May 24, 2013
Number 05/13 #05
Today’s Update features some new revelations concerning an old Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal – the Olmert offer of 2008 – as well as the revised Arab League Peace plan, as brought to Washington by the Qatari Foreign Minister early this month.
First is a scoop offering new details on the 2008 Olmert peace proposal to the Palestinians, with details obtained in part from Olmert himself, as written up by Haaretz’s highly-regarded Palestinian affairs reporter Avi Issacharoff and published in The Tower, a new online magazine. The details are even confirmed by Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat – and Olmert makes it clear that, contrary to claims commonly made, it was not the Gaza conflict of December 2008 that led to an end to the negotiations, but that the Palestinian simply got cold feet about reaching an agreement even though the terms were close to everything they could have expected. Issacharoff even managed to obtain the hand-drawn map that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made to show his cabinet colleagues the territorial components of what Olmert proposed – which included extensive land swaps inside Israel in exchange for 6.3% of the West Bank including most large Israeli settlements. For this important piece on what really happened at the moment in 2008 when Israel and the Palestinian were as close to agreeing on a final peace as they have ever been, CLICK HERE.
Next up, former Israeli Ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval analyses the actual significance of the change made to the Arab Peace proposal – specifically the acknowledgement of the possibility of land swaps. He gives some history of Israeli control of the West Bank to suggest why agreeing to “minor” land swaps is not the breakthrough some seem to think but concedes that if the Arab League proposal were re-written as a open-ended peace proposal to be discussed by the parties rather than the take-it-or-leave-it deal it has always been presented as, it might have some benefit. However, he points out that the Palestinian side is continuing to demand a series of one-sided preconditions for talks to resume, and argues that since these are deliberately designed to avoid meaningful negotiations, peace talks currently have no chance. For his argument in full, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh looks in more detail at the Palestinian reaction to the Arab League proposal. He says that while the Palestinian Authority (PA) published a statement, in English only, approving of the Arab League proposal, in fact the PA subsequently took a number of steps backward distancing themselves from it. He further notes that the Arab League is not taken seriously by most of the Middle East, is distrusted by Palestinians, and that among many Palestinians, the Arab League initiative is seen as part of an “American-Zionist conspiracy” to force the Palestinians to accept Israeli “dictates.” For Abu Toameh’s full argument why US Secretary of State Kerry and other would-be peacemakers should not place high hopes on the Arab League proposal as a basis for restarting talks, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Academic Peter Berkowitz urges US Secretary of State Kerry not to try and get a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal now but instead pursue incrementalism.
- Lee Smith argues that Kerry is missing the essentials of what is happening in the Middle East, in his efforts there to date.
- A swatiska flag flies over a Palestinian town. Plus, official Palestinian media calls Israel building inside pre-1967 territory in the Negev a “settlement.”
- A new analysis of a study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks which made headlines earlier this year – one which comes to some very different conclusions to those that originally featured in most coverage.
- Noted analyst Dr. Max Singer argues last year’s Levy report on Israeli West Bank settlements – which found they were legal – should actually be be embraced by those seeking a two-state peace.
- Isi Leibler writes about the scandal engulfing the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which is supposed to handle compensation payments for Holocaust survivors.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Or Avi-Guy discusses life for Gaza teens – with terror training now compulsory, while a “cool” haircut or fashionable clothes will get you arrested and beaten.
- Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz analyses a French legal decision which sheds light on legal controversies over the West Bank.
- Allon Lee’s latest “media week” column.
- For those who did not see it in yesterday’s Australian, Colin Rubenstein discussed the growing Israeli economic role in Asia.
EXCLUSIVE : Olmert: ‘I am still waiting for Abbas to call’ – If This Offer Wasn’t Enough, How Can Anyone Believe The Palestinians Will Ever Say ‘Yes’?
“I am still waiting for a phone call from him,” former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tells TheTower.org in an exclusive interview.
