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March 24, 2011

The Israeli Way and a Draft Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement

Uri Avnery

Source:  Gush Shalom

I ALWAYS thought this a specifically Israeli trait: whenever a scandal of
national proportions breaks out, we ignore the crucial issues and focus our
attention on some secondary detail. This spares us having to face the real
problems and making painful decisions.

There are examples galore. The classic one centered on the question: “Who
Gave the Order?” When it became known that in 1954 an Israeli spy ring had
been ordered to plant bombs in US and British institutions in Egypt, in order
to sabotage the effort to improve relations between the West and Gamal Abd-
al-Nasser, a huge crisis rocked Israel. Almost nobody asked whether the idea
itself had been wise or stupid. Almost nobody asked whether it was really in
the best interest of Israel to challenge the new and vigorous Egyptian
leader, who was fast becoming the idol of the entire Arab world (and who had
already secretly indicated that he could possibly make peace with Israel).

No, the question was solely: Who had given the order? The Minister of
Defense, Pinhas Lavon, or the chief of military intelligence, Binyamin Gibli?
This question rocked the nation, brought down the government and induced
David Ben-Gurion to leave the Labor Party.

Recently, the Turkish flotilla scandal centered around the question: was it a
good idea for commandos to slide down ropes onto the ship, or should
another form of attack have been adopted? Almost nobody asked: should
Gaza have been blockaded in the first place? Wasn’t it smarter to start
talking with Hamas? Was it a good idea to attack a Turkish ship on the high

It seems that this particular Israeli way of dealing with problems is infectious.
In this respect (too), our neighbors are starting to resemble us.

THE ALJAZEERA TV network followed WikiLeaks’ example this week by
publishing a pile of secret Palestinian documents. They paint a detailed
picture of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, especially during the
time of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when the gap between the parties
became much smaller.

In the Arab world, this caused a huge stir. Even while the “Jasmine
Revolution” in Tunisia was still in full swing, and masses of people in Egypt
were confronting the Mubarak regime, the Aljazeera leaks stirred up an
intense controversy.

But what was the clash about? Not about the position of the Palestinian
negotiators, not about the strategy of Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues,
its basic assumptions, its pros and cons.

No, in the Israeli way, the main question was: who leaked the documents?
Who is lurking in the shadows behind the whistle-blowers? The CIA? The
Mossad? What were their sinister motives?

On Aljazeera, the Palestinian leaders were accused of treason and worse. In
Ramallah, the Aljazeera offices were attacked by pro-Abbas crowds. Saeb
Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, declared that Aljazeera was actually
calling for his murder. He and others denied that they had ever made the
concessions indicated in the documents. They seemed to be saying in public
that such concessions would amount to betrayal – though they agreed to
them in secret.

All this is nonsense. Now that the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating
positions have been made public – and nobody seriously denied their
authenticity - the real discussion should be about their substance.

FOR ANYONE involved in any way with Israeli-Palestinian peace-making,
there was nothing really surprising in these disclosures.

On the contrary, they showed that the Palestinian negotiators are adhering
strictly to the guidelines laid down by Yasser Arafat.

I know this firsthand, because I had the opportunity to discuss them with
Arafat himself. That was in 1992, after the election of Yitzhak Rabin. Rachel
and I went to Tunis to meet “Abu Amar”, as he liked to be called. The high
point of the visit was a meeting in which, besides Arafat himself, several
Palestinian leaders took part - among them Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser

All were intensely curious about the personality of Rabin, whom I knew well,
and questioned me closely about him. My remark that “Rabin is as honest as
a politician can be” was greeted with general laughter, most of all from Arafat.

But the main part of the meeting was devoted to a review of the key
problems of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The borders, Jerusalem, security, the
refugees etc, which are now generally referred to as the “core issues”.

Arafat and the others discussed it from the Palestinian point of view. I tried
to convey what – in my opinion – Rabin could possible agree to. What
emerged was a kind of skeleton peace agreement.

Back in Israel, I met with Rabin at his private home on a Shabbat, in the
presence of his assistant Eitan Haber, and tried to tell him what had
transpired. Rather to my surprise, Rabin evaded all serious discussion. He
was already thinking about Oslo.

A few years later, Gush Shalom published a detailed draft peace agreement.
It was based on knowledge of the Palestinian position as disclosed in Tunis.
As anyone can see on our website, it was very similar to the recent
proposals of the Palestinian side as disclosed in the Aljazeera papers.

THESE ARE roughly as follows:

The borders will be based on the 1967 lines, with some minimal swaps of
territory which would join to Israel the big settlements immediately adjacent
to the Green Line. These do not include the big settlements that cut deep
into the West Bank, cutting the territory into pieces, such as Ma’aleh Adumim
and Ariel.

All the settlements in what will become the State of Palestine will have to be
evacuated. According to the papers, one of the Palestinians opened another
option: that the settlers remain where they are and become Palestinian
citizens. Tzipi Livni – then Foreign Minister – immediately objected, saying
bluntly that all of them would be murdered. I agree that it would not be a
good idea – it would cause endless friction, since these settlers sit on
Palestinian land, either Palestinian private property or the land reserves of
the towns and villages.

About Jerusalem, the solution would be as phrased by President Bill Clinton:
What is Arab will go to Palestine, what is Jewish will be joined to Israel. This
is a huge Palestinian concession, but a wise one. I was glad that they did not
agree to apply this rule to Har Homa, the monstrous settlement built on what
was once a beautiful wooded hill, where I spent many days and nights (and
almost lost my life) in protests against its construction.

About the refugees, it is clear to any reasonable person that there will not be
a mass return of millions, which would turn Israel into something else. This is
a very bitter (and unjust) pill for the Palestinians to swallow – but which any
Palestinian who really desires a two-state solution must accept. The question
is: how many refugees will be allowed back to Israel as a healing gesture?
The Palestinians proposed 100,000. Olmert proposed 5,000. That’s a big
difference – but once we start to haggle about numbers, a solution can be

The Palestinians want an international force to be stationed in the West
Bank, safeguarding their own and Israel’s security. I don’t remember if Arafat
mentioned this to me, but I am sure that he would have agreed.

This, then, is the Palestinian peace plan – and it has not changed since Arafat
came, in late 1973, to the conclusion that the two-state solution was the only
viable one. The fact that Olmert and Co. did not jump to accept these terms,
instead launching the deadly Cast Lead operation, speaks for itself.

THE ALJAZEERA disclosures are inopportune. Such delicate negotiations are
better conducted in secret. The idea that “the people should be part of the
negotiations” is naïve. The people should certainly be consulted, but not
before a draft agreement lies on the table and they can decide whether they
like the whole bundle or not. Before that, disclosures will only whip up a
demagogic cacophony of accusations of treason (on both sides), like what is
happening now.

For the Israeli peace camp, the disclosures are a blessing. They prove, as
Gush Shalom put it yesterday in its weekly statement, that “We have a
partner for peace. The Palestinians have no partner for peace.”