiate a final-status agreement with the Palestinian Authority now, albeit with delayed implementation, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni enthusiastically backs this idea. A New York Times editorial last week described new Quartet envoy Tony Blair's chief mission as "restoring [Palestinians'] belief in a livable future in a viable Palestinian state," chiefly by restarting final-status negotiations.
What none of these learned experts appear to have grasped is that Israel cannot seriously negotiate final-status issues without knowing whether a Palestinian state will be serious about fighting terror, because that will determine how much Israel can safely concede.
Given the PA's current record, for instance, no Israeli government would allow a Palestinian state within rocket range of Ben-Gurion Airport or major cities such as Tel Aviv, meaning that Israel would have to keep territory even beyond the current route of the security fence. If the Palestinians were serious about fighting terror, however, withdrawing to on or near the Green Line would be much less problematic.
Similarly, no government could allow its capital city, the seat of government, to be under constant fire, as Sderot is from Gaza. Thus absent solid evidence that the Palestinians will crack down on terror - which no Palestinian government over the past 14 years has provided - major concessions in Jerusalem are also impossible.
Nor could any responsible government allow the West Bank to become the armed fortress that Gaza has since the disengagement, when the PA took over the border with Egypt, under EU supervision. Absent evidence that a Palestinian state would take counterterrorism seriously, Israel would therefore have to retain control of the Palestinian-Jordanian border. A PA crackdown on terror, in contrast, would enable this border to be transferred to Palestinian control.
WHAT RICE and Solana are effectively proposing is "negotiate a final-status agreement as if a Palestinian state could be trusted to fight terror, but condition implementation on PA performance." This approach, however, has two problems.
First, until Israelis are convinced of Palestinian willingness and ability to fight terror, any prime minister who acceded to Palestinian demands on these issues would be committing political suicide. That is precisely why Ehud Olmert, a politician par excellence, rejected Rice's idea.
The bigger problem, however, is the international community's track record on Palestinian compliance. To understand why, a brief review of the Oslo process is in order.
In September 1993, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles; Arafat promised to eschew violence. In May 1994 came the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, under which Israel withdrew from Jericho and most of Gaza; Arafat again promised to eschew violence. September 1995 brought the Interim Agreement (Oslo-2), under which Israel left six West Bank cities; Arafat pledged yet again to eschew violence.
Thus by spring of 1996, Israel had carried out its major treaty obligation: territorial withdrawals. Rabin also froze settlement construction (the only Israeli premier ever to do so) as a goodwill gesture, even though no agreement required this.
During those same two and a half years, however, Palestinian terror killed more Israelis than during the entire preceding decade. Thus Arafat had blatantly violated his major treaty obligation.
ONE WOULD therefore have expected the world to pressure Arafat to honor his commitments, while exempting Israel from further concessions until he did so. Instead, it pressured Israel into additional concessions: first the Hebron Agreement in January 1997, under which Israel withdrew from most of Hebron; then the Wye Agreement in October 1998 (never implemented), which required Israel to quit another 13 percent of the territories. In exchange, Israel received nothing but more empty promises on terror.
Then came the Camp David summit and the subsequent outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000. Over the next four years, Palestinian terror killed more Israelis than during the previous 53 years. Yet once again (with the occasional exception of George Bush), the world did not respond by pressuring the Palestinians to uphold their five signed pledges to eschew violence; instead, it demanded more Israeli concessions, arguing - as Rice, Solana and the Times do - that the PA cannot be expected to honor its commitments unless Israel first "strengthens" it through such concessions.
Moreover, no Israeli concessions are ever deemed enough. Israel's offers at the Camp David, Washington and Taba talks in 2000-2001, for instance - a Palestinian state on some 97 percent of the territories, including most of east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount - were not considered a sufficient "political horizon" to justify demanding Palestinian action on terror. The disengagement, in which Israel demonstrated its willingness to uproot settlements for peace by destroying 21 communities in Gaza and four in the West Bank, was also not considered sufficient to mandate Palestinian action on terror.
What this track record proves is that if Israel signed a final-status agreement and the Palestinians still failed to deliver on terror, it would nevertheless come under tremendous international pressure to keep its side of the bargain, just as has happened with every previous agreement since 1993. Either the international community would whitewash PA behavior and declare the Palestinians in compliance when they were not, as it did from 1993 to 2000, or it would argue, as it has since, that Israel must "strengthen" the PA by starting to implement the agreement - i.e. making concrete territorial and security concessions - before the PA can be expected to do its part.
Any agreement signed without prior proof of Palestinian willingness and ability to fight terror would thus almost certainly end up forcing Israeli withdrawals that would leave Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport as vulnerable to terrorist fire as Sderot is. No responsible prime minister would risk putting Israel into such a situation. And Livni's eagerness to do so merely proves how unfit she is for that post.