Revealing details never before heard of his talks with Palestinian Authority Chaiman Muhamad Abbas, Olmert is referring to the proposal for a peace agreement that he presented to Abbas in the afternoon hours of Tuesday, September 16, during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
“At the end of the meeting” Olmert recalled this week, “we called Saeb Erekat [chief negotiator for PLO] and to Shalom [Shalom Turjeman, Olmert’s diplomatic adviser]. We asked them to meet the following day, Wednesday, together with map experts, in order to arrive at a final formula for the border between Palestine and Israel.
But on Wednesday, Erekat called Turjeman and said they could not meet to finalize the peace deal because they “had forgotten that Abbas had to go to Amman!” Erekat said they would meet the following week. “I’ve been waiting ever since,” Olmert said with a smile.
The stunning details of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas turning his back on yet another unprecedented offer of peace, statehood and the end of claims between the two sides, call into question the basic willingness of the Palestinian leadership to accept any peace agreement with the Jewish State. This is especially true when no future offer is likely to resemble the one Abbas rebuffed, due to by massive regional upheaval and growing threats to Israel’s security and Western interests,
Partial elements of Olmert’s proposal to Abbas have been published over the years in one form or another, some reports more accurate than others, but almost always through leaks from close confidants or anonymous sources. For the first time, Olmert himself is revealing every detail of the proposal.
The Details Behind the Peace Deal the Palestinians Rebuffed
In the evening hours soon after the conclusion of the dramatic September 16th meeting between Olmert and Abbas, the Palestinian delegation returned to Ramallah. Although it was relatively late, Abbas summoned his closest advisers and the heads of the PLO, who understood the magnitude of the moment, and hurried to his office at the Mukataah, the Palestinian presidential compound.
Less than an hour earlier, Olmert had presented Abbas with the details of his sweeping peace offer and agreement between the two peoples, an unprecedented proposal from Israel’s perspective, the likes of which had never, and likely never will be again, been placed before a Palestinian leader.
Among the historic concessions, Olmert essentially agreed to an unprecedented compromise over the Holy Basin, including the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, proposing that in the context of a permanent peace agreement, a special committee with representatives from five countries – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, the United States, and Israel – would administer the critical area. As his advisors gathered around him, Abbas told them that the Israeli Prime Minister had presented him not only the details of the agreement but also a large map, which laid out the borders of the future Palestinian state.
Abbas silenced those present so that he could concentrate. He wanted to sketch out Olmert’s map from memory. The Israeli Prime Minister had told him that as long as Abu Mazen did not sing his initials to the map and endorse it, Olmert would not hand over a copy. Abu Mazen took a piece of letterhead of the Presidential Office and drew on it the borders of the Palestinian state as he remembered them.
Abbas marked the settlement blocks that Israel would retain: The Ariel bloc, the Jerusalem-Maaleh Adumim bloc (including E1), and Gush Etzion. A total of 6.3% of the West Bank. Then Abbas also drew the territories that Israel proposed to offer in their place: In the area of Afula-Tirat Zvi, in the Lachish area, the area close to Har Adar, and in the Judean desert and the Gaza envelope. Totalling 5.8% of the West Bank. Abu Mazen wrote on the left side of the letterhead the numbers as he incorrectly remembered them (6.8% and 5.5%), and on the back he wrote the rest of the details of the proposal: Safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank via a tunnel, the pentilateral committee to administer the Holy Basin, removing all Israeli presence from the Jordan Valley and the absorption of 5,000 Palestinian refugees, 1,000 each year over five years, inside the Green Line.
Abbas’ hand-drawn map, sketched on the stationery of the Palestinian Authority and obtained by TheTower.org in the course of this investigative report about the clandestine negotiation between Olmert and Abbas. The map was published here yesterday for the first time. The two men met 36 times, mostly in Jerusalem and once in Jericho, and arrived at a formula that was to be the basis for a lasting agreement between the two parties. But in the end, peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians were not signed, despite the far-reaching proposal made by Olmert — a proposal that given the dramatic changes sweeping the region, is unlikely to match in its entirety again. Until this very day, the Palestinian Authority has not responded, rebuffing the historic proposal.
In October 2006, Shalom Turjeman and Yoram Turbovitch — Olmert’s point men on these issues — met in Washington D.C. with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Steven Hadley. There they heard for the first time that the White House was interested in jump-starting the peace process. Until then, there had been strong pessimism in Washington and Jerusalem about the possibility of negotiations. When the Israeli team returned to Jerusalem, they began to lay the groundwork in advance of a meeting between Abbas and Olmert.
