Waiting for the Palestinian Godot - Opinion - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Waiting for the Palestinian Godot

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

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.


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  • 8.
    Who is "we"? Are you saying the journalists took sides poilitcally?
  • 7.
    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
  • 6.
    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.
  • 5.
    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.
  • 4.
    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.
  • 3.
    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.
  • 2.
    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.
  • 1.
    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!