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'There was no generous offer': A history of peace talks

Raviv Drucker, a prominent journalist who co-hosts a well-known television magazine program on Channel 10, wrote a tough blog post in which he takes some of Israel’s best known journalists to task for presenting a completely erroneous interpretation of the Palestinian position regarding a negotiated agreement for a two-state solution. I have translated his post with permission. 

By Raviv Drucker

Ari Shavit has written another one of his fabulous treatises in his exemplary prose style that is, as his articles often are, completely detached from the facts. According to Shavit, Mahmoud Abbas is an intransigent negotiator who fails every time he is put to the test. The pièce de résistance of Shavit’s treatise comes at the point where he accuses Abbas of not having signed off on the Geneva Accord. Readers might recall that the Geneva Accord was a foreign affairs initiative between Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabo. But according to Shavit’s logic, the second most important person in the Palestinian Authority should have risked his own political credibility by signing off on concessions, in order to protect Yossi Beilin.

Yair Lapid gave a truly heartrending speech, in which he wondered aloud if Abbas had any desire to achieve statehood. Again and again, Lapid intoned, the president of the Palestinian Authority uses evasion tactics, refuses to sign agreements, avoids dealing with the end game. The peak of Lapid’s speech comes when he says:

 Just about a year ago we agreed to join the governing coalition only after we received a commitment that we would return to the negotiating table on the basis of two states for two peoples.

It would be interesting to know who gave him that commitment. It’s not written anywhere in the guidelines of the government he joined. That commitment was intentionally (Naftali Bennett) excluded from the guidelines. Lapid did not insist upon it, which he probably does not even recall.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset, July 29, 2013 (Photo: Tali Mayer/ Activestills.org)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset, July 29, 2013 (Photo: Tali Mayer/ Activestills.org)

The veteran political analyst Nahum Barnea wrote in a column published on Friday [in the print edition of Yedioth Aharonoth] that the ink in Mahmoud Abbas’s pen has been dry since 1993 and the Palestinian leader won’t sign any further agreements.

You read these things and they can make you slowly lose your mind. People who are intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced simply do not know their facts. Or perhaps they have an interest in distorting them?

Mahmoud Abbas has never been presented with an agreement which, in the view of people who know Palestinian society, he would have regarded as acceptable. Never. It could be true that he doesn’t have the political support necessary for the signing of a permanent agreement, but that claim has never been tested. On the other hand, the Israeli leader has been tested for five years and there is no doubt — he is not signing any agreement, ever.

Check out +972’s full coverage of the peace process

These are well-worn and tedious facts. But the Lapid-Shavit-Barnea-Livni spin machine is so irritating that we must go over them again.

For 26 years, Abbas has presented the same set of conditions for a permanent agreement. A Palestinian state established on the pre-1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem, and a mutually agreed upon resolution to the issue of the refugees. That is the price. He has not moved a fraction of an inch since 1988. Those are the conditions he presented in Oslo in 1993 and that’s what was on the table during a series of talks that took place when Ariel Sharon was foreign minister during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister in the 1990s (is there anyone who even remembers those talks? There was a meeting-and-a-half or so). That was Abbas’s position at Camp David in 2000, at Taba in January 2011, and at Annapolis in 2007. The Palestinian position has consistently been that Israel would take 2-to-4 percent of the West Bank and compensate them for every yard of territory. In the eyes of the Palestinians, this is a huge concession compared to what was granted them under the partition agreement of 1947, and in light of their historical rights. You can agree or you can disagree, but that is their price and apparently there is no way to maneuver around it.

And yet generations of Israeli politicians who should have known better have tried to bargain over that price, as if they were in a Middle Eastern bazaar. The attitude of the Israeli negotiators seems to be, “The Palestinians say they want 100 percent of the territory that was conquered in 1967, but they’ll close the deal for less.” In 1999 Ehud Barak sketched a map that included 50 percent of the territory. Then [former deputy prime minister] Haim Ramon said he could close a deal with them for 80 percent. Peres said he could bring home an agreement for 90 percent, Barak suggested 92 percent at Camp David, Livni suggested the same number and Olmert went as high as 94 percent.

But Lapid, Shavit and Barnea keep coming back to the Camp David talks in July 2000, when Abbas supposedly got “cold feet.”