“Every time, he would postpone our meeting,” Olmert said of Abbas. “In the end, I got fed up. He tried to push off the meeting that had been set for Saturday night, December 23, 2006, he called me up and said he had to travel to Gaza. I told him, ‘If you have decided to offend me, I can understand that. But why offend my wife? She has been cooking for 24 hours straight in your honor, and what do I tell her now?’ He said, ‘Really? I will not offend your wife. If that is the case, then I will come.’
“I made a point of having Turjeman and Turbovitch go out to receive him at the Bitunya checkpoint. There he found a motorcade waiting for him, including security cars with police lights. When he got to the house in Jerusalem he saw two flags flying over the Prime MInister’s residence: Israel and Palestine. Also inside the house, and on the conference table. I made him feel like an equal partner. I called him “Mr. President.” We spoke about freeing prisoners. He asked for 500-600. I said, ‘Why don’t you ask for more?’ He asked for the taxes owed the PA — 50 million [shekels] I said not a chance. He grumbled about it but then I surprised him and said, ‘you will get 100 million–it’s Palestinian money. The days when you have to ask for what is rightfully yours are over.’ When he left, he told his people, ‘A new era as begun–he wants to talk to us.’”
The first meeting in late 2006 launched a model for talks between the two leaders: Every so often, usually every two week, the two would meet and after some opening remarks and some food, they would go off to the side and speak one-on-one about the issues regarding final status. Olmert described this week in his office in Tel Aviv, almost nostalgically, how Abbas would smoke while they were speaking of peace, and at the end of their conversation, they would call Erekat and Turjeman in to the room so that they would take down the minutes of the meeting.
In November 2007, the Annapolis Conference was convened, meant primarily to create an international umbrella for a process that had begun almost a year before, but it also presented certain difficulties. Abbas appointed Ahmed Q’rei (Abu Allah) as the Palestinian chief negotiator, and Olmert picked Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni to be the chief negotiator for the Israeli side. “He claimed that Abu Allah had a lot of political power, so he needed him,” Olmert says. But someone close to the former prime minister says that Abu Allah’s apointment, like Livni’s, introduced no small degree of political complexity into the negotiations, and as a result, slowed them down.
The talks between the two continued to accelerate. A special committee headed by Gen. Jim Jones, who was then the Administration’s special envoy for security to the middle east, reached understandings with regard to the security arrangements after the creation of a Palestinian state: The Palestinian state would be demilitarized and could not enter into military alliances, Israel would command the electromagnetic and air space, Israel would be responsible for border crossings. In parallel, President George Bush visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority, twice in less than half a year. During those months, Olmert put together the proposal that he would present to Abbas.
But first, he wanted the blessings of the parents–Rice and Bush.
“The final outline of my proposal,” Olmert recalls, “was familiar to Abu Mazen [Abbas] already in May, more or less. On May 3, 2008, I met with Condoleezza Rice in the Prime Minister’s eesidence, and she writes about it in her book. I described for her my talks with Abu Mazen and what the proposed agreement would look like: Borders based on 1967 with land swaps, including the division of Jerusalem into Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, isolating the Holy Basin which would be transferred to the administration of the five states, and a solution to the refugee problem along the lines of the Arab peace initiative.
“I agreed to absorb into Israel up to 5,000 Palestinian refugees over five years. Why 5,000? It may sound kind of strange, but during the talks between Rice and Abu Mazen he said that he needed the settlement of tens of thousands of refugees inside Israel, and that Ehud Barak had been ready to take in 100,000. She told him that he could get the same number of people as could fit inside the Muqataa at any given moment. We estimated that number to be about 5,000. So that’s how I came up with the number. I’m telling you, if Abu Mazen had been ready to sign on an agreement that would require our absorbing 10,000-15,000 over five years, I would have agreed. It was after all about the number of African illegals who were sneaking across the border every year back then. But all of it, of course, on condition that they would sign an agreement for an ‘end of conflict and end of demands,’ so there would no longer be a ‘right of return.’
