Encountering Peace: Debunking myths

“The status quo on the Temple Mount has not changed and Israel is not changing it.”

Ehud Barak
During periods of acute violence in our conflict the Internet becomes a war room sometimes just a vicious and frightening as the streets outside.
People take the liberty to say the most outrageous and sometimes hateful things. It is also common during these times for people to pull out their common “knowledge” and throw it into the fire of the debate as absolute truth.
All too often these statements of “truth” have become the accepted version of history, but the problem is that many of them are simply wrong. Here are some examples: “In 1993 Israel signed a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but we have no peace.”
It’s definitely true that we don’t have peace, but Israel and the Palestinians have never signed a peace agreement.
The Oslo agreements were not peace agreements because they never dealt with the core issues in conflict, in fact they avoided dealing with them.
“Israel has offered the Palestinians everything but they have turned down every offer and walked away.”
Those making this statement go on to say that at Camp David prime minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat the whole shop, but Arafat was not interested in making peace. Arafat refused to give up the right of return and was not interested in a Palestinian state.
The truth is that at Camp David Barak offered Arafat 89 percent of the West Bank with full Israeli control of Palestine’s external borders – the Palestinians called it a sovereign cage. Barak’s proposal included two east-west corridors under full Israeli control, cutting the West Bank into three cantons. Barak did not offer the Palestinians a capital in east Jerusalem, but in Abu Dis, which is outside of Jerusalem, and perhaps some control of the outlying Palestinian neighborhoods. Israel would continue to control all of the main Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and the Old City. Barak demanded a place for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, which is what led directly to the failure of Camp David. On the issue of refugees, a total of six hours of talks took place in two weeks, during which time Arafat said that there had to be a solution for the refugees and that he could not give up the right of return on behalf of the refugees.
This was the essence of Barak’s “take it or leave it proposal.”
There isn’t a Palestinian alive who could accept it.
Six months later, in Taba, in January 2001, after president Clinton presented his parameters for peace, the Israeli negotiating position changed, and the Israeli team offered the Palestinian 96% of the West Bank, without the Israeli control of external borders and without the east-west corridors, Palestinian sovereignty in all of the Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and a package of possibilities for the refugees with the emphasis placed on right of return to the Palestinian state. Taba ended prematurely because Israel was less than two weeks from elections in which Ariel Sharon won a landslide victory since the intifada was already going strong, and Barak called the team home before negotiations ended.
No final offer was made, and nothing was turned down.
In 2007-2008 prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held 42 meetings. The Olmert offer to Abbas was: Territories based on 1967 borders with 6.3% of West Bank annexed to Israel and Israel would swap territories with Palestinians on one-to-one basis. There would be a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. All Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would be under Israeli sovereignty and all Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty .There would be two capitals in Jerusalem.
The Holy Basin, Temple Mount, Western Wall and mosques would have no sovereign, but a multi-national body composed of Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and the US would be a kind of guardian of the Holy Places to protect all religions.
On the issue of refugees Olmert’s offer referred to the framework of Arab peace initiative and offered that Israel would during five years a certain number of refugees on an individual humanitarian basis would be allowed to return to Israel. The Palestinians would waive all further claims and accept an end of the conflict.
Abbas’ main objection to Olmert’s offer was the territorial issue; he proposed an Israeli annexation of 1.9% only.
His primary concern was the inclusion of Ariel within the areas annexed by Israel – 26 kilometers into the West Bank. The parties agreed to continue their negotiations but then Olmert got indicted and officially resigned as the head of the Kadima Party. Tzipi Livni was elected to replace him. The US Secretary of State told the Palestinians to wait until Livni became prime minister, as did Livni or her people – but that never happened; Benjamin Netanyahu was elected.
“In 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and gave it all to the Palestinians, not leaving a single settler or soldier there, and return Israel got Hamas and rockets.”
Well, rockets started flying into Israel in 2002, three years before Israel left Gaza, and soldiers and settlers were getting killed on a regular basis in the Strip. After 30 years of settlement building Israel managed to put some 8,000 Israelis there, among more than 1.5 million Palestinians.
Prime minister Sharon, the mastermind of the unilateral disengagement, refused to engage Abbas in any diplomatic process in turning Gaza over to the Palestinians.
Instead Sharon called Abbas names and humiliated him, declaring that he was not a partner. In the failure of diplomacy and negotiations, which was a de-legitimation of moderate Palestinian leaders, Hamas claimed victory for forcing Israel to leave Gaza and then won the elections, clearly a process of empowering extremists at the expense of moderates.
Israel withdrew from Gaza unilaterally without an agreement while destroying major assets (the settlements which were left in rubble) that could have been used to build a decent place to live in Gaza. The occupation of Gaza never ended. Israel left but closed the door, controlled the borders, the airspace, the coastal waters and even the population registry.
“The status quo on the Temple Mount has not changed and Israel is not changing it.”
This is not true. There have been changes, including not only the numbers of Jews visiting the Temple Mount. Because of the extreme sensitivity of this issue I do not wish to expose all of the changes in the status quo. The Temple Mount/Al Aksa is a nuclear reactor which has already overheated, but suffice it to say that claims nothing has changed since 1967 is false.
False are also the Palestinian accusations over alleged Israeli government plans to divide the mosque or to destroy it in order to build the Temple. But when the government of Israel is one of the major funders of the institution in the Jewish Quarter which is preparing for the construction of the Temple, it should not be a surprise that Palestinians don’t believe the Israeli claims.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and in English as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.