Too much distracting din made it difficult to pay much mind to Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority cronies. But this didn’t keep them from babbling and what they revealed deserved our attention – even if the utterances in question weren’t the sort that the more politically correct in our midst prefer we dwell on.
The Palestinian al-Hayat al-Jadida daily quoted Abbas as bluntly issuing the following ultimatum when addressing a visiting Arab athletic delegation: “We told the present Israeli negotiators that if you want to go back on what was agreed with [former Israeli premier Ehud] Olmert, we will go back on our agreement for a land swap and so we will ask for all of the 1967 land as is.”
Elaborating further, Abbas claimed that Olmert at the time asked for territorial exchanges amounting to 6% of Judea and Samaria while the Palestinians wouldn’t go beyond 1.9%.
According to another PA daily, Al-Quds, Abbas asserted that the current American-sponsored negotiations revolve around fixing borders and that “the Palestinian position is based on the understandings reached with Olmert. However, the Israelis now want to scrap the understandings reached on borders with Olmert.” He threatened to resume unilateral initiatives at the UN.
Abbas was echoed by senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath, who told Ma’an News Agency that “Israel has not proposed anything so far. Since the talks resumed, Israel had showed no flexibility, with some Israeli negotiators even suggesting talks begin from scratch. The Israeli side does not recognize any of the agreements signed previously including Oslo and the Road Map plan which the Palestinian side has fully implemented.”
He added: “Israel wants the US to remain as its ally and not as a mediator in talks, which is why Israel opposes the presence of US envoy Martin Indyk during sessions.”
The Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, contributed his two cents during an interview to the Voice of Palestine: “until now there has been no progress. Without American pressure on Israel no breakthrough will be achieved.”
Israel was also upbraided for seeking to derail the talks by raising security issues and for having allegedly proposed a Palestinian state within temporary borders on roughly 60% of the territory Ramallah demands. This was summarily rejected because “the principle of a Palestinian state on the entire disputed territory must be accepted first.”
And, not to forget, numerous PA mouthpieces insist that the phased release of 104 convicted murderers (which Abbas secured for his consent to at all parley) must continue no matter how negotiations turn out. And there’s more: the PA now wants 250 others sprung.
All this chatter led Jerusalem to lodge a stiff complaint with Washington over the incessant leaks from Palestinian interlocutors. The talks were launched under the understanding that nothing would be divulged about what was being deliberated – not even technical details – and that only the US could brief the media.
So in a way, we need to be grateful for this Arab gabbiness, skewed and tendentious though it is. Ramallah’s breach of secrecy puts us on alert, which is better than being kept entirely in the dark. The above jibber-jabber happens to be instructive. Here are its essential points:
1. No past concession is ever fully relegated to the past – not even Olmert’s extremely egregious territorial generosity at the very end of his term. He went even further in his offers than Ehud Barak did in 2000. Yet Olmert’s extreme largesse too was brusquely rebuffed. Nothing was agreed to and nothing was finalized, much less signed. All that doesn’t prevent Abbas from cheekily misrepresenting the rejected Olmert proposal as a done deal that obliges Israel and all its future governments.
2. No concession ever suffices; it only whets the appetite for more – i.e. the aim to force Israel to release yet more convicted mass-murderers, regardless of whether the negotiations get anywhere.
3. It was naive to hope that negotiations and/or an interim deal can fend of more unilateral PA stunts at the UN and other international forums. This is now the whip with which to beat Israel into submission.
4. Territorial compromise is hardly doable. Abbas plainly aims for all or nothing – the 1949 armistice lines (a.k.a. the 1967 non-border) or nothing.
5. The very fact that US envoy Martin Indyk partakes in negotiating sessions in and of itself negates the principle of direct talks. It means that each side will appeal to him, that the US is an active player in the process, that Indyk is an adjudicator/mediator at best – which is bad enough. In reality, he can mix things up and impose so-called compromises. This – considering the dynamic that Israel always gives and the Palestinians merely have to deign to take – will perforce operate to Israel’s detriment.
