Waiting for the Palestinian Godot

Why are we repeatedly surprised every time Mahmoud Abbas fails to sign a peace agreement with Israel?

Abbas
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a leadership meeting in Ramallah, in April. / Photo by AP
By Ari Shavit
Published 06:00 24.04.14

There are some moments a journalist will never forget. In early 1997, Yossi Beilin decided to trust me, and show me the document that proved that peace was within reach. The then-prominent and creative politician from the Labor movement opened up a safe, took out a stack of printed pages, and laid them down on the table like a player with a winning poker hand.

Rumors were rife about the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement, but only a few had the opportunity to see the document with their own eyes or hold it in their hands. I was one of those few. With mouth agape I read the comprehensive outline for peace that had been formulated 18 months earlier by two brilliant champions of peace -- one, Israeli, and one, Palestinian. The document left nothing to chance: Mahmoud Abbas is ready to sign a permanent agreement. The refugee from Safed had overcome the ghosts of the past and the ideas of the past, and was willing to build a joint Israeli-Palestinian future, based on coexistence. If we could only get out from under the Likud’s thumb, and get Benjamin Netanyahu out of office, he will join us, hand in hand, walking toward the two-state solution. Abbas is a serious partner for true peace, the one with whom we can make a historic breakthrough toward reconciliation.

We understood. We did what was necessary. In 1999, we ousted Likud and Netanyahu. In 2000, we went to the peace summit at Camp David. Whoops, surprise: Abbas didn’t bring the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan to Camp David, or any other draft of a peace proposal. The opposite was true: He was one of the staunchest objectors, and his demand for the right of return prevented any progress.

But don’t believe we’d give up so quickly. During the fall of 2003, as the Geneva Accord was being formulated, it was clear to us that there were no more excuses, and that now, Abbas would sign the new peace agreement and adopt its principles. Whoops, surprise: Abu Mazen sent Yasser Abed Rabbo (a former Palestinian Authority minister) instead, while he stayed in his comfy Ramallah office. No signature, no accord.

But people as steadfast as us don’t give up on our dreams. So in 2008 we got behind Ehud Olmert, and the marathon talks he held with Abbas, and the offer that couldn’t be refused. Whoops, surprise: Abu Mazen didn’t actually refuse, he just disappeared. He didn’t say yes, he didn’t say no, he just vanished without a trace.

Did we start to understand that we were facing the Palestinian Yitzhak Shamir? No, no, no. In the summer of 2009, we even supported Netanyahu, when he made overtures to Abbas with his Bar-Ilan speech, and the settlement freeze. Whoops, surprise: the sophisticated objector didn’t blink, or trip up. He simple refused to dance the tango of peace with the right-wing Israeli leader.

Have we opened our eyes? Of course not. Again, we blamed Netanyahu and Likud, and believed that in 2014, Abu Mazen wouldn’t dare to say no, not to John Kerry. Whoops, surprise: In his own sophisticated, polite way, Abbas has said no in recent months to both Kerry and Barack Obama. Again, the Palestinian president’s position is clear and consistent: The Palestinians must not be required to make concessions. It’s a complicated game – squeezing more and more compromises out of the Israelis, without the Palestinians granting a single real, compromise of their own.

Take heed: Twenty years of fruitless talks have led to nothing. There is no document that contains any real Palestinian concession with Abbas’ signature. None. There never was, and there never will be.

During the 17 years that have gone by since Beilin took that document out of his safe, he’s gotten divorced, remarried, and had grandchildren. I also divorced, remarried, and brought (more) children into the world. Time passes and the experiences we’ve accumulated have taught both Beilin and me more than a few things. But many others haven’t learned a thing. They’re still allowing Abbas to make fools of them, as they wait for the Palestinian Godot, who will never show up.


comments

Add Comment

Thank you

Your talkback has been submitted successfully.
If selected for publication, it will appear as soon as possible on Haaretz.com.

please wait...

