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Did Israel offer the Palestinians a "great" deal?

Thomas Friedman is wrong: the “two-state” deal offered to Palestinian President Abbas by former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert was anything but “great”

Thomas Friedman is a hack. But he is an influential hack. So maybe it is worthwhile rebutting a familiar claim he made in his recent column.

Friedman is very angry at Netanyahu, for rebuffing Obama’s request for three more months of settlement freeze. For some reason, however, he feels compelled to “balance” this with criticism of Netanyahu’s Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas. Since the circumstances really are different, Friedman dredges up another affair entirely, arguing that former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered Abbas “a great two-state deal, including East Jerusalem” and Abbas supposedly “let it fritter away”.

Shamefully, I have to admit I really never looked into Olmert’s offer to Abbas. I see this claim all the time, so maybe, I wondered, the offer really was “great”? So I looked it up. On borders, you can read the written story here, and view the map here. What little there is on Jerusalem can be read here. It is all leaks, but I have not seen any reporting from Friedman indicating that he knows anything else, so I assume that this is the deal he is calling “great”.

In Israel and the US, it is common to judge such proposals by the level of their “generosity” towards Palestinians. A bad offer is “too generous” (usually) or “not generous enough” (rarely). This is both condescending and foolish. The point of peacemaking is not to placate the Palestinians just enough so that they would be quiet and leave Israel alone. A “great” deal would be one that is workable and sustainable over the long term for the two nations that occupy the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

By that measure, Olmert’s offer is a farce. It looks like a series of crazily gerrymandered electoral districts, and in fact, that is exactly what it is. The logic behind it is demographic: to annex as many Jewish settlers to Israel as possible, leaving as few Palestinians as possible. In order to do that, it destroys local and regional fabrics, with absurd consequences.

The city of Qalqilyah, with 42,000 residents, is virtually cut off from the rest of the West Bank. The Northern and Southern halves of the West Bank are connected only through the remote town of Jericho, or through East Jerusalem, supposedly “included” in the deal, but in fact, turned into a nightmare tapestry completely dominated by Jewish towns and neighborhoods.

Even if Abbas had signed an agreement along these lines (assuming it had answered difficult questions about water or Palestinian refugees) it would not have mattered. This deal would never have worked, and it was anything but “great”. Amusingly, Friedman attacks both sides for avoiding difficult choices, while, in the same breath, he praises an offer which had only one purpose: to avoid Israel’s truly difficult choice.

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    1. On December 11, with other members of kibbutzim of the Kibbutz Artzi movement, my wife and I toured the fences and walls separating Israel from Palestine, from Modiin to Jerusalem. Our guide was Shaul Arieli.

      I had thought that my knowledge of the the post 1948 history of Israel, including that of Jerusalem, was sufficient for the understanding of the human and material cost of the occupation. I was wrong.

      Shaul introduced us to a wealth of concepts and detail the like of which I had never seen or heard before, and which without weeks or months of extensive research, I would have remained immersed in ignorance.

      Anyone interested in how over the years one government after another has screwed the Palestinians and has pushed the possibility of peace farther and farther away should take a look at Shaul Arieli’s internet site.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben Israel

      The “occupation” is not the issue. No offer any Israeli gov’t will make to the Palestinians, including one by Roi Maor or Yossi Gurvitz will placate the Palestinians. leading to a full withdrawal to the pre-67 lines. The very existence of the state of Israel is abhorrent to them, regardless of what the borders are. Roi’s hometown of Tel Aviv is as much an “illegal settlement” to them as is Ofra. This is why they insist on IMPLEMENTATION of the “right of return” of the refugees and not merely “recognition of the suffering of the refugees” and the offer of monetary compensation.
      The Palestinians view the struggle as a long-term conflict in which Israel will be whittled down to nothing over time. The Palestinians see how “big, tough generals” like Rabin, Sharon and Barak kept making bigger and bigger concessions over time and how they carried out unilateral concessions that only blew up in their faces (the flight of the IDF from southern Lebanon which emboldened HIZBULLAH and the destruction of Gush Katif which did the same for HAMAS). The Palestinians learned that the Nasserite promise of one single military thrust against Israel can’t work, so the policy changed to “death by a thousand cuts”, that eventually Israeli will collapse, many Jews will flee the country and Tel Aviv will fall like a ripe fruit into their hands.

      This is their plan. There is NO dispute between HAMAS and FATAH on this matter, merely a disagreement over short-term tactics and fights over division of the money the US and EU lavishes on them.