It’s a reality once well grasped by all Israeli leaders – on either side of the political divide. Hence historically their insistence on direct talks was nothing less than cardinal. A succession of foreign emissaries and politicos came and went but Israel consistently recoiled from the notion of shuttle diplomacy, go-betweens or overseers such as Indyk.
At first this principle steadfastly guided even the misguided progenitors of the Oslo folly. But two decades of making one existentially risky concession after another existentially risky concession – of erasing one declaratively inedible red-line after another, drawing new ‘red lines” but deleting these in turn again – have eroded that underlying resolve.
To be fair, Netanyahu inherited an unenviable legacy. The Osloites stealthily ushered another Arab Palestinian state into the original territory once designated as Palestine, some 80% of which is already Arab (even if it parades under the wholly artificial name of Jordan).
This contradicted Israel’s long-time stance, best enunciated by Golda Meir: “Israel and Jordan were the two state-successors to the British Mandate. There is no room for a third… A Palestinian State between us and Jordan can only become a base to make it even more convenient to attack and destroy Israel.”
Barak, in his catastrophic stint as premier, established the ever-insidious model of total Israeli withdrawal back to the 1949 green-tinted lines. Later Olmert shockingly reinforced the Barak precedent. This, coupled with Washington’s most antagonistic administration ever, left Netanyahu in dire circumstances and with powerful incentives to just please the hectoring censorious chorus out there.
Giving in is the easy thing to do. But, if past experience has taught us any lesson, it’s that buying time via “painful concessions” doesn’t work. Concessions become self-evidently the new square-one for ensuing haggling rounds.
History suffers no vacuums. Every retreat spawns yet another retreat, triggering a negative dynamic. Oslo elicited universal acceptance of a third state in original Palestine (the second Arab one), which forced Israel into increasingly defensive negotiating postures, culminating in Barak’s capitulation. Ariel Sharon subsequently expelled Jews and razed 25 veteran thriving settlements. Then, on paper, Olmert ceded most remaining settlements. The security fence was essentially moved to 1949’s Green-Line.
Next (and this, significantly under Netanyahu) Israel temporarily froze Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, thereby implying that it somehow concedes that the settlements are illegitimate. But even that failed to satisfy. Each concession breeds another and thus Jerusalem was targeted and Jewish residence came under fire in a city which boasted a very massive Jewish majority already since the first census was taken there early in the Nineteenth Century.
Bargaining, which we assumed would be about agreed boundaries within the territories we were forced to take in the course of our self-defense in 1967, turned out to be about the 1949 line of exhaustion demarcated to end of the War of Independence imposed on us.
Beyond that lies an older Arab claim for the 1947 UN partition lines which Arabs rejected violently, thereby sparking that War of Independence. And raging ferociously before that was the antebellum debate about whether any Jewish state ought to exist, which is what fueled that violent Arab opposition in 1947.
The same animus still foments Arab refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or to forgo the “right” to inundate that Jewish state with untold millions of hostile Arabs who’ll destroy its continued existence as a Jewish state.
While Israel serially drew back from its positions in order to appease America and/or to coax Arabs into some modicum of accommodation, Arab orientations during all that time hadn’t budged a fraction of a millimeter.
Their only modifications were tactical. Instead of eradicating Israel in one fell swoop (which they didn’t do only because they couldn’t), they settled on slicing Israel’s salami bit by bit to deprive it of strategic depth, render it more vulnerable to predations and erode it by demonization and demoralization.
The basic premise remains that at most the de facto existence of the unwanted “Zionist entity” is acknowledged provisionally, that this entity must shrink and that Arabs have a right to deluge it.
Whenever we concede even a theoretical point, we imbue Arab obstructionism with an aura of righteous respectability in the (kangaroo) court of world opinion. We irreversibly undermine our own case.
That’s why it’s taken for granted internationally that Israel must be squeezed into the 1949 lines. Global discourse now dwells on whether there’s at all any justification for a Jewish state.
We have indeed come a long way – backwards. By rushing recklessly headlong to resolve a conflict not of our making, we ended up returning to its very origins – the aspiration to eradicate the Jewish state.
Have we anything to show for decades of regression? Not much if we judge by the revelations from Ramallah. Yet they are among the few things these days we can be thankful for.