Prof. Shlomo Avineri (“Don’t expect Abbas to sign anything,” Feb. 18) claims that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert either has a lot of nerve, is insulting the public’s intelligence – or both – when he claims that what he could not accomplish in dozens of meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can still be achieved in the future.
The political scientist acknowledges that although Olmert accumulated a great deal of experience in negotiations, all that experience did not stand him in good stead when he came up against Abbas' cunning. According to Avineri, Olmert did not see that this Palestinian non-partner’s entire goal was to squeeze more and more concessions out of Israel, so as to force its future governments to start the talks “'where they left off' – with the starting point being the Israeli positions as set forward in Olmert’s generous proposal, with no concession having been made by the other side."
If only Netanyahu’s government had been compelled to start the talks where Olmert ended them. Unfortunately, the American mediator has stuck to the rule set by Ehud Barak in the Camp David talks, whereby “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”
Not only was Benjamin Netanyahu not compelled to start the talks from where Olmert had left off: The current premier also presented Abbas with new demands, starting with recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The demand for long-term Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley was not even included in Olmert’s proposals to Abbas. Moreover, even though the idea of land swaps played a starring role in the Clinton scheme of 2000, the only representative of Netanyahu’s government who has mentioned the swaps was Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and that was on condition that the citizenship of Israeli Arabs be revoked.
Netanyahu was not even “compelled” to keep the promise of the Sharon government (in which he served) as part of the 2003 road map: to freeze construction in the settlements completely (including building needed to accommodate the natural population increase), and to evacuate the outposts established since March 2001 (a clause that was not included in the 14 points about which Israel has reservations).
Although the number of settlers has grown since then from 200,000 to over 350,000, the partner who engaged in talks to “squeeze more and more concessions from Israel” is sticking to the peace process and firmly refusing to give up the chances for an agreement.
Avineri ignores the fact that a major Palestinian concession was made with the Palestine Liberation Organization's declaration of independence in 1988. In it, they adopted UN Security Council Resolution 242, which mentions the 1967 borders, thus giving up 78 percent of the territory of Mandate-era Palestine.
The second concession was made in 2002, with adoption of the Arab peace initiative, which proposed a just and agreed-upon solution (with Israel) to the refugee problem, on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (legal experts who have analyzed this resolution say that it does not validate the right of return, per se). Abbas announced that he was giving up his own right to return to his home in Safed, and even agreed to a long-term international presence in Palestine. What further “parallel concessions” does Avineri expect him to make?
Abbas will not sign off on an agreement that gives him a nominal state that is devoid of content, along the lines of the vassal states of South Africa. Why should he pay for what Hamas got for nothing – the last inch of the Gaza Strip? The Palestinian leader will also not sign off an any interim agreement, or any partial accord, along the lines that Avineri proposes. During 21 years of partial interim agreements, he learned that in Israel, there is nothing more permanent than something that's temporary, and that there is nothing more whole than something that's partial.
Abbas is also not a partner to an agreement involving management of the conflict; anyone interested in going that route should contact the offices of Hamas. The president of the PA will not take out a contract on himself and on his people.
The writer is a political commentator for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse.
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