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Israel-Palestinian negotiations muddle

05/07/2008

A great mystery surrounds the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. These negotiations are supposed to give hope to supporters of peace, and particularly to Palestinian moderates, who need to show some accomplishments in the face of extremism represented by Hamas supporters.

The fact is, that nobody except the negotiators knows anything about these negotiations or what they are accomplishing, other than removal of a few road blocks. They have not produced even the most general declaration of principles. There is neither a recognition of the legitimacy of Jewish self determination by the Arab Palestinian side, nor a recognition of Palestinian rights by the Israeli side. There is not even a vague declaration about the area to be allotted to a future Palestinian Arab state or the future of Jerusalem, as was made in the Clinton Bridging proposals that were supposedly accepted by both sides in 2000. To outsiders at least, it therefore looks as though we are even further from an agreement than we were in 2000.

Israeli sources keep declaring that the negotiations are making progress, while Palestinian authority negotiators insist that Israel is offering only a mini-State of cantons in areas constituting about 50% of the West Bank. A different source claims that Israel has offered 89% of the West Bank territory, while the Palestinians insist on 98.5% of the territory. While 89% of the territory would clearly be unacceptable to the Palestinians, it is still far too much for the taste of the alarmed Israeli right wing.

It is difficult to see how to bridge the gap between extreme demands of the sides, but the leaders are not helping any. They are all in the habit of making extremist and uncompromising declarations of principles, which are then taken up by extremists in their camp. Then the leaders can say that their hands are tied by "extremists." But who can blame the "extremists" if the leaders themselves made these statements? Didn't Olmert himself say that Israel would never give up Har Choma? Didn't Abbas say, on numerous occasions, that the Palestinians would never give up the "right" of return for refugees, and will not allow Israeli sovereignty anywhere in East Jerusalem? This last condition is unacceptable to a majority of Israelis, but it is presented as the position of Palestinian "moderates" by Ziad Asali of the American Task Force on Palestine. At the same time, the Shas party insists that it will resign if Israel discusses any concessions at all on Jerusalem.

We don't know what is happening inside the actual negotiations. In the public jousting at least, we have a continuous stream of invective that bolsters the positions of extremists and would make realistic compromise impossible. The leaders are doing nothing at all to prepare the public for any sort of compromise. In the absence of public announcements, strategic "leaks" or rumors alarm Palestinians over lack of progress, and alarm Israelis over "concessions." The blackout on substantive communiques about the negotiations also produces the same dangerous situation as existed in 2000 and 2001, when Israelis (and later most Americans) insisted that there had been a generous Israeli offer, while Palestinians and Jimmy Carter claimed that the Palestinians had offered only Bantustans. If the secret negotiations culminate in a public agreement later this year, then it won't matter. The chances of that happening however, are about 1 in 10 right now, and the ugly devolution of the public debate makes the chances even slimmer. A public statement of some sort regard the outlines of agreement - and disagreement - is desperately need to rally moderate support, and to tell the public where we stand. If (or when) the negotiations fail, the results will undoubtedly be tragic for both sides, as they were in 2000. There will be a lot of deaths and a lot of suffering. The Israeli and Palestinian public deserve at least to know clearly and unequivocally what chance for peace was missed and in what cause they are dying. The next time there is a suicide bombing, after the negotiations fail, I would like to know if the children died in order to preserve Jewish self determination from an influx of refugees, or if they died in order to ensure that Tapuah or Yizhar remain under Israeli sovereignty eternally. The Palestinians who will be killed also deserve to know for certain if they are dying for the right to a reasonable and viable state, or if they are dying for the right to return to Hirriyeh and Iraq al Manshieh.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000692.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 1 Comment

Dr. Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, is indeed a moderate Palestinian voice. This is his position on refugees, as quoted recently in Haaretz:

"In my view, a practical solution to the refugee problem ... should be rooted in a limited and symbolic return of a number of refugees to be negotiated and agreed upon by the parties. Palestinians who are allowed into Israel would become citizens of Israel. Needless to say, Israel will exercise sovereign discretion over who becomes a citizen. A practical solution would also involve compensation for refugees, acknowledgment of moral responsibility by Israel, and the acceptance of Israel by Palestine and all Arab states. All Palestinian refugees should be eligible for citizenship in the newly established state of Palestine.

"I believe in separating the right from the return. A practical solution requires Palestinians to understand that Israel will not agree to a return of refugees in a manner that threatens its national interests. Israelis have to understand that Palestinians cannot renounce the right as a principle."

Posted by Ralph Seliger @ 05/07/2008 04:37 PM CST


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