The details of the unprecedented offer Israel got from the Palestinian leadership have been revealed – along with the Israeli response. Still, if you only listen to the Israeli media, you might think it was Abbas who got cold feet.
A new theory is taking shape in Israel these days: according to some heavyweight analysts and politicians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indeed went through a “personal transformation” in the months leading to the peace talks, and it was PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas who got cold feet at the last moment, turning instead to unilateral moves like his request to join international treaties and reconciliation agreement with Hamas. Many of those parroting this line add to it a historical-psychological analysis of Abbas, who, in their minds, has become “a serial rejectionist.”
It is not just right-wing personalities like Naftali Bennett – who was hoping for the talks to fail in the first place – who promote this narrative. Even centrists like Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Haaretz’s Ari Shavit (who was and has remained Netanyahu’s informal spokesperson) and journalists Ben Dror Yemini, Shalom Yerushalmi and Nahum Barnea. The latter can’t be suspected of supporting Netanyahu.
This is deception, pure and simple. The “historical” claims about Abbas have already already been refuted by Channel 10’s Raviv Druker on his blog (English translation here), but it is vital that the Israeli public is made aware of the distance the Palestinian Authority’s leadership has traveled, and to judge his own government’s actions accordingly.
One doesn’t need to look very far to understand what really happened. An American source – rumors in Israel claim it is special envoy Martin Indyk – spoke to Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea himself and told him exactly to what did Abbas agreed. These are not Palestinian claims but the words of the peace American envoy, to an Israeli journalist who was suspicious of Abbas’ behavior to begin with. In other words, putting aside a transcript of the talks or other formal papers, we will not hear a more credible version.
These concessions offered by Abbas go beyond the known formula of two independent states on the 1967 borders (the Green Line):
- The Palestinian state would be demilitarized. (This was a key demand brought up by Netanyahu in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech.)
- A new border would leave 80 percent (!) of the settlers under Israeli sovereignty.
- A five-year-long Israeli presence in the strategic “security zones” – mostly the Jordan Valley – that would be replaced by American forces. (This means Abbas actually offered to make the Palestinian state an enclave inside Israel for a very long period of time.)
- All Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would become part of Israel. (In other words, recognition of Israel’s annexation of certain parts of the city.)
- A symbolic return of refugees, which would depend on Israeli authorization. “Israel will not be flooded with refugees,” Abbas said during the negotiations, according to the American source.
It’s worth mentioning that according to the Palestinian narrative, which most of the world finds reasonable, the major Palestinian concession was their willingness to recognize an Israeli state on 78 percent of historic Palestine. This step, taken by Arafat, was seen by many as recognition of past mistakes by the Palestinians, and pragmatically necessary for finding an urgent solution to the Palestinian issue. Israel, for its part, never recognized a Palestinian state or the validity of Palestinian claims to a single inch of the land.
Yet even the claim that the Palestinians have been unwilling to show flexibility since their historic recognition of Israel – or that demands are only brought before the Israeli side – is simply false. In reality, the exact opposite has happened. In the 20 years that have passed since Oslo, the Palestinians have come a long way toward Israel’s positions, and showed a great deal of understanding about the political — and even the psychological — needs of the Israeli leadership. Again, this was a recognition of their own relative weakness and of the urgency they felt, which was never shared by successive Israeli leaderships.
Abbas’ offers to Netanyahu were based on previous ideas like the Clinton Parameters and the informal Geneva Accord. Yet the fact that they were raised in a formal way, in final-status negotiations by the leader of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, is extremely meaningful. Even more meaningful is the fact that Hamas was willing to recognize and join a leadership that made such offers.
On the other side is an Israeli government that feels it is powerful enough not to be held accountable to anything or anyone, and an indifferent Israeli public. Both are constantly searching for evidence of “Palestinian rejectionism” and when that is not found, they simply make things up. The facts that Abbas was willing to recognize Israel — which defines itself as a Jewish State – rather than “Israel as a Jewish state,” or that he still insists on a symbolic return (which is mostly a political effort to save face on this issue), are all portrayed by politicians and pundits alike as the smoking gun that proves he is a pathological rejectionist.
Did Netanyahu ever come close to endorsing the Geneva Plan or the Clinton Parameters? Did he bother to outline his own border plan? Did he ever make a gesture on the narrative level like Abbas’ statement on the Holocaust? Did his “transformation” bring him any closer to the minimum a two-state solution requires? Did – in more than five years – he ever do anything beyond reversible “gestures” like a (partial) settlement freeze or the (partial) release of veteran prisoners, which wasn’t even completed? All these questions have the same answer.
In fact, Abbas went so far that serious forces in Palestinian society claim such an agreement would have never been accepted by the Palestinian people, and if it was, it would have been impossible to implement. That may be true, but this is an issue for an internal Palestinian conversation. The point of the matter is that the Jewish public cannot continue deceiving itself, and it cannot go on permitting its own leaders’ and journalist’s deceptions.
If you add the Arab Peace Initiative to Abbas’ offer, one must conclude that Israel has never before faced such an opportunity to achieve regional and international legitimacy for its military and political achievements in the last century.
The Israeli leadership chose to pass on it all, and the Israeli public has little problem with that.
Originally posted in Hebrew on Local Call. Update: Since I wrote this post, President Peres spoke about the way Netanyahu torpedoed his own breakthrough with the Palestinians, some three years ago. By now, one has gotten used to such stories.