The wrong path

Israel's distinguished visitors understand that Palestinians must be prepared for painful concessions.

rice looks mad 88 (photo credit: )
rice looks mad 88
(photo credit: )
An international "Who's Who" - including former US president Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, members of Congress, a US Supreme Court justice, a host of star pundits, big name diplomats and first-class entrepreneurs - are all in Israel for events marking the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and an Israeli-American dialogue sponsored by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Their presence, and particularly the arrival of Rice for a day of meetings today with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, also happens to coincide with the first anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat. Compared to the terror-fostering former PLO chief, his comrade-in-arms is sometimes a breath of fresh air, at least rhetorically. And yet Abbas has tied his own legitimacy - and the Palestinian negotiating strategy - to Arafat, thus perpetuating the deadlock that Arafat wrought. While the PA no longer provides direct encouragement for terrorist attacks, it refuses to crack down on those who do. Abbas's lethargy, or fear, forces Israel into unilateral actions such as targeted killings of terrorist operatives. And what are we to make of how the Palestinian polity is being prepared for coexistence with Israel in the post Arafat-era? Here is Abbas speaking in Ramallah, on Friday, in memory of Arafat: "I renew my commitment to continuing the road [Arafat] began and for which he made a lot of sacrifices, until the Palestinian flag flies from the walls, minarets and churches of Jerusalem... "We must continue the march together in keeping with the principles for which [Arafat] became a martyr..." The PA's foreign minister, Nasser al-Kidwa, describes Arafat's "heritage" as "stronger than ever." If so, that's bad news for peace. Now imagine for a moment had Abbas said something truly revolutionary in Ramallah: "But the Jewish people also claim Jerusalem as their historical and indivisible capital. We shall have to find a compromise that respects both sets of claims - not just on Jerusalem, but on borders, on a solution to the refugee issue and a range of other contentious issues." Regrettably, neither Abbas nor any of those close to him have yet to prepare the Palestinian public for the idea of genuine compromise. Of all the ideas Abbas could have raised on Friday, it is disheartening he chose to hammer away at the usual non-starters: Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 "borders" including Jerusalem's holy places, and the demand for the "return" of the "refugees." The Palestinian news agency distributed an Al-Quds editorial making clear how Israel "should understand" Abbas's remarks: "Our people... cannot accept less than establishing an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital on all lands occupied in 1967 as a solution to the Palestinian cause, with a cling [sic] to the rights of the Palestinian refugee." Such intransigence coupled with a self-defeating refusal to stop the violence is indeed embracing Arafat's "legacy." But it is not the way toward peace. When Abbas met on Saturday with a delegation from the Saban Center, the PA spin emphasized a "peaceful negotiated solution based on two states living side by side in peace and security." Yet what Israel's distinguished visitors understand, what the Palestinian side must come to understand, and what Rice ought to make clear to Abbas in her meeting in Ramallah today, is that for progress to be made the Palestinian people must be prepared for their own set of painful concessions. Whether you are newly elected Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz championing the Oslo path or Ariel Sharon demanding that the PA live up to the road map before further progress can be made - there is an Israeli consensus: No return to the 1949 Armistice lines - Abbas's so-called 1967 "borders." No "return" of the 1948 Arab refugees and their descendants (the demographic destruction of the Jewish state). No Israeli government will halt construction of the security barrier. And no Israeli prime minister - no matter how accommodating - will sit on his hands as scores of Israelis are slaughtered in cafes, buses, and markets. His predecessor's policies brought despair and the relentless shedding of innocent blood. If he is to lead the Palestinians along the path to a better future, Arafat's are the last "principles" Abbas should be seeking to emulate.