A comprehensive and permanent solution is not possible under the current conditions, Yossi Beilin has said. His argument: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not want peace and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is unable to meet the Israeli conditions for peace. The solution, which has already become a political slogan: a long-term interim agreement.
There is a great deal of appeal to such a proposal, which dresses up as an appropriate and possible solution. What exactly is that interim agreement? To please Israel it will have to include an article allowing it to continue pouring cement and people into the West Bank and Jerusalem, refuse the return of all the Palestinian refugees and prevent the division of Jerusalem. And perhaps, if the two sides agree, it will include an empty statement about the establishment of a Palestinian state in the future. An interim agreement that does not include these elements will not reach the Knesset.
And the Palestinians? What will they gain from an interim agreement? A package of benefits that will include the lifting of checkpoints, freedom to trade and a release of prisoners - always an excellent product that is plentiful in Israeli prisons. They will also get complete control in Area B and the cities in Area C (civilian control to be more precise, since the Israel Defense Forces will retain the right for "hot pursuits" ). And of course, they will get a declaration of support for the Palestinians' right to an independent state, but in two or three generations.
Anyone who claims that the Oslo Accords were a failure because they did not meet the Palestinians' demands and threatened the settlements cannot honestly support an interim agreement that will be less than Oslo, or an interim agreement in general. Is it not those same opponents of the Oslo Accords who attribute the outbreak of the intifada to them? And what will be novel in the interim agreement? Another guaranteed intifada?
The supporters of an interim agreement are right in their claim that we have a real difficulty in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement at the moment. But that's the same difficulty that has accompanied Israel and the Palestinians at least since 1992 and has made every interim agreement very dangerous. Because if an interim agreement fails - and this is certain because it would be empty of substance - a final agreement is pushed even further into the future. Such an agreement's supporters are essentially saying that there will be an eternal interim agreement.
Of course, it may also be said that we are undergoing a permanent conflict that cannot be resolved, which like an active volcano is expected to erupt at any moment or remain dormant for 40 or 400 years. A natural disaster of sorts. At the same time it's possible to end the direct talks and tell Abbas: Sorry, we were wrong, we thought we could reach an agreement but there's no way around it and you'll have to live under occupation until the end of time. Of course, we will not harm the discos in Ramallah, and we will come to the inaugurations of new factories, but you will not get a country of your own.
On the other hand, it's possible to examine once more whether a comprehensive agreement is really such an impossibility. If there is an agreement on the principle of swapping territory, and if in principle it is agreed that the large settlement blocs will remain in Israel, why not move ahead and draw Israel's new borders as Washington is proposing and only then deal with the issue of settlement construction? It's true that drawing borders will not be able to ignore the question of dividing Jerusalem and will leave Ariel outside Israel, but this is precisely the purpose of the negotiations: to find points of agreement because these will not be easier to achieve in an interim agreement.
The most encouraging element in this round is the coalition of leaders involved. It's doubtful whether the leader who succeeds Abbas will be able to reach any sort of agreement or enjoy wide support from the Arab world. Abbas is not young and he might retire at any time. Netanyahu may not be what those seeking peace had hoped for, but he still fears the United States and he is not among the blind on the right.
Most important is the U.S. president, who decided to take the matter head on and on the way slap whoever needs it. This may be a coalition that does not know how to reach an agreement, but it will know how to sell such an agreement if one is achieved. This ability should be utilized for the sake of a comprehensive agreement and should not be wasted on an interim deal.
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