“She gave him my proposal that he appoint a representative on whom he relied completely who would formulate the peace agreeement. I had already turned to someone like that, someone with international standing. But Abbas said he preferred that the talks be carried out directly with him. She was concerned about the differences in our English–since mine was much more fluent then Abu Mazen’s–but I promised her that I wouldn’t take advantage of it, and she believed me.
“When we talked about the subject of borders, Abbas reiterated that he wanted land swaps of 1.9% only, or the 1967 borders. I told him that the 1967 borders did not include a passage between Gaza and the West Bank, and if they want to make that connection and the necessary adjustments of the map, then it should be done in a smart way.”
People close to Olmert explain that he arrived at his proposal regarding borders only after a painstaking investigation of the conditions on the ground. It would have been impossible, they say, for Israel to retain only the cities in the large settlement blocs without also including the roads leading to them and between them. From there came Olmert’s position on the area known as E-1, connecting municipal Jerusalem with its large bedroom community of Maaleh Adumim, and which has been a part of Israel under every single peace proposal dating back to Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, the legendary General and leader of the Labor Party who initiated peace talks with the Palestinians in the early 1990s, to the informa Geneva Accords of ultra-left peace champion Yossi Beilin, as well as Camp David and Taba under Ehud Barak with the support of President Bill Clinton.
According to Olmert, he explained to Abbas during their talks that Israel could not agree to any solution to the refugee problem according to UN Resolution 194, which in his view had created the Palestinian’s ‘claim of return’ myth. “But I said to him, first we will set up a special fund for compensation to the refugees, second, we will accept the road map, which includes in it the Arab peace initiative which also refers to resolution 194 with respect to a solution for the refugee problem. That way you too can claim that Israel accepted the basis of the Arab peace initiative including Resolution 194.”
“In the last meeting I brought a big map, like the size of this whole table,” recalls Olmert. “With colors for all the regions that go over to us and the reverse. We would receive 6.3%, they would get 5.8%, but they also get a safe passage in a tunnel between Gaza and the West Bank that was the equivalent in territory of the remaining half percent. Territories that were considered no-man’s-land before 1967 would be divided 50-50. Ariel would stay with us, and a network of tunnels would go under the Trans Samaria Highway to ease the passage of Palestinians in that area. Similarly for the areas of A-Zaim and Hizmeh, since I was insisting on E-1. There would be a tunnel that would enable Palestinians to have quick passage between Bethlehem and Ramallah, despite our control over the territory, and so their territorial contiguity would not be impaired.
“At the same time, I gave Abbas territories in the Beit Sh’ean Valley, next to Tirat Zvi, not far from Afula, in the area of Lachish, in the area of Katna (next to Har Adar), the northern Judean desert and the area around the Gaza Strip. I compltely gave up on Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley. That was because I could protect the line of the Jordan River through an international military force on the other side of the Jordan RIver. There was no opposition on the Palestinian side to our having a presence in warning stations along the mountain range.”
Today, such an offer, particularly as it relates to the Jordan Valley is inconceivable. Given the chaos sweeping the Middle East since the September 2008 offer was rebuffed by Abbas, and the security deterioration of security or stability in every single one of Israel’s neighboring countries, Olmert’s offer contains elements likely to be incompatible with Israel’s fundamental security requirements and national interests.
TheTower.org: But you essentially gave up on Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount?
Olmert: “Correct, I proposed a compromise on sovereignty over the Temple Mount. There would be no sovereignty for anyone else. There would be the joint administration of the five states.”
TheTower.org: Where did this idea come from?
Olmert: “It came from my head. I was thinking about it day and night. I grew up among the Beitar-ist movement [cultivating the land and Israeli communties]. It was a movement that didn’t see settlements as a means for achieving political ends. Many of the ‘Likud Princes’ think as I do, and their path is like mine. Salai and Dan Meridor for example.”
TheTower.org: So what did Abu Mazen say about that proposal? Did he accept your ideas?
