A Joint Document / A Weak Palestinian Opening Stance

"Neither side will make any move to change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip until the agreement is fully implemented," says one item in the Palestinian draft of the joint accord for Annapolis.

This same draft was given to both sides on July 17, and there was a similar provision in the 1995 interim agreement, in the 1998 Wye Agreement, and at Sharm el-Sheikh in 1999.

In other words, Israel has signed it before (without mentioning "East Jerusalem").

When representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a few donor states argued that the construction in the settlements was an infraction of the Oslo Accords, they based their argument on this sentence.

The question is why the Palestinian side made do with such a banal statement and did not prevent Israel from changing the West Bank's geography again and again. If it's only a draft, one would expect the Palestinians to set the bar higher at the outset, with explicit demands: to freeze the construction in the settlements, to stop land confiscation, to stop building the double road system for settlers and Palestinians, to remove the roadblocks.

As far as the Palestinian public is concerned, these are the counter-demands to the Israeli insistence on fighting terror, radicalization, incitement, etc. which are all included in the draft and partly signed by the Palestinians as well.

No lip service to Strip

Another glaring omission from the Palestinian draft is the Gaza Strip situation. There is not even vague lip-service to "doing everything possible to open the strip passages" to ease humanitarian suffering. This absence exposes a de facto Palestinian position (denied publicly) of giving up on any Gaza role in a political solution.

The absence of an explicit call to freeze construction in the settlements is in keeping with the negotiating tactic of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority as shaped in the Oslo years: There is no point in insisting on interim-period issues, concrete as they may be.

This is how the PA officials explained their agreement to dividing the West Bank into zones A, B and C. According to this tactic, when they negotiate on establishing a state they would insist on their demands, which are based on all the international resolutions. At that stage the settlements, fence and roadblocks would be removed in any case.

This is why the Palestinians are so opposed to the wording, "Israel is the state of the Jewish people," yet don't insist on including a statement such as "construction in the settlements will be suspended until the agreement is signed."

The problem, of course, is that during the ongoing interim period Israel is making huge changes in the West Bank, intended to fundamentally affect the final status map.

Thus the Palestinian draft reflects a very weak, even defeatist opening stance, in view of the Palestinians' expectations of their leadership.