Ehud Barak (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Ehud Barak (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

So here’s the thing. Abbas really did play a negative role at Camp David. There were all sorts of petty political considerations at play (the power games between Arafat and Abu Ala) that put him in a position of being passive and not very smart during those talks. At the same time, I have gathered from quite a few conversations over the years that the Israeli participants knew going into those talks that there was absolutely no chance of Abbas or Arafat signing the agreement that was presented to them. Barak made an amazing offer, particularly given Israeli public opinion. He agreed to divide Jerusalem, including the Old City, and he agreed to shared sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

But Barak knew going into those talks that no Palestinian leader could ever bring home an agreement that included only 91 percent of the territory of the West Bank (and an additional 1 percent in land swaps). Especially when a substantial portion of that territory (the Jordan Valley) would be leased back to Israel for decades in order to meet its security concerns. I am not absolving Arafat of responsibility for the failure of those negotiations. He sat passively at Camp David, and he never explained to his people the size of the risk and concessions that Barak was prepared to make. One can accuse Abbas of failing to clarify that point, but Abbas was not the leader at Camp David and anyway it’s absolutely clear today that no Palestinian leader could have signed that agreement — then or now.

Between 2000 and 2008 no agreement was ever presented to Abbas. During the Second Intifada, Abbas, with unprecedented courage, preached against violent resistance and acts of terrorism. It is largely due to his efforts that, since he took over as leader of the Palestinian Authority, Israelis have enjoyed some of the quietest years in the occupied territories. And there have been no suicide bombers. I am not brushing aside the shooting attacks [carried out by Palestinians] in the occupied territories, but look at the numbers. According to the Shin Bet, we haven’t had such a protracted period of quiet in the West Bank since before the First Intifada. But in Israel Abbas gets practically no credit for this achievement. Isn’t this our first and primary demand from the Palestinian Authority — an end to violence?

Even I am tired of writing about Livni and Olmert’s offer. But for those who don’t have the energy to go read my old articles, let me just repeat for the millionth time: Olmert made his super generous offer (and I am not being cynical) when he was already an outgoing prime minister with no political power or legitimacy. President Bush and Condoleeza Rice told him then that no agreement would result from his offer. Even a leftist like me would have objected to the signing of an agreement at that time, given the total lack of political support in Israel. The senior politicians would have rejected the agreement completely. Netanyahu, who at the time was head of the opposition and knew he had a serious chance of being elected prime minister, announced in real time that he would not honor the agreement if it were signed. Livni abstained from mentioning it at all. Bottom line: Even then, Abbas did not get cold feet, was not afraid and did not run away.

The Israelis have not made a single offer since 2008. Perhaps it is time for Lapid, Shavit and Barnea to take a look at the Israeli side of this story. For five years Netanyahu has been saying, “Just give me an opportunity to be alone in a room with him [Abbas] and I’ll surprise you. I want an agreement.” I’ve never doubted for a moment that Netanyahu had absolutely no surprises to offer and that all that talk was just more of his charlatan’s spin. After all, nothing was stopping him from sending an envoy to the Muqata’a in Ramallah to inform Abbas that he, Netanyahu, agreed to sign off on Olmert’s offer. Then we would have been able to see if Abbas really was a coward.

In the end, Abbas submitted to negotiations under the Kerry initiative. He knew he would be manipulated, he knew Netanyahu was not serious, but he thought — at least I’ll obtain the release of some of the political prisoners. For nine months there were negotiations, and guess what: Netanyahu didn’t even make a territorial offer. He wouldn’t offer a map. And he made security demands — that is, Defense Minister Moshe [Boogie] Ya’alon made demands — that were more draconian and more stringent than those made in the past by the very same security establishment. Then Barnea looks at all this and claims that Netanyahu was more generous than in previous rounds of negotiations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech to released Palestinian prisoners, at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 14.  (Photo: Yotam Ronen/ Activestills)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech to released Palestinian prisoners, at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 14. (Photo: Yotam Ronen/ Activestills)

You can claim that the Palestinian demands are excessive, that the State of Israel cannot pay this price, that it presents an untenable threat to its existence. Personally, I think it’s worth the risk because of a million other considerations. But that’s another matter. The thing that we know absolutely for certain is that when the leaders of the Israeli delegation, Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molho, entered the negotiating room, they knew exactly what the Palestinian price was. If they knew they had no intention of meeting that price, then these negotiations have been a fraud from the beginning. When you want to buy an apartment and the owner says the price is $1 million, you don’t offer him half a million. And you definitely don’t try to engage him in a long series of negotiations if he refuses to name his price at all.

The saddest thing is that Tzipi Livni, who until recently was a fairly decent politician, knew in 2011 how to call out Netanyahu for his response to negotiations with the Palestinians. But today she is, embarrassingly, trumpeting Netanyahu’s line.

Ari Shavit and the failure of the Kerry process
Israel suspends talks, and Washington’s hypocrisy on Hamas

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    1. Kolumn9

      You have basically agreed with the analysis of Israeli pundits. The Palestinians, and Abbas, have been unwilling and unable to make any compromises in any of the negotiations that have taken place.

      Indeed, the Palestinians make excessive demands and people on the left insist that Israel must submit to them, as you do here. The problem with your analogy is that the Palestinians don’t own the proverbial apartment. What they own is Gaza and area A in the West Bank and perhaps a seat at the UN. Everything else is disputed and being negotiated and on these issues, and on Jerusalem and on the refugees the Palestinians insist on 100% of their demands and are unwilling to compromise in the interest of a peaceful outcome that will create a Palestinian state living next door to a secure Jewish state.

      Your argument is also silly, because there were two parties that went into negotiations. The Palestinians know the Israeli price and that price is very low. All that Israel is asking for is that the outcome of negotiations will consist of two states for two peoples with secure borders for the State of Israel. This time, and on every occasion, the Palestinians have rejected an outcome that leaves a Jewish State alive. This time they have done so explicitly by rejecting the Kerry formula of two states for two peoples, rejecting cancelling the idea of flooding Israel with Arabs and rejecting the idea that an agreement would end the conflict.

      In other words, the Israeli pundits are right. For 26 years Abbas and before him Arafat have refused to compromise in the interests of peace. Both of them were/are cowards and prefer signing agreements with terrorist groups like Hamas while taking every occasion to praise mass murderers who kill Israeli civilians, rather than making peace with Israel. In one matter I do agree with you. The negotiations are indeed a fraud because the Palestinian narrative and every Palestinian leader still insist that nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish State is an acceptable outcome.

      Reply to Comment
      • Jeffrey Alix

        You are some sort of delusional troll.

        In the latest peace talks, Abbas agreed to symbolic right of return (which in practice amounts to nothing at all), left totally up to the discretion of Israel and explicitly stating that he acknowledges and understands Israel’s demographic concerns.

        That’s called a major concession. This is a situation in which I, an American, speaking no Hebrew with no ties to Israel, can fly to Israel and claim citizenship because I’m a Jew. Why? Israel was the Jewish homeland thousands of years ago. Meanwhile, someone who was removed mere decades ago cannot return.

        As far as land, the UN has called for more than Israel has ever offered—a resolution based on the 1967 borders. There is no “dispute” as far as anyone except Israel’s rightist politicians are concerned. The territories are occupied as far as the UN and even Israel’s own High Court is concerned. The territories are occupied as a mere practical matter. By which I mean there are no Israelis living on the territories except in the settlements, which were built on land appropriated from Palestinians by forced removal and the demolition of over 26,000 homes.

        So Abbas gives up on a proper, genuine, meaningful right of return. He accepts less land than the entire international community calls for in countless UN resolutions. He allows 80% of settlements to remain. He accepts demilitarization.

        Meanwhile, Israel would not agree to offer a map, delineating borders. It would not agree to draw up a timeline for the evacuation of settlers. It would not agree to a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

        This negotiation was a sham. Israel feels entitled to more than a state within its internationally recognized borders, and Abbas wouldn’t give it everything it wanted.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Lo

      What a lovely article. As a US citizen, I obviously have third-party status when it comes to the negotiations and statements of desiderata of the two direct parties, but it seems obvious to me that the intransigence of the Israelis could only arise through the implicit guarantee to protect the status quo granted to Israel by my country’s leaders. We are like the friend who keeps loaning money to a derelict heroin addict, hoping consantly that every missed obligation (such as dismantlement of the settlements) is an unfortunate aberration in the addict’s good character and that every new opportunity (new “framework agreements”) finally holds the solution to their tortuous affliction.

      I think the only solution is to end this cycle of enabling and disappointment is to divest from and sanction the dominant party in these negotiations until the necessary actors remember who is funding their ridiculous enterprise.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Rab

      What an amazing article. It’s like watching someone perform all sorts of twisted pretzel-like Yoga positions while falling after every attempt.