      I do not for one moment think they will succeed. In fact, Israeli is pulling further and further ahaead of the Arab world economically, technologically, militarily and socially (in that population from weaker parts of society are now able to have members get ahead in education and their professions more than in the past). But the day-to-day conflict will continue for a long time and it is about time that Israelis drop the illusions that “peace negotiations” can succeed in bringing about an agreement. It is true that outsiders like Obama and Clinton will continue to push for meaningless “diplomatic horizons”, no doubt tempted by Saudi money which is given to former Presidents and others who do their bidding (Carter, Bush I and Gore among others have received millions of dollars from the Saudis and the Gulf States) but this is only a distraction from reality. The immeidate goal is to reach, rather, an unofficial modus vivendi, without asking the Arab side to give up its beliefs and dreams of eradicating Israel by showing that Israel is strong, sure of its purpose and the justice of its Zionist roots.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Roi Maor

      “… population from weaker parts of society are now able to have members get ahead in education and their professions more than in the past…”?

      If you are some radical leftist pretending to be a right winger, in order to present them as completely detached from reality, please make it more convincing. You have created a one-dimensional, slogan-spewing caricature, which cannot possibly be real.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben, I “love” the way you put everything in “quotes”. It’s “absolutely” “hysterical”.
      “Keep it up”.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben Israel

      Ami-so you don’t like the way I use quotes.
      Now, what do you have to say about what I wrote?

      Roi- I don’t understand the point you are trying to make. Are you saying what I said about social integration in Israel is not correct?

      Reply to Comment
    6. I “loved” it.

      Reply to Comment
    7. BI, it is difficult to engage you, because your comment does not include any facts. It’s just a list of opinions.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Y.

      I am glad to hear that it’s fine to reject a peace deal because it’s not good enough (or in the case of the Palestinians, because it didn’t grant them everything they asked – Olmert even gave up the Kotel and a “symbolic” right of return), and rejecting deals does not in any way signify a lack of good faith.

      I’m therefor sure Roi will have no problem if/when Israel rejects a deal because it’s not good enough.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Roi Maor

      To be clear: if Abbas had offered Olmert the same deal, I would have advised Olmert to reject it. It is unworkable no matter which side proposes it. Israel has a lot to lose if Palestinian lives are hell, even if it gets to keep another scrap of land and avoid the mess of evacuating more settlers. You seem to assume that the worse the deal is for the Palestinians, the better it is to Israel. That is a simple-minded way of thinking. I believe Olmert’s offer was bad for both sides. The obssessive focus on winning an imaginary demographic and territorial contest is a distraction from the need to devise a workable and effective solution, that will give both nations the possibility to prosper.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Y.

      Which leaves the question of why you are supporting the current process at all, since it can’t lead to a workable deal in any event (even a Palestinian state on 100% of WB+G won’t be viable, and Israel won’t be secure after any deal remotely acceptable to the PA).

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      Lisa-What I said is ALL facts. This is what they say openly. When have the Palestinians ever stated that they are willing to forgoe implementation of the “Right of Return” of the refugees? When have they ever indicated any flexibility in their up-unti-now non-negotiable demands.
      There is no doubt in my mind that if the Palestinians were to offer today, a full peace agreement with Israel, accepting compensation for the refugees in lieu of actual return, in return for an Israeli withdrawal all the way to the pre-67 lines, any Israeli gov’t, including one of the Likud/Rigth would have no choice but to accept it. The internal and external pressure would be irresistable. But have the Palestinians ever made such an offer? No, and they never will.
      Those are the facts. The basis of belief by progressives of a “reasonable” peace, based on the terms Labor and Kadima are always talking about (the “solution everyone knows the terms of”) has no basis in reality becaus it has never been accepted by tne Palestinians. Why do you think they will go against all the promises they have repeatedly made to their own people now?

      Reply to Comment
    12. No, BI, none of the information you have offered is factual. You underline that when you write, “there is no doubt in my mind.” We are not talking about your mind. We are talking about facts.

      Now, if you have documentation to prove your contentions – and I’m not talking about Glenn Beck or Arutz 7, but reputable primary sources, or mainstream media that quote primary sources on the record – then I would be interested in seeing them.

      So far, all we have seen is your reactionary worldview supported by your reactionary worldview.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Roi Maor

      Y.: I think the current process is flawed, but not for the reasons you mentioned.

      I believe a Palestinian state can be viable, in the sense that it would be able to develop and provide for the needs of its citizens. This depends on a settlement that takes into account the needs of Palestinians and internal connections within Palestinian society. Olmert’s offer does not meet that criterion.