Olmert: “[In the meeting] He didn’t say he oposed my idea. It was clear to me that he agreed. He said to me, ‘Listen, it makes a very serious impression.’ I said to him, ‘Come on, let’s initial the map. In a day or two we’ll fly to the U.S. [for the annual UN General Assembly meetings which were taking place the following week] and convene the U.N. Security Council and tell them that it’s a peace deal between us. The whole Security Council will approve it, and then we will go the General Assembly and ask for a vote. I have no idea that about 190 out of the 193 states, maybe except for Iran and Syria, will vote for it. After that we’ll convene a joint session of Congress and we’ll appear everywhere together. We’ll gather a summit of all the world’s leaders at the connecting point of the Holy Basin. They will all come.’
“He said to me again, ‘It’s serious, it’s serious, but I have to be sure. I want the map experts from both sides to sit together because I’m not an expert.
“We called over Turjeman and Saeb, I said to Shalom that he should call Danny Tirza, our map expert, so they should sit together the next day, and I said to Abbas that at the beginning of the follow week we could fly to New York.”
History That Was Never Made, and The Unbelievable Excuse That Killed It
But the next morning, September 17th, came the fateful call from Abbas’ top aide, Saab Erekat, saying there would be no meeting to finalize the peace deal because they “had forgotten that Abbas had to go to Amman,” Olmert recalled. Erekat said they would meet the following week. “I’ve been waiting ever since.”
Asked this week to explain their disappearing act and why Abbas would not have accepted such a sweeping offer, a senior Palestinian official told TheTower.org that Olmert’s proposal was not acceptable to Abbas, who has been quoted elsewhere saying, “the gaps were wide.”
“There were internal Palestinian discussions regarding the proposal. These were serious issues. The natural thing was that Abu Mazen would not sign immediately and would behave responsibly and go back and consult with the PLO leadership.”
TheTower.org: But until this very day, you still haven’t given him an answer? Why?
Palestinian Official: ”There was the Gaza operation that stopped everything.”
TheTower.org: But between the last meeting and the Gaza Operation there were three months. Why didn’t you answer Olmert during that period?
The official preferred to avoid answering that question. Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat confirms that these were the details of the proposal Olmert offered as they were shown to the Palestinian side. “But Olmert’s memory concerning the last meeting has been rather foggy,” he insisted.
“I know all of their arguments,” Olmert told TheTower.org. “They say that Abu Mazen agreed with Bush that Erekat would meet with Turjeman in early January in Washington, but that was a few days before Bush left the White House and we received no such invitation. They claim that it was because I was finished politically, so he hesitated. But that is an excuse after the fact. They [the Palestinians] were very worried. Abu Mazen is not a big hero. They were afraid, Erekat was worried. In the end they thought that maybe after the American elections they would get more from President Obama.”
Will the Palestinians Ever Make Peace: Is it a Matter of Territory or Ideology?
For over sixty years, successive Israel leaders have extended their nation’s hand in peace, taking risks and offering tremendous sacrifices in the pursuit of lasting peace.
This dramatic episode, revealed here for the first time, of the Palestinian leadership once again turning its back and walking away from peace, raises the fundamental question: What is the nature of the conflict for the Palestinian leadership? Is it a matter of territory, or is it a matter of ideology, and a basic unwillingness to live in peace with Israel, as the nation state of the Jewish people?
The evidence continues to mount, and history is the judge.
Jerusalem Post, 05/20/2013 23:11
Israeli politicians on the Left, including a government minister from Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s hodge-podge Yesh Atid party, enthused over the supposedly “dramatic” and “historic” turnaround, while General (ret.) Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and later the author of one of many earth-bound peace-projects, even referred in a Haaretz op-ed to the original Arab plan as “Israel’s most important victory in the ongoing struggle for Israel’s survival as a Jewish democratic state.”
It is none of the above. Talk is cheap, but even a perfunctory examination of the document termed the “Arab Peace Initiative” which the Arab League adopted on March 28, 2002, at its meeting in Beirut shows that in effect it was no more than a list of take-it-or leave-it demands requiring Israel to commit itself in advance to, among other things, “full withdrawal from all territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights”; east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state; and the so-called “right of return” of Arab refugees (though couched in somewhat different, supposedly more moderate, language, viz. that it was “to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194”).
