Time to talk, seriously

ehud olmert 88 (photo credit: )
ehud olmert 88
(photo credit: )
The "Yesha" Settlement Council and Yossi Beilin, King Abdullah of Jordan and Bibi Netanyahu together make an unlikely alliance. Yet they all vehemently oppose Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "realignment" plan, each one for different reasons. The plan is proving to be a hard sell, internally, regionally and with our allies and friends abroad. Even within our government, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and his Labor ministers have their doubts. They want to see meaningful negotiations with the president of the PA before realignment is considered as a realistic option. Some Labor ministers express their doubts about the prime minister's sincerity regarding negotiations. "Sure, Olmert will have talks with Abu Mazen," one of the Labor stalwarts told me a few days ago. "But those talks won't lead anywhere because we have no interest in their successful consummation. We can then turn to our friends in the US and Europe and say, 'You see, we tried, unsuccessfully; we now have no choice but to go to realignment.'" We will be having make-believe negotiations, nothing more. The prevailing mood, of course, is that we have no one to negotiate with, no partners for peace. I can almost hear the readers of these words say to themselves, "With whom should we negotiate, the Hamas terrorists who don't even recognize our right to exist?" And, in truth, those readers have a very strong point. Yet the picture is not so simple. The Hamas government is shunned the world over because of its refusal to accept the three international demands: recognition of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and disbandment of terror organizations. Its leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to govern. They will, in all probability, have to compromise with Mahmoud Abbas after his recent show of strength. They will very likely agree to the PA president negotiating with Israel. Any agreement with Israel would then be brought to a referendum whose results would be accepted by them. If that happens, we will have no excuse not to negotiate. Abbas has repeatedly said that he wants to sit down with us and negotiate a settlement. We cannot, of course, accept the impossible terms of the Prisoners' Document that would probably be the opening demands of the Palestinians. But in any negotiations the opening gambits are extreme and the whole idea is to find a compromise between the opening stands of the two sides. That was how we made peace with Egypt and with Jordan. It will be a thousand times more difficult with the Palestinians, but the alternatives are worse. The final results of a successful negotiation would in all likelihood be somewhere between the Clinton formula and the Geneva Accord. The majority of Israelis, and I expect also of Palestinians, would accept such a solution. It would on no account include the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees, but it would provide creative ideas for their compensation. WE HAVE three options today: the maintenance of the status quo with a continued political stalemate, realignment, or a sincere effort to reach agreement with the Palestinians through negotiations. The status quo is a non-starter because there is no way it could remain for any length of time without deteriorating into a new and more vicious intifada with no solution in sight except more violence, more hatred. Unilateral realignment is not much better. It would undermine the Palestinian moderates and strengthen Hamas. It could be the death knell of a two-state solution. It would engender instability in the region, thwart attempts to reach a settlement, and sink our relations with Jordan and Egypt to an all time low. It would not win the approval of the international community, and it would not gain international recognition of our new borders. Only an agreement with the Palestinians can grant us legitimacy for a permanent border. With both the Right and the Left opposed, it might not even have a majority in the Knesset. That leaves us with negotiations. If the obstacles to reaching an agreement prove to be too great, and that may be the case, then we should, at the very least, coordinate to a maximum degree with the PA president our withdrawal from settlements in Judea and Samaria. It should not be unilateral move, but a negotiated initiative with a quid pro quo attached to it. All these scenarios are, of course, dependent on one essential condition; that violence is kept in check, and that prospect is bleak with Kassams continuing to rain down on Sderot. The massive shelling by our artillery did not stop the Kassams, and the re-occupation of Gaza is not in the cards. Maybe, just maybe, a decision to start negotiations would do the trick. That is one more reason to go to meaningful negotiations. If Hamas accepts the principle of Mahmoud Abbas negotiating then we should not waste time. The international community demands it, the majority of Israelis would welcome it, the prime minister has promised it. So let's do it! The writer is a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry