Opinion |

Imagining Palestinian Flexibility

Despite all the indications of the reality, the assumption that this unique conflict must have a solution that is acceptable to both Israel and the PLO is still running around like a chicken without a head

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Annapolis (2007‏).
File photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Annapolis (2007‏).Credit: Shahar Azran

In his article “Special solutions to a unique conflict” (Haaretz in Hebrew, October 4), Shaul Arieli once again proposed a solution to the long-standing struggle: “A compromise that suits the basic interests of the parties, the kind based on parameters dictated by the negotiations in Annapolis, 2008.” Here, despite all the indications of the reality, the assumption that this unique conflict must have a solution that is acceptable to both Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization is still running around in our backyard like a chicken without a head. There’s no longer any thinking; now it’s only reflexes.

In skipping from the unique difficulties to the redeeming formula, Dr. Arieli neglected the fact that in 2008 the PLO leadership rejected the “parameters” three times: In September Mahmoud Abbas refrained from replying to the far-reaching proposal of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (“I haven’t seen him since then,” said Olmert later); in November he rejected the request by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and refused to inform her that he was accepting Olmert’s proposals; and in December, when then-U.S. President George W. Bush pleaded with him to inform him of his acceptance – in his White House office and not for publication – he refused once again. Regarding that, Rice wrote in her 2011 memoir “No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington”: “The Palestinian stood firm, and the idea died.”

And he is still standing firm, stuck in his corner and unable to move. All the president’s horses and all the president’s men couldn’t move him from the place where he stood, he and his colleagues in the PLO leadership, and the members of Hamas. The idea died.

In another three weeks we will mark the end of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Out of loyalty to the PLO convention, Abbas, the head of the organization, said last year in his speech to the UN General Assembly: “Yes, 100 years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people. This paved the road for the Nakba of the Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land.”

Of these fraught sentences Arieli chose to quote only the first nine words, and their political significance is clear: With the Jewish-Zionist entity, which rose on the foundation of this terrible and ongoing injustice within the 1949 borders, the leaders of our Palestinian neighbors will not be able to sign a peace agreement declaring, as required, an end to the conflict and the cessation of mutual demands.

Arieli recognizes “the personal right of the refugee to return to his home,” in other words, even in the fifth and sixth generation, according to the definition of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which was invented for these refugees only, but he also sees the contradiction between it and the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. He has a recipe to solve this problem: “The absorption of the refugees in the State of Palestine in general, or in their present places of residence, or a return to third countries (including Israel), based on their personal consent and approval.” Into this mixture he also pours “an agreement on a joint formula regarding the narratives of the refugee issue,” adding a pinch of “various compensations.” Heat over a low flame, and the problem is solved.

But in reality different rules apply. Only two weeks ago, on September 24, the PLO Executive Committee decided (according to MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute), that “international law and UN decisions are the only basis for an overall agreement that will provide security and stability to all the countries, including the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders, and for maintaining the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, according to [UN General Assembly] Resolution 194 [in 1948].” Making do with “the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders” of course contradicts the right of the refugees to “return to their homes,” but this right takes precedence over everything else.

The entry gate to the Aida refugee camp illustrates this: Above it, along its entire width, there is a large key, a symbol of the “return.” With such symbols, which are handed down from one generation to the next, there can’t be any relinquishing. A few days after the failure of the negotiations at Camp David, Abbas did a good job of explaining the PLO position. “The Palestinian delegation refused to define the number of Palestinian refugees who will be allowed to return, even if they were to offer us three million refugees, as we told them. That’s because we wanted them to recognize the principle, and afterwards we will reach an agreement about the timetable regarding the return of the refugees or compensation to those who don’t want to return.”

Since then nothing has changed. The PLO signing of a peace agreement with Israel, which includes a limit on the refugees who will be permitted to return to their original homes, as well as a declaration of the mutual “end of conflict,” can be found only in the wild imagination of the experts.

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