(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
It was less than a half-hour drive from my home in Ma’aleh Adumim, but it was like entering another country. Which is essence, Jericho is.
Along with a contingent of Jerusalem Post editors and reporters, I was in the Palestinian city to meet with PA strongman Jibril Rajoub, who has been part of the Israeli-Palestinian landscape since the beginning of the Oslo Accords over two decades ago.
Despite his past terrorist activities and his reputation as somewhat of a burly enforcer, Rajoub has emerged over the years as someone willing and eager to engage Israelis and as a moderate voice on the Palestinian side.
Gracious, hospitable and displaying fluency in English and Hebrew, Rajoub eloquently explained the Palestinian view of the current stalemate between the governments of Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, and the prospects of improvements in the Trump era.
Amid the expected Palestinians-as-occupied- victims rhetoric, Rajoub provided some fresh perspectives in pointing out how he was encouraged by the groundswell of “rational Israelis” and “rational Palestinians” who realize the imperative of forging a two-state solution.
Outside of the tent he implicated the “Baruch Marzels and the Netanyahus” on our side and, supposedly, Palestinians who attack innocent Israelis on their side, even though he never actually said who the irrational Palestinians are. He also spoke of both sides having to make “painful concessions” before a lasting solution could be achieved. Among the Post staff, there was admittedly an air of deference to him, as a senior PA official and as someone who was seen as a potential successor to Abbas.
After his nearly one-hour monologue, Rajoub opened up the floor for questions.
When my turn came, I asked him to expand on his “painful concessions” statement. Identifying myself as a resident of nearby Ma’aleh Adumim, I pointed out that the common wisdom through the years of negotiations and setbacks is that all sides – Israelis, Palestinians, Americans – realized that the large settlement blocs like Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel would remain part of Israel in a two-state solution.
I asked him if the painful concessions he mentioned included recognizing that likelihood as part of a land adjustment of the pre-1967 war lines.
Rajoub answered by raising his voice and saying absolutely not, all settlements were “a malignant cancer.” Whose fault is it that they exist, he demanded to know, adding that it was Israel’s problem to solve, not his.
At the risk of increasing his wrath, I interrupted Rajoub during his tirade. “If that’s your position, then you’re losing the rational Israeli,” I retorted, explaining that if he and the Palestinian leadership couldn’t differentiate between small, isolated settlements in the heart of the West Bank and the big blocs – then the chance of reaching any kind of accord is simply zero.
That just upset him even more, leading to another soliloquy about whether his relatives would be allowed to go back to Acre and Haifa.
I was tempted to paraphrase from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and say “I have to go now, Jibril, because I’m due back on the planet Earth.” Instead, I simply said, “You’re talking about aspirations, I’m talking about reality.”
So, while you’re very clear on what the painful concessions are on the Israeli side, remind me exactly what are the painful Palestinian concessions you’re referring to, I asked.
Rajoub answered that they included establishing a Palestinian state on only 22% of historic Palestine, giving up any future claims on land and normalizing ties with Israel.
The exchange soon reached to its conclusion and the rest of the Q&A session reverted to less contentious repartee. At the end, Rajoub shook everyone’s hand – including the settler’s – and offered a Passover greeting in Hebrew.
The happy ending didn’t leave me feeling encouraged, though. It’s admittedly unreasonable to expect Rajoub, or any Palestinian leader, to acknowledge that the PA is willing to leave the settlement blocs in place. It’s part of their negotiating strategy. But if that’s the case, why not say in public that issues like that will be discussed around the table with the Israelis? If it is indeed common knowledge among those in the know that the settlement blocs are a given in a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, then Rajoub must have not received the memo.
Given the opportunity to break away from the Palestinian intransigence of the past and acknowledge the inevitability of facts on the ground – just as the Israeli public has acknowledged the inevitability of a Palestinian state – Rajoub retreated to the tired and standard slogans of the past. What’s a rational Israeli to think?