      To the extent that Israel’s security is up to the Palestinians (and that is a small extent, indeed), this interest is better served by doing what can be done to make the Palestinians prosperous, independent and secure, than by any amount of territory or “security arrangements”. Olmert’s deal failed at this test as well.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Ben Israel

      Lisa-Please provide some information on offers the Palestinians have made along the lines of “the terms of an agreement everyone knows the terms of”…in particular, a willingness to give up their demand for full implementation of the “right of return” for refugees.
      I am referring to statements by the highest Palestinian Authority, not anonymous statements released by the WAFA news agency to Western Reporters.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Thanks, Roi. 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    16. Y.

      Roi: Yeah, viable in a way of being split up into two (at least), having a demographic explosion in Gaza and from returning so-called refugees (requiring resettlement of at least a million people [very likely more] in the WB, but having nearly no resources [like water] to do so), and not much of an economy [excluding foreign aid bubbles] or of a political system. Oh, and likely not having monopoly of violence either. Gee, how could this go wrong?

      As for Israel’s security, there are quite a few threats, and yeah, land is critically important (though my statement encompassed far more than that – please explain how to make a Gaza-WB link without encouraging infiltration and with PA acceptance).

      Reply to Comment
    17. Ben Israel

      Here Saeb Erekat calls for the actual return of the Palestinian refugees :


      Also recall the recent FATAH conference rejected all the compromises that Abbas supposedly alluded to in the Jerusalem Post article. FATAH is the party on the ground in the Palestinian territories. They talk to their own people, not western reporters.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Roi Maor

      Y: This debate is becoming repetitive. The problems that you mentioned (and far worse) are faced by many countries around the world. Nothing that Israel will do can guarantee the Palestinians’ success. All it can do is get out of their way, for its own interests as well as theirs.

      BI: Kudos on moving the goalposts. Obviously, if the Fatah conference had made a different decision, you would have pointed to another body, and so forth. I imgaine that even if the Palestinians sign an agreement to that effect, you would still argue that they are lying, and if 500 years of peace and prosperity ensue, you will argue that year 501 is the time it will all go wrong.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Y.

      Yea, of course this thread is repetitive: “We want solution S” “But what about X,Y,Z problems?” “(evasion)”. This can sum up half of the current conversion in Israel.
      Now, to be clear, I don’t like these ideas because of my concerns for Israel, not due to the Palestinians – but what constantly amazes me is how the Left’s schemes are dubious even according to their own criteria.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Ben Israel

      Roi-Isn’t FATAH the ruling party in the West Bank? They are the people in direct contact with the population there. What they say to their own people is far more significant than a statement made by a single PA official to Western Media, which I say is made only for propaganda purposes-in order to keep the EU and American money flowing into their pockets.
      The Palestinians demands have not changed one iota since the 1980’s. They are prepared for the “2-state solution” (and note this is note referred to as 2 STATES FOR 2 PEOPLES” as the Israeli Left likes to do) on conditions that there is a 100% withdrawal to the pre-67 lines AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PALESTINIAN RIGHT OF RETURN. I repeat, they have not budged one millimeter from these demands during the whole period of Oslo to today. The demands are non=negotiable. They repeat this over and over and over to their own people Do you recall a couple of months ago when a high official fo UNRWA stated that the Palestinian leadership was doing a disservice to the refugees by claiming that they are going to return to Israel? All hell broke loose and the offical PA organs denounced his statement. The Palestinian leadership can NOT break these promises to their people because they will go down in history as traitors. That’s why I only pay attention to what they say to their own people. They are not in the position that the Israeli leadership is in where lying to the public is considered normal and even praiseworthy (e.g. Ariel Sharon and Gush Katif).

      In any event, many people much more knowledgable than I agree with my positon. This includes Benny Morris and Aaron David Miller. Even Yossi Beilin recently wrote in Israel HaYom that it may be necessary to come to an interim agreement, meaning that even he sees the hurdles in coming to a final agreement, and he was the one who demanded all these years that they move fast to a final agreement. He was in power in Barak’s gov’t-did he achieve an agreement?
      I recently heard Ami Ayalon give a lecture. He also indicated that Israel will probably have to take unilateral steps.
      Thus, I believe it is you views that are out of synch with reality.

      Reply to Comment
    21. […] great deal Shamefully, I have to admit I really never looked into Olmert’s offer to Abbas. I see this claim all the time, so maybe, I wondered, the offer really was “great”? So I looked […]

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