While MKs from all the parties crowded into the Knesset cafeteria to watch the television broadcasts from Annapolis, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman pushed aside the sign that bans smoking in the sitting room at the end of the main auditorium. It was clear he did not care a bit about the controversy over the joint declaration's content. Nor did the decision to begin accelerated talks about a final-status agreement arouse much excitement in right-wing circles, inside and outside the coalition.
On the other hand, the decisions at Annapolis tie the Labor Party to Ehud Olmert's government and shield the cabinet ministers from the final Winograd report. Even Meretz is deliberating about how to treat a rightist who sounds like Uri Avnery.
How will we know who is right? Those who stay at Olmert's side because they believe/hope Annapolis will end up like innumerable previous conferences and agreements, or those who stick with the government because they assume/hope that this time things will be different? Have the decision makers learned their lessons from the failed attempts to achieve an agreement, or are they leading (mistakenly or deliberately) to an apartheid state, as the prime minister put it, in the worst case, or to another round of violence, in the equally bad case? Here are three tests that can help solve the riddle.
The test of opening positions: Before beginning talks about a final-status agreement, the government must outline its opening positions on each of the core issues. If it adopts the approach that the Palestinians must make do with the security fence as a political border, agree to Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount and erase the right of return entirely, we can spare the Peace Administration's budget.
The Palestinian leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas, which has emerged from Annapolis to negotiations over a final-status agreement, is far weaker than the delegation headed by Yasser Arafat at Camp David in July 2000. Seven years of "no partner," the destruction of the central government's infrastructure, the Hamas victory and the loss of Gaza have reduced the margins of any Fatah concessions, which are narrow in any case.
Abu Mazen (Abbas) cannot permit himself to give up one centimeter more than Arafat - the June 1967 lines, with mutual and equal border adjustments. Concerning an agreement in Jerusalem and a solution to the refugee problem, there is no point in offering the Palestinians less than what the Clinton plan offered in December 2000.
The fabric of life test: The Annapolis guideline returns the sides to the Rabin formula: conducting the negotiations as though there were no terror and fighting terror as though there were no negotiations. However, the experience of the Oslo process teaches that there is no value to a diplomatic channel unaccompanied by an improved situation for the population under Israeli occupation. The limitations on movement, the expropriation of land for the fence and settlers, assassinations and mass arrests erode public support for the leadership and shrink the little room it has for maneuver. Dismantling outposts, a total freeze on construction in the settlements, without playing games (such as "natural increase" and "expansions"), and a complete implementation of the Sasson report on illegal outposts have always tested Israeli governments' intentions.
The test of the team leader: Many generals sit on the General Staff who have not relinquished the philosophy of "searing the awareness" espoused by defense officials Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya'alon. In the planning and intelligence divisions as well as the defense minister's diplomatic-security liaison office, they are saying and writing that if the Israel Defense Forces were to leave the West Bank, we will be forced to secure the homes in Kfar Sava against rockets.
Were it up to them, the IDF would return to Gaza. They have no empathy for the Palestinian side and they do not believe that generous gestures or even a final-status agreement will turn the Palestinian Authority's security services into a suitable substitute for IDF forces in the territories. Although the prime minister says he is not impressed by the defense officials' horror scenarios, he is considering placing a former member of the defense establishment at the head of the Peace Administration, someone who for years was among those who got used to seeing the Arabs through gunsights.
Lieberman is not a sucker. After Annapolis, as before, he is in no hurry to leave the government. As long as he calmly smokes his cigars, his friends in the West Bank settlement Nokdim can relax.
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