It may be a mere coincidence, but the Camp David conference that generated the framework agreement for peace between Israel and Egypt also began in September (1978 ). It set out to deal with the core of the conflict between us and Egypt and draft a framework agreement for a peace treaty.
Menachem Begin came with a written list of 13 expressions that were not, under any circumstances, to appear in the peace agreement. They all pertained to the Palestinians and included "the just, legitimate rights of the Palestinian people," "all aspects of the problem," "the inadmissibility of seizing territories by force" etc. etc.
After 13 days of discussion, Begin agreed to include all the "forbidden" terms in the treaty. The White House mediators, headed by President Carter, presented 23 different drafts for framework agreements, one of which had all the forbidden expressions in it, masterfully disguised with verbal special effects. Anwar Sadat withdrew his demand to establish a Palestinian state and the Palestinian problem was swept under the carpet.
Much water has flowed in the Jordan and much blood has been spilled, both before and after the Oslo Accords, which brought Yasser Arafat to Gaza in a convoy of Cadillacs loaded with weapons and munitions. The dream of peace between the two peoples became a reality of blood, hate, tears and missed opportunities. The Israeli peace camp's efforts to negotiate, whether by American mediation or directly, also failed to extract us from the reality of bloodshed and hatred.
The Palestinians missed the opportunity presented by the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and Ariel Sharon's shelving of the greater Land of Israel dream. They missed the opportunity provided by months and months of direct talks with Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni under the auspices of the Bush administration. And above all, they missed the opportunity of Barack Obama's visit to Cairo and his famous speech about regional peace, as well as Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University on June 14, in which he first announced the goal of two states for two peoples.
That speech was a historic precedent: A right-wing leader par excellence had for first time recognized a Palestinian state and, by implication, was willing to give up territories and settlements to achieve permanent borders. But the Palestinians, encouraged by President Obama's middle name, Hussein, and his support for their demands, toughened their stances. They are still not even ready to recognize Israel's existence as a Jewish state. They have not changed their position since the UN partition resolution of 1947.
Obama's disappointed envoys and his implied threats toward Israel hardened the Palestinians' positions even more. But as the Congressional elections draw closer, Obama is realizing that his disregard for American Jewish power was a mistake - both because American Jews were his chief financial supporters in the presidential election and because they could be a force for peace if Obama's approach to Israel were more balanced.
Netanyahu's success in passing a decision to suspend construction in West Bank settlements for 10 months, and in rigorously enforcing it, proves he understands he will not have a second comeback. The invitation to the Washington summit on September 2, which will also be attended by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, was concocted by George Mitchell as a new beginning, which is supposed to lead to a happy ending within a year, with concessions on both sides. Mitchell was quoted after his disappointing visits to this region as saying that "in Ireland we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success" (the day the agreement was signed ).
That day of success is still far from us. But it is very important for Netanyahu to build up a relationship of trust with the administration. First, he must appear to want the summit to succeed, and if necessary, he must extend the construction freeze in the territories. Second, he must conduct himself in such a way that the administration won't be able to say he was the one who sabotaged the summit. And he would be wise to also keep a line open for an agreement with Syria, which would be in keeping with the administration's interests.
The two-day summit has been well prepared, and it is too bad the Palestinians, in line with their tradition, are already making threats. Both Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat are warning that continuing the freeze is a sine qua non. Why threaten when you can talk?
Netanyahu is hinting in closed talks that he will surprise us, that he will be ready to discuss core issues and dividing the land. It is time to deal with the real problems that Sadat and Begin swept under the carpet.
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