Instead of going to next week's tripartite summit with Mahmoud Abbas and Condoleezza Rice in a positive frame of mind, instead of repeating the promise to withdraw from most of the West Bank in exchange for a peace agreement that he made just a short time ago in his speech at Sde Boker, the prime minister has chosen to declare in advance what he is not willing to do. In his recent appearance before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Ehud Olmert said: "There will be no deliberations" on the main issues of a final-status agreement. No discussion of Jerusalem, no discussion of refugees and no discussion of a withdrawal to the 1967 borders. The reason given for these three "noes" was a desire not to place on the agenda any controversial subjects that could lead to a crisis.
On June 19, 1967, immediately after Israel's victory over the Arab states and occupation of the territories, the Israeli government announced that it was willing to withdraw from Sinai and the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. The Arab states responded with an unequivocal "no" at the Khartoum Summit.
The conditions for achieving peace have not changed since then, and there is no one who is not aware that in return for peace, Israel would withdraw nearly to the Green Line, and that any changes in the international boundary would be carried out with the consent of both parties. The adherence to rejectionist formulas is thus nothing more than idle hair-splitting. One could treat these statements as a clever negotiating tactic and continue to argue that in negotiations, concessions are made at the end, not at the beginning. But when the negotiations have gone on for 30 years, this tactic is of doubtful use. The fatigue that affects the participants of summit meetings that go nowhere does not bode well. The false quiet on the Palestinian front, which is violated by Qassam rocket launches and is achieved by means of frequent Shin Bet security service operations, should not mislead anyone. Summit meetings are not an end in themselves but rather a means to an end. If the Palestinian unity government is an opportunity for creating diplomatic engagement, then such engagement must be given positive content.
From the moment the state of Israel rejected the unilateral withdrawal option and decided to return to negotiating over an agreement, from the moment that all shades of the political spectrum came to the conclusion that a Palestinian state alongside Israel is the only option, there was nothing more to discuss except for the implementation. Governments will rise and fall on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, but the solution will be the same. Olmert's promise not to withdraw to the 1967 borders and not to discuss the future of Jerusalem begs the question of how his government is different from one led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
While the Palestinians are discussing the renewed negotiations with Israel that will begin with the upcoming summit, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is declaring that issues related to a permanent agreement will be on the agenda, the Israeli government is talking about "theoretical talks," and its representatives explain the use of the abstract term "political horizon" as an attempt to lower expectations. That is not a political message of hope for the future or even a promise to go in that direction. Abbas' way is supposed to defeat that of Hamas, but he will evidently receive no succor from the Israeli government.
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