"I do not believe that in the foreseeable future there is a possibility of an agreement with the Palestinians on all the issues, especially on the problematic core issues," says Udi Dekel, who headed the negotiations task force in the previous government.
Dekel spoke on Thursday at a conference on the unofficial "Geneva Initiative" peace plan. Other participants included many members of the diplomatic corps.
He was highly critical of the negotiating tactics of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in their dealings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of his negotiating team, Ahmed Qureia.
"The biggest mistake was that everything was based on the premise that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," Dekel said. "We thought at the time that this could provide the necessary flexibility in the negotiations, but in practice, every time someone showed flexibility, the other side tried to pin him down. Therefore, I suggest that the model be changed and that whatever is agreed is implemented."
According to Dekel the Palestinians refused to show any flexibility in their positions during the talks, preferring to remain stalemated rather than lower their aspirations.
"The Palestinian approach was in principle the demand of 100 percent of their rights from 1967. The practical aspect interested them less. They are not willing to discuss any further compromise," he said. "We tried to build scenarios, some of them were imaginary, about specific compromises, but we found the Palestinians taking an approach of 'all or nothing.'"
Dekel said that agreement was reached on the need to reach full accord and that four stages toward that end had been determined. He said that American involvement, which intensified as time went on, encumbered the negotiations.
"So long as the two sides negotiated, there was some progress. The minute (Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice's teams went into the details the two sides barricaded themselves behind their basic positions, and instead of the negotiations progressing, they regressed," Dekel said. "The Palestinians understood that the Americans were closer to their position on the issues of Jerusalem, the borders and security, and opted to wait it out."
Dekel said at Thursday's conference that in spite of the difficulty in achieving a settlement the need for a change in the situation was urgent.
He proposed adoption of a plan floated by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad under which the focus would be the swift establishment of a Palestinian state, with borders and security the first issues to be negotiated.
"The rest would be discussed in parallel but the establishment of a state would not be conditional on an overall agreement," Dekel said. "The two sides are not ready for this at the moment and we should not believe that there is a way to get the sides to understand that this is the only relevant solution in this time frame."
Dekel maintains that Israel's position in the negotiations was meant to include within its territory as many settlers as possible.
"On the issue of security we are talking, first and foremost, on defensible borders. And when we look at the maps, in the end we evaluate the borders on the basis of how many residents we will not have to move from their homes and the defensible borders issue becomes of secondary importance."
He added that the Palestinians came to the negotiations more prepared than the Israelis and were ready with drafts of their proposals while his staff were lacking notes from past negotiating rounds.
"When I went to look for the material from the year 2000 [from Camp David talks and Taba] we could find anything. It seems as though someone made sure it disappeared. That is why we restarted collecting the material, and were assisted by documents from the Geneva Convention," Dekel said.
Responding to Dekel, Shaul Arieli, who coordinated the negotiating task force a decade before him, said that when his teams ended their activity in 2000 they lodged all the relevant documents with the national archive and the prime minister's office.
"Therefore," Arieli said. "If you did not find the material, then someone worked very, very hard, for the material to disappear."
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