There are those who mistakenly or deliberately interpret this paragraph as if it were subject to Israeli agreement, but as Professor Asher Susser, a senior researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center, explained at the time, “right of return” was the only Arab interpretation of said UN resolution. Needless to say, the “initiative” didn’t include any reference to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. There also was a thinly disguised threat: if Israel did not accept the Arab terms, “steadfastness and struggle” – i.e. violence and terror – would continue.
The US has usually preferred to see the half-full glass rather than the half-empty one with regard to the “Arab Initiative,” though former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was prescient enough to declare “that the Arabs must, through words and deeds, show that the spirit of the peace initiative can begin to govern attitudes towards Israel now.” “Now” was exactly four years ago, and it hasn’t happened yet.
But might not the Arab League now agreeing to land swaps be interpreted as a step in the right direction? Though Secretary Kerry seems to see it that way (stating that his efforts to move the peace process forward were “bolstered” by it), this is hardly so.
Future political historians will probably be frustrated when they attempt to unravel how the idea of “land swaps” between Israel and the Palestinians ever achieved traction. After all, this wasn’t what UN Security Council Resolution 242 had said about Israel’s future borders, the intention never having been that Israel should return to the vulnerable pre- ’67 cease-fire line.
Indeed, it had specifically called for “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats and acts of force.” The UK’s Lord Caradon (Hugh M. Foot), the Resolution’s co-author, later specified that “it would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of 4 June 1967.” In other words, the purpose of 242 was to make Israeli withdrawals from territories it had occupied in exercising its right to self-defense contingent on secure borders, not subject to territorial tic-tac-toe games.
But beyond that, as Arthur Goldberg, the US ambassador to the UN at the time of the Resolution’s adoption and its other co-author, has said: “it is clear that Israel exercised the right of self-defense in the 1967 war,” as indeed it did by all precepts of international law. Enemies of Israel often have a tendency to disingenuously mix up cause and effect, so the approaching 46th anniversary of the Six Day War gives us an opportunity to put things in order.
On the morning of June 5, 1967, the Jordanian Arab Legion artillery began to shell west Jerusalem and Jordanian soldiers occupied Government House, which served as the UN observers headquarters. King Hussein, fooled by false Egyptian reports of victory in Sinai, cynically decided to join the supposedly victorious side, and put his army under Egyptian command.
Jordanian forces shelled Jewish villages along the road from the coastal plain to Jerusalem, even threatening Ben-Gurion airport. Tel Aviv and its environs, as well as Israel’s northern regions were also shelled, the attackers using long-range “Long Tom” guns, and bombing other parts of the country from the air.
Only after fierce fighting and many Israeli casualties were the Jordanian forces driven back.
It was an unprovoked, naked act of aggression against the State of Israel, in spite of the fact that Israel’s then-defense minister Moshe Dayan, de-facto supreme commander during the Six Day War, had at first ordered IDF units to act only defensively. One may, therefore, be justified in asking why Israel should now be required to compensate the aggressor with land? (There is no evidence that the Palestinians in 1967, being part and parcel of Jordan, even retrospectively distanced themselves from the aggression perpetrated by Jordan).
To cite a perhaps extreme analogy, Germany after World War II lost a great deal of territory to the victim of its aggression, Poland. Was Poland asked to swap part of its own land with Germany? Still, taking all of this, including the potential downsides into consideration, the very fact that the Arab League has now taken the dust sheets off its erstwhile “initiative” may perhaps be seen as a positive in the light of the new realities in the Middle East – the so-called “Arab Spring” on the one hand, and the growing threat of a rapidly nuclearizing Iran on the other.
Both of these developments could potentially lead (and perhaps already have led) toward a strategic reassessment by the more moderate Arab regimes as to their relations with Israel and their own role in bringing about a settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Thus, their plan, provided it is rewritten as an open-ended peace proposal to be discussed by the parties without prior conditions, replacing its former ultimatory pretentions, could eventually have been of some practical benefit – were it not for Palestinian intransigence.