  • 16.
    Who is "we"? Are you saying the journalists took sides poilitcally?
  • 15.
    Abbas is a Rejectionist
    Shavit is finally seeing what Shlomo Avineri realized http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.574759 Don’t expect Abbas to sign anything So far, the Palestinian negotiating tactic has been to get concessions, then cut off talks and 'start where we left off.' By Shlomo Avineri Feb. 18, 2014
  • 14.
    The deal cannot happen with the Palestinians
    We are at the dead end of bilateral negotiations. Obviously, the Palestinians do not want a State that would be a rump, demilitarized version of Puerto Rico. Just like PR depends on US, Palestine would depend on Israel for everything: economy, airport, electricity, and security. The real negotiation should be with Jordan, Palestine and Israel as Confederation. They all depend on each other. The Jordanians are the critical partner, supported by the Saudis who may want to see a strong Sunni regional agreement with them sharing authority in the Old City which would internationalized. This deal has been proposed and may be Plan B. Ari Shavit understands that only a partner that can guarantee security will be acceptable to Israel.
  • 13.
    Look, everyone *knows* the outline of the deal: '67 lines with agreed swaps, and a mutually-acceptable solution to refugees
    Everyone KNOWS that is the deal. Heck, Netanyahu knows that better than anyone. So ANY Israeli negotiator who goes into the tent demanding that the PLO accept anything less than "1967 with swaps" or who says they don't want to deal with the "refugee issue" is simply going into those talks to put on a dog 'n' pony show. Yet EVERY Israeli negotiator has put on that dog 'n' pony show. Get. Real. Israel knows what the deal is, and so either go into negotiations towards *that* deal, or just say out loud that you aren't interested in a deal. Those are your only choices.
  • 12.
    Sustainability
    As long as the Palestinians believe the Obama administration's line that the current status quo is not sustainable (see Roger Cohen's piece in today's NY Times), they will continue to believe that time is on their hand and that there is no need for concessions. Maybe, Netanyahu is right and a better way for Abbas to make concessions is for Israel to stop negotiating altogether. Let us then see if the lies of BDS movement calling Israel an Apartheid state have any tractions. In the meantime, tangible losses for the Palestinians on the ground in the form of settlements and lower standards of living may prove to Abbas that as far as Israel is concerned, the status quo is indeed sustainable.
  • 11.
    Please list Israeli concessions, or proposed concessions, Mr. Shavit.
    While you are at it, please educate us re: the particulars of the Israeli peace proposal. The Arab League put on on the table that offers peace from every, single Arab state, What better idea did Israel come up with, sir?
  • Melissa did you read the article.
  • Melissa is so wrong.
    Melissa you say While you are at it, please educate us re: the particulars of the Israeli peace proposal. Did you ever hear of the Barak and Olmert offer? A few weeks ago, the Arab league rejected Israel being the Jewish state cause the Arabs want to flood Israel with millions of Arabs so Israel becomes the 23rd Arab state. The talks have made no progress because the Palestinian Arabs refuse to accept the FACTS that Israel is a Jewish nation, 99% of the Palestinian Arabs are not refugees, and the other 1% should have gotten on with their lives years ago, and the Jews, Hindus, and Sikhs expelled from Muslim lands did. The Palestinians want 2 Palestinian states and no Jewish state. They want a Palestinian state free of Jews and to flood Israel with millions of Arabs for the 2nd Pal state. Obama should know, Saying that is it time for the Palestinians to make concessions is the end of the peace talks. Because Palestinians and concessions don't work together. The Palestinians will never experience a civilized culture or community as long as their corrupt, racist, religiously intolerant leaders and elders promote terrorism and hatred towards non-muslims.
  • 10.
    Amin al-Hussaini was an appointee of the then-Brit king, Edward VII.
    There was no discussion, whatever, with any Arab or Muslim. Point of fact, Herbert Samuels, who actually made the choice for the king was a Jewish Brit. King Edward had some of what we would call unfortunate political sympathies, before, during, and after WWII. Happily, he abdicated to marry a twice-divorced American. And, BTW-- Jews AND Christians lived in historic Palestine. Still do. The problem came with the Europeans-- Eastern and Western.
  • Wrong King Edward!
