Encountering peace: In the land of miracles, let's get real

Encountering peace In t

Now that the NY Summit has come and gone, Netanyahu made his speech to the world, Abbas had his opportunity to speak his mind - is there any reasonable person out there who actually thinks a negotiated peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is possible? Yes, President Obama is determined and Senator Mitchell is persistent. Now, while this is the land of miracles, let's get real. While both Israeli and Palestinian public opinion polls continue to show that a clear majority of both peoples want peace, neither side believes there is a partner on the other side. This is part of the historical reality of the Oslo peace process. Objectively speaking, there is no reason why Israelis and Palestinian should trust each other. Both sides systematically breached substantially every single agreement they signed. Israeli society lost its faith in peace and it no longer dreams of driving to have chumus for lunch in Damascus. Israelis do not want to visit Cairo or Amman and do not particularly care if Jordanians or Egyptians come to visit Israel. Israelis no longer believe that giving up territory will bring peace. The general Israeli interpretation of the 'territory for peace' scheme is that we withdrew from areas in the West Bank and created the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat which then attacked us with weapons that we provided for them. In Gaza, which Israel left entirely - withdrawing both settlements and military, we got Kassam rockets in exchange. Whether this reflects what really happened and why is not relevant. This is the way that the overwhelming majority of Israelis understand that reality. PALESTINIANS, ON their side, believed that they would be in control of more than 90% of the West Bank before they even sat down at the table to negotiate final borders, Jerusalem and refugees. They believed that they would experience economic growth. Instead Oslo brought with it a regime of permits, closures and checkpoints that reduced the size of the Palestinian economy with each passing day. They believed that the settlement enterprise on their lands would be ceased and settlements would be withdrawn, instead they saw the settlement population grow more than 100% since they signed the Oslo agreement. They never imagined that 16 years after signing the Oslo agreement the Israeli occupation would be stronger and as repressive as it is. The peace process is of course filled with its myths. One of the most prevailing myths which is reinforced consistently is that Israel has offered the Palestinians everything and that they have rejected all Israeli generosity. The latest version of this centers around the so-called "Olmert offer" to Abbas. In their final meeting before Olmert left office, it was reported that Olmert offered Abbas 100% of the territory (about 6-7% annexed by Israel and equal territorial swaps in exchange), Islamic control over the Temple Mount compound with Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter and even a refugee return of 5,000 under family reunification guidelines - and Abbas rejected all of this stating that the gaps remain too wide. It is quite amazing that the majority of Israelis view Olmert as a person who has a problem (to say the least) telling the truth yet the one issue on which the Israeli public completely believes him is on what he offered Abbas. The truth is that throughout all of the talks with Abbas he refused to have anything written down and there were no formal joint minutes at those meetings. There were, in fact, no detailed and systematic negotiations. In his final meeting with Abbas he described the offer and Abbas had to take notes on what the offer contained. Olmert did produce a map which he gave Abbas to examine for several minutes and then took it back and put it away. When Abbas debriefed his team in Ramallah and was asked about a map, he took out a piece of paper and drew a map from memory. Aside from not being serious in the means of negotiations, substantively the Olmert proposal included continued Israeli control of Palestine's external borders - which alone is a reason for the Palestinians to reject the offer. The Olmert plan also included other non-acceptable substantial concessions on their sovereignty that every liberation movement would reject. NOW NETANYAHU refuses to begin the negotiations from where Olmert concluded. He insists on continuing to build settlements and not to implement Israel's Road Map obligations and demands that the Palestinians come to the table without pre-conditions. There is no way that Abbas can agree to these existing conditions. So what are we left with? An Israeli government which has no intention of negotiating real peace with the Palestinians based on ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. On the bright side, we also have an increasingly successful Palestinian Authority in the West Bank but it has no control and no real strategy for gaining control over Gaza. We also have a Palestinian Prime Minister who designed and who is implementing an intriguing and admirable plan for creating a de facto Palestinian state in the West Bank for the moment and hopefully later in Gaza as well. The Salaam Fayad plan is one of the most positive and optimistic developments of recent times. Israel has always claimed, in words and by historical example, that the Palestinians must build their state through taking responsibility for their own lives. They must build the institutions of the state and they must prove to themselves and to the world that they are worthy of building a state that will not be a burden on the rest of the world. Most importantly, the Palestinian State must not be a failed state, meaning primarily that the civilian-political institutions of the State - the Executive branch - must have full control (a monopoly) over the military forces within the state. That is exactly what Fayad is doing, rather successfully. Since his first day in office Fayad understood (with the full backing of Abbas) the principle that the security of the Palestinian people and the Palestinians state is inextricably linked to the security of Israel. Constructively, Palestinian unilateralism might actually be the best way forward now. A two-year plan for Palestinian statehood supported by Obama and the Quartet with significant aid and assistance successfully demonstrating Palestinian resolve for statehood and peace with its neighbor might be the best way to convince the Israeli public that they must allow the Palestinians to gain freedom from Israeli control. Public opinion in Israel will shift away from the policies supported by the Netanyahu government, because the public will realize, in the face of a real possibility of peace, that every other alternative to ending the occupation is far worse for Israel. The writer is the Co-CEO of IPCRI - the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org)