After he finishes divvying up the portfolios and before he signs the coalition agreement, Labor Party leader Amir Peretz would be well advised to read the fine print in the platform of the new government, better known as "Ehud Olmert's victory speech." It says that "in the near future," the new government will aspire to renew negotiations with its neighbors "in the hopes" of reaching an agreement over the permanent borders of the State of Israel. There is even a potential Palestinian partner hiding between the lines: Olmert indirectly addressed his remarks to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, calling on him to follow in Olmert's footsteps and announce his readiness for reconciliation, compromise and peace. The interim prime minister did not forget that everything depends, of course, on an end to the violence and the disarmament of the terrorist organizations.
Let us assume that the new defense minister, Amir Peretz, manages to restore calm, that Abbas manages to disarm the terror groups and that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist. What will be the new permanent borders on the map lying on the bargaining table? Will it include the Ariel bloc, or only slight modifications to the border in the Etzion bloc and Ma'aleh Adumim? And Ma'aleh Adumim - will it be just a small city on the outskirts of Jerusalem, or an enormous metropolis know=n as E1? What will happen to the Jordan Valley, and what will be the Kadima-Labor government's position on the territorial compensation that will be offered to the Palestinians in exchange for the settlement blocs that will be annexed to Israel?
When do Olmert and Peretz intend to air this myriad of weighty issues, and many others no less complex - the first of which are the division of Jerusalem, control over the Temple Mount, the refugee problem and the question of travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, within sovereign Israeli territory? Leaders who are serious about initiating negotiations over issues that have been at the center of the political conflict for nearly 40 years would not settle just for seeking partners for a coalition agreement. One might expect them to also put a little effort into figuring out whether they can be partners to negotiations over a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians.
The negotiations with the Palestinians over the permanent status agreement do not have to begin from zero, and neither do the negotiations between the new coalition partners over the character of the preferred arrangement for Israel. A series of agreements already exist that were framed during the course of thousands of hours of discussion via both official and semi-official channels, such as the Taba Agreement and the Geneva Accord. If the fig leaf known as the road map is removed, they will find the Saudi Initiative and the Beirut Declaration of March 2002.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni last week hinted that the new coalition considers negotiations with the Palestinians as foreplay to the "Convergence Plan," in the best-case scenario. She told the European Union foreign ministers that if there is no Palestinian partner, Israel expects Europe to support any unilateral steps it takes in the West Bank. What's her rush? Even Haniyeh agreed that Abbas will represent the Palestinians in negotiations over the final status and hold a referendum on it. Why not try it? After all, Ariel Sharon bequeathed to generations to come the U.S. president's promise to support the settlement blocs and implement the right of return in Palestine.
A very senior figure in Kadima responded to this question in a moment of honesty by saying she fears that the negotiations over the permanent status agreement will fail, and that the international community will blame Israel. In other words, the new government itself is not a partner to an agreement based on the international legitimacy given to the June 4, 1967 borders, with mutual adjustments and a just and agreed solution to the refugee problem. Kadima's "convergence" will only perpetuate the conflict.
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