    You mean Edward VIII, not Edward VII, who was his grandfather. Besides Edward VIII did not become king until 1936; the Mufti was appointed in 1921, when King George V was on the throne.
  • 9.
    Mr. Shavit-- there is nothing to concede! What if someone stole everything YOU have--
    your home, your access to water and food, destroyed your means of self-support, terrorized you family, built "defensive" walls on your property then shot your kids if they got near them? THEN the plunderer asked, "What MORE will you 'concede' to me, so that I might give you back one or tow of your rights? SHANDA!
  • 8.
    It appears to me that Shavit believes that the Palestinians should be offered less than may have been on the table in earlier times ......
    because the Palestinians need to understand that there are consequences for their earlier rejectionism. But if offering less is a complete bar to achieving a 2-state settlement what is the point? What we need is a settlement and the establishment of a viable state for the Palestinians, offering less may give those who want to punish a brief feeling of well-being - but so what? There are blueprints that have established a reasonable framework for peace, believing that the parameters can be changed because the Palestinians should be prepared to accept less, will simply pour fuel onto the conflict.
  • 7.
    What do you want, Ari? To achieve a 2-state solution or to punish the Palestinians?
    Yes,the Palestinians have passed up opportunities to achieve statehood but that should not make the "accepted" framework for 2 states - as outlined in several blueprints for peace - any less meaningful now than when they were drawn up. If the Palestinians need now to accept much less because of their earlier actions, there will never be a negotiated settlement. Is that what you really want Avi - or if not, how do you suggest that offering the Palestinians even less than was on the table will be helpful? Abbas knows that the right of return for Palestinians is an absolute non-starter - in my opinion that is a huge concession - and then both parties will have to compromise. Israel can keep the main settlement blocs but in a negotiated land swap and there will be security arrangements in the Jordan Valley but probably not the physical presence that Israel would like. Israel should also forego its demand to be known as the Jewish state so as not to further compromise the position of its Palestinian citizens but in return - as already mentioned - the Palestinians will have to give up their dream of returning to their former homes.
  • 6.
    Arafat/Abbas refuse agreement because of WAQF
    Since Haj Amin Al-Husseini declared Mandatory Palestine WAQF, sacred Islamic land for Muslims, not Jews or Christians until "Judgement Day" (Hamas Covenant #11) no Palestinian leader will let Infidel, Israel, own Muslim land. For them Tel-Aviv is "occupied" territory. Abbas cannot go where Arafat did not want to go.
  • 5.
    Ahh, but look at the very nature of the "compromises" the two sides demand of the other.
    Israel has a list of things that it WANTS, and demands Palestinian "compromises" so that those WANTS are satisfied. Whereas the Palestinians have a list of their RIGHTS, and so an Israeli "compromise" amounts to nothing more than that Israel stops trying to take those RIGHTS away from the Palestinians. It's easy to throw around the word "compromise", until you notice that in both cases Israel is not actually "offering" to give up anything Other Than Some Of Its Greed.
  • Per Res 242 & Oslo, Israel has "right" to security from renewed attacks(Remember who attacked whom, hotshot); this means RIGHT to more land.
    So, your argument relies upon YOU "throwing around" (redefining to suit your agenda) the word "rights".
  • Post of the Day!
  • I suggest you actually go and read UNSCR242
    You'll find that the word "borders" doesn't actually appear, much less that anyone get granted a "right" to demand a redrawing of borders to satisfy their own concept of "security".
  • 4.
    Ari Shavit disappointed me with this article very much.
    He is twisting the facts and presenting them as if everything was true. Why?
  • Why? because these are the facts
    He is right.
  • Fact is, that there was never given a correct, acceptable offer
    to sign it.
  • No. The side outside of her legal borders is in the wrong. THAT'S international law.
    Period.
  • Yes, even Olmert said so.
  • Legal borders
    There are no legal borders. The Green Line is an armistice line which was lawfully moved east as a consequence of failed Arab aggression. Palestinians must live with the error of their belligerent strategy. They have made it clear that their goal is not co-existence but destruction of the Jewish state. This is a hard pill for Shavit to swallow but he has come to terms with reality. So must the Jewish community.
