Encountering Peace: The leader and the leaderless

What Palestinian Authority chairman had to say to the people of Israel in his interview on Channel 2 on Friday night, I heard months ago in private meetings with him, following which I wrote detailed reports and analysis for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2
(photo credit: Screenshot)
What Palestinian Authority chairman had to say to the people of Israel in his interview on Channel 2 on Friday night, I heard months ago in private meetings with him, following which I wrote detailed reports and analysis for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Just to recap his main points for any who may have missed the interview:
1. As long as he is chairman of the PA, there will be no third intifada and no return to violence.
2. The Palestinians recognize Israel in the 1967 borders, but he also said that he has agreed to territorial swaps that will modify the borders between the two states.
3. Palestine is the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, for now and forever.
4. He has no intention of returning to his birthplace, Safed, more than hinting that Palestinians who want to return to Palestine should come to the Palestinian state.
5. He and former prime minister Ehud Olmert made great progress. If he were to return to negotiations, a full comprehensive agreement can be reached. The gaps with Olmert were mainly on the territorial question – the delineation of the border (the 1967 issue) and not on the 1948 issues – recognition, Jerusalem and refugees.
Now I will add some of the things Abbas told me in private, and that I passed on to Netanyahu.
He is prepared to return to negotiations without preconditions, if Netanyahu was serious about reaching an agreement. Abbas was prepared to meet Netanyahu in public if Netanyahu agreed to fulfill a promise that was made in the past and not implemented – releasing some 123 Palestinian prisoners arrested prior to Oslo in 1993.
In a probing discussion with him on the issue of Israel’s security needs, Abbas said that the Palestinians under his leadership fully understood Israel’s security concerns. He said that he was willing to accept every single reasonable security demand that Israel made, include a non-militarized state and an extended Israeli security presence along the Jordan.
He said that together Israel, Palestine and Jordan were all interested in fighting terrorism and had no interest in allowing radical elements to penetrate into the West Bank. He explained that he would never allow anyone to produce rockets in, or fire them from, the West Bank, understanding the strategic threat that would pose to Israel and therefore also to the Palestinians.
I asked him what he would do if someone in the West Bank kidnapped an Israeli soldier. He told me, without, hesitating, “I would find them and I would kill them!” It is essential to tell the people of Israel what he said about going to the United Nations. He admitted that the Palestinian state can only be created through negotiations with Israel and not by a decision of the United Nations. He knows that a General Assembly resolution will not change the reality on the ground.
But he said Netanyahu was not willing to negotiate on a basis any Palestinian leader could accept. He said there would not be another Palestinian leader in the future with whom it will be easier to reach an agreement.
Looking at the developments on the ground, the increasing power of the settlers within Israeli politics and the continuous movement of the Israeli public to the Right, he said we must do something to preserve the two-state solution, because “there is no other solution to this conflict.”
President Abbas said that a UN decision to accept Palestine as a non-member state would not be a decision against Israel, that it would not delegitimize Israel; quite the opposite.
“We do not seek to delegitimize Israel; we only want to delegitimize the occupation of 1967,” he said.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations gave birth to two states in Palestine/Eretz Yisrael – a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Palestinian declaration of independence even makes mention of this explicitly.
Israel was born in 1948. The Palestinians and the Arabs states made a historic mistake and fought against the birth of Israel and in doing so, essentially fought against the birth of the Arab state – Palestine. Going to the United Nation sometime around November 29, 2012, is aimed at correcting that historic mistake and laying the foundations for the two-state solution.
Abbas has said that he is willing to return to negotiations immediately after the United Nations decision.
The issue of Palestinian statehood is against Israel; Netanyahu says that he supports the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel. What must be negotiated is the border, the future of Jerusalem, the refugee issue, the security arrangements, water and economic relations.
The United Nations decision this month will not determine the outcome of negotiations, but it may help to put us back on course toward negotiating a genuine two-states solution.
Abbas contends that going to the United Nations is not a unilateral step in contradiction to the Oslo agreements.
Let us remember that the Oslo agreements were based on a five-year interim period meant to end in 2000 – 12 years ago. Oslo was not a permanent status agreement, nor was it a peace agreement. It was an agreement on a process and that process died years ago as a result of substantive breaches of both sides.
Israel crying “unilateralism” cannot be taken seriously by anyone who has eyes in their head. The Israeli-Palestinian relationship is much more based on unilateralism than on any kind of joint decision making or negotiation.
Both sides can easily find just cause not to negotiate and not to resolve the conflict.
The only problem with that idea (which is essentially the status quo that we have been locked into) is that it is completely and totally against the national security interests of both sides. It is utterly insane on the part of both sides that they do not negotiate an end to this conflict.
To resolve this conflict we need real leadership. Abbas has once again demonstrated his leadership and his courage. Netanyahu, by not responding seriously to Abbas, has once again proven his lack of leadership.Gershon Baskin is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.