Though the Fatah Central Committee half-heartedly accepted the Arab League’s latest proposal, the Palestinian Authority immediately reiterated its preconditions to holding talks with Israel, i.e. Israel accepting in advance the ’67 armistice line as the future border, stopping all construction across the “Green Line,” including in Jerusalem, and releasing Palestinian terrorists from prison.
The only purpose of the Palestinian tactic is to avoid meaningful negotiations in which both sides, not just Israel, would have to make compromises and concessions.
As long as PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his group hold to this position, no peace effort will have the slightest chance of getting off the ground.
Nor have the prospects of peace been enhanced by the announcement that, with Salam Fayyad safely out of the way, Fatah has concluded an agreement with the terrorist organization Hamas, which denies Israel’s very right to exist, to establish within three months a Palestinian unity government.
The author is a former Israeli ambassador to the US.
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It has once again become clear that the Arab countries, including the wealthiest and most influential, have no influence on the Palestinians. The Arab League is an incompetent and ineffectual body that has long been ridiculed by most Arabs. It has never played an influential role in solving Arab crises such as the Lebanese Civil War, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or the ongoing bloodshed in Syria.
The Arab League foreign ministers who met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington last week were convinced that they had a mandate from the Palestinians to talk about possible land swaps between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Ahead of their departure to the US, the ministers had met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha, Qatar, and discussed with him the land swap idea.
At the meeting, the Arab League decided to dispatch a high-level delegation to Washington to brief the US Administration on the Arab position regarding the resumption of peace talks with Israel. Headed by Qatar’s Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani, the delegation which met with Kerry also consisted of Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Malki.
Yet the Palestinians seemed to be surprised, following the meeting with Kerry, to hear the Qatari representative talk about possible land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority’s initial response was to issue a statement in English — not Arabic — voicing support for the land trade proposal. The statement said that this was an old idea that had been discussed in the past between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
But following strong condemnations from many Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority leadership took a step backwards.
First, the Palestinian Authority said that it was only prepared to discuss “minor” adjustments to the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Later, as the denunciations grew, the Palestinian Authority took yet another step backwards, saying it was opposed to making any “down payments” to Israel before the peace talks resumed.
In other words, the Palestinian Authority is not prepared to talk about any territorial concessions to Israel before the Israeli government accepts the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
Palestinian reactions to the land swap proposal seem to have angered Qatar and other Arab countries.
With the exception of a few Palestinian Authority officials, all Palestinian factions have come out strongly against the proposal. The anger has been directed especially against Qatar.
“Who gave the Qatari leaders the right to offer concessions to Israel on behalf of the Palestinians?” was the main charge leveled against the rulers in Doha.
Other Palestinians, including top members of Abbas’s Fatah faction in the West Bank, have also lashed out at the Arab ministers for “offering free concessions” to Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.
Although the Palestinian Authority leadership had in the past hinted that it would be willing to accept the land swap idea, it is now obvious that it would never be able to win the Palestinians’ support for such a proposal.
As leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian groups emphasized over the past few days, no Palestinian leader has a mandate to make any concessions to Israel.
Even worse, the Arab League proposal is being viewed by many Arabs and Palestinians as part of an “American-Zionist conspiracy” to force the Palestinians to accept Israeli “dictates.”
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank seem to have absorbed the message and are now back to demanding a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, which were never official borders.
For Kerry, who has taken it upon himself to try to resume the peace process, this is all bad news.
It is bad news that the Palestinian Authority still does not have the courage to tell the Palestinians that without some form of compromise there will never be real peace with Israel.
It is bad news because it has once again become clear that the Arab countries, including the wealthiest and most influential, have no influence on the Palestinians.
Judging from their reactions to the land swap idea, many Palestinians continue to despise the Arab regimes, accusing them of serving as pawns in the hands of the US and Israel.
The US Administration needs to understand that the Arab League is an incompetent and ineffectual body that has long been ridiculed by most Arabs. This is a body that has never played an instrumental role in solving Arab crises such as the Lebanese Civil War, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or the ongoing bloodshed in Syria.
It now remains to be seen whether Kerry and President Barack Obama will ever notice that they are betting on the wrong horses. Neither the Arab League nor the Palestinian Authority leadership has a mandate to offer any concessions to Israel or recognize its right to exist.