A Basis for Talks

Israel's growing international isolation should remind Netanyahu that there is a price for foot-dragging.

Israel has a supreme interest in achieving a peace agreement that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, delineate a border between the states and put an end to the mutual demands. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert's proposal for a final-status arrangement with the Palestinians, the details of which were revealed by Aluf Benn in Haaretz yesterday, can and should serve as a basis for resuming negotiations. There is no point in returning to "point zero" in the talks and ignoring previous offers and understandings.

Olmert offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the creation of an independent Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At the basis of his proposition was a territorial exchange that would annex most of the West Bank settlers to Israel in return for an expansion of the Gaza Strip and the inclusion in the West Bank of land in the Judean Desert, Yatir Forest, Jerusalem Hills and Beit She'an Valley. Gaza and Hebron would be linked by a secure-passage road giving the Palestinians free movement between the two parts of their state.

Abbas did not reply to Olmert's offer. The Netanyahu government is using this to reinforce its contention that "there is no partner" and that Abbas is opposed to peace. But this is demagoguery that changes the peace process from debate on the essential issues into a propaganda battle.

Olmert was right in suggesting to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he request a formal answer from Abbas and proceed in the negotiations from there. Netanyahu is ignoring Olmert's map, saying it was never shown to him. This suggests that although he has called for "two states for two peoples," Netanyahu is not ready for a serious discussion of carrying this out.

The details of Olmert's proposal and Abbas' statements in an interview with Haaretz published on Wednesday confirm yet again the conclusion that must be drawn from 17 years of talks between Israelis and Palestinians. The outline of the arrangement is known to all, the proposals resemble each other and the differences in opinion over the border can be bridged. Olmert suggested annexing 6.5 percent of the West Bank, and Abbas is prepared for a 1.9 percent land exchange. The Palestinian position has remained as it was in Yasser Arafat's days, when it was presented in the Taba talks.

Israelis who took part in the formal and less formal talks believe that a compromise can be reached based on a 4-percent territory exchange. Is it worth insisting on 1 percent or 2 percent more to Israel to enable annexing yet another settlement and losing valuable time during which the occupation is deepening, the forces objecting to peace are strengthening and the conflict is escalating? Instead of wasting unnecessary funds on the settlements, wouldn't it be better to prepare for evacuating and resettling the settlers?

Netanyahu's demand to renew the negotiations "without prior conditions," his refraining from officially accepting the road map and ignoring his predecessors' proposals belie his repeated calls to Abbas to show courage and return to the negotiations.

Peace proposals that were officially conveyed to the other side and the American mediators, Netanyahu knows, have not really been taken off the table. Instead of wasting time on futile arguments he must show the same courage he is demanding of Abbas and continue the negotiations from the point where they were cut off last year. Israel's growing international isolation should remind Netanyahu that there is a price for foot-dragging in affairs of state and spur him to end the conflict as soon as possible and implement the two-state solution. That is his mission.