  • 3.
    Israeli peace offerings
    Surely you have seen the map of the West Bank and how the land offered to Palestinians has shrunk beyond recognition (67 borders forget it).(and Israel refuses to even discuss future borders) Does it occur to you that proper negotiations should take place between two parties with equal power and ability to satisfy each party's needs? Does Abbas have equal power to the various Israeli negotiators? People like you always ignore the nonstop house demolitions and land stealing that has been a constant throughout the "so called" peace talks which are really only ever an Israeli facade to ongoing land stealing. The Israeli position is so hypocritical I can hardly believe it. Having recently visited Israel and the West Bank I cried buckets of tears when I saw that the fair minded liberal Jewish atmosphere I grew up in (the child of Austrian holocaust survivors)had become a crowd of arrogant bigots who only wanted to annihilate and expel anyone whose world view and religion differed from theirs. How can Abbas negotiate on an equal footing when his people, who have land titles spanning generations and where the Palestinian diaspora are not permitted to return to the lands owned and farmed by their fathers and mothers , yet I, whose ancestors have absolutely no connection with Israel or its neighbouring territories can decide tomorrow to return there in absolute freedom and am welcomed with open arms. How long will your "hasbara" hide the real story?
  • Dear Jenny with true Jewish principles
    I can't find the words to express my appreciation to your comment. Never had I witnessed such an honest, straightforward and genuine approach to the Palestinian dilemma. I appreciate your stance of the dispute and your courageous condemnation of Israeli handling of the unfortunate Palestinian suffering.
  • Post of the decade! Thank you!
  • You must be confused
    Why do the negotiations have to be held by 2 parties with an equal footing? It would be nice - but that isn't the case. The Arab armies started a war and lost. Tough. They now need to negotiate with the resources they have. If you think Israel will empower their enemies or weaken themselves in the name of'equality', you are deluded, and quite simply, the best you could hope for is the status quo continuing for the next 10 decades. Israel holds the cards, Israel is going no where soon. Time to drag your head out of the sand
  • 2.
    Pure BS . not to get into the many scenarios of crumb offerings to the Palestinians , one main thing , Jerusalem was NEVER offered fairly .
  • Yes, when the Leftist side was in control Jews were not allowed to pray freely and were constantly assaulted
  • Yes, when the Leftist side was in control Jews were not allowed to pray freely and were constantly assaulted
  • You can do anything you want within Israel's legal borders.
  • Which side killed 400 children from the skies, during Cast Lead?
  • Get a job, Benny.
  • 1.
    Ari Shavit, first of all, don't pretend you have the full knowledge of the ongoings of all these peace negotiations...
    and how it surmounted that President Abbas has not signed any peace agreement with Israel. With Yossi Beilin's Geneva Accord, the Israeli Government never agreed to the terms of the Meretz politician's terms of agreement - ever. The Geneva Initiative is an organizational movement and not a governmental diplomatic policy. They never utilized it and President Abbas did support the Geneva Initiative, despite at one time over 70% of Israelis polled favoured it as well.The mere fact that no Israeli Prime Minister has persuasively endorsed Geneva highlights the fact of its rejection. In all the other negotiations, there was never a finalized agreement on both the core issues of Jerusalem or the Palestinian refugees. Having said all this, can you please tell us specifically any Israeli Government peace proposal which designates with clarity the parameters of the given core items, such as the Arab League Peace Proposal ? Think about it, why would the PA President request specifically the discussion on borders for the next 3 months of the Netanyahu-led Government ? It's because PM Netanyahu's government is committing its classic 9 months of stonewalling on all items of the Framework Agreement and then of course, the curve ball of accepting Israel as the "Jewish State" (which is fine by me) was another supplementary item. So you're really one-sided on the blaming when there's no proof in the pudding. I'm also just as disappointed that my father didn't live to see peace between Israel and the Palestinians since many of us have devoted time, great concern and effort to this conflict's resolution.
  • Bravo!
    bravo!