      The article claims that “since 2000 to 2008” Israel didn’t make a peace offer, as if there wasn’t a Palestinian war on Israel during those years where thousands of Israelis were viciously attacked. Or as if it didn’t take a tremendous effort by Israel to quell that war – a war guided by the Palestinian leadership.

      Within that same period, Israel also went to war in Lebanon and while the author justifies Abbas not trusting an offer late in an Olmert administration, apparently he feels that Olmert could have provided an offer during or right after that war. Of course that’s absurd. Just as it’s absurd to excuse Abbas walking away from that extraordinary offer by Olmert.

      Anybody who knows the history also knows that Barak’s government went to Taba with the Palestinians in late 2000, early 2001, even after the inexcusable actions of Palestinians at Camp David and even as Palestinian attacks were already ongoing. And Barak’s team, as recorded by the Spanish diplomat, Miguel Moratinos (a fan of Arafat, so there’s no confusion here), agreed to significant changes over his Camp David offer, changes based on the Clinton Parameters.

      The Palestinians accepted nothing, and to the great embarrassment of their defenders, weren’t even willing to concede to Israel “vertical sovereignty” over the Western Wall.

      I could go on, but there’s no point since the author makes the point himself: the Palestinians have not shifted their positions in 26 years and have rejected all peace offers during that period. Israel has shifted its positions dramatically (to the point where Netanyahu currently negotiates far to the LEFT of Rabin!!!).

      If the autho can make excuses for the Palestinians not making a single change in their position over decades, what’s with the criticism of Israel? In which playbook, or “Middle Eastern bazaar” does one side keep coming to the table with more and more concessions while the other pockets them and makes no change in their positions? Answer: when one side wants peace and the other doesn’t.

      The weakness of this article is demonstrated fully when the author claims the Palestinians have indicated they would be willing to concede 2-4% of the Judea and Samaria. As he well knows, the figure has been under 2% and has never changed.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Rehmat

      Rehmat is banned from commenting on this channel, pending a full ban from commenting on the site. This is my response to anti Semitic and Holocaust denying comments left in response to various posts on +972. As soon as I see a comment by Rehmat on my channel I will delete it.

      Reply to Comment
      • mia

        Thank you for that. 972mag will make for a much better read without the relentless antisemitisic remarks of this commentator.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Samuel

      “For 26 years, Abbas has presented the same set of conditions for a permanent agreement. A Palestinian state established on the pre-1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem, and a mutually agreed upon resolution to the issue of the refugees. That is the price.”

      That is an incredibly generous offer by Abbas. After all he could hold out for all of Israel too.

      “He has not moved a fraction of an inch since 1988.”

      That is precisely the problem. “Give me everything that I want” and you don’t even get recognition of the nation state of the Jewish people. That means he is not even willing to renounce the reason why the Palestinian Arabs have been fighting this 100 year war against us.

      Rejection is Abbas’s motto.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Samuel

      “Olmert made his super generous offer (and I am not being cynical) when he was already an outgoing prime minister with no political power or legitimacy.”

      The offer was made on September 18 2008.

      The Israeli elections were held 5 months later on the 10th of February.

      In between there was deathly silence about it from Abbas. Not my story, read Al Arabiya:


      Rice recalled: “Am I really hearing this? I wondered. Is the Israeli prime minister saying that he’ll divide Jerusalem and put an international body in charge of the holy sites.”

      She then said Israel wanted U.S. help in obtaining a list of security demands, aspects of which he knew the Palestinians might have trouble accepting.

      Rice promised to present the proposals the next day to Abbas.

      She said Abbas immediately started negotiating, saying he could not accept the return of only 5,000 of some four million Palestinians refugees. However, Rice arranged a meeting between Abbas and Olmert.

      In September, Rice said, Olmert gave Abbas a map outlining the territory of a Palestinian state, with Israel annexing about six percent.

      “All the other elements were still on the table, including the division of Jerusalem. Olmert had insisted that Abbas sign then and there,” Rice wrote, according to the excerpts.

      “When the Palestinian had demurred, wanting to consult his experts before signing, Olmert refused to give him the map,” the former top U.S. diplomat wrote, alluding to Olmert’s fears the details would leak.

      “The Israeli leader told me that he and Abbas had agreed to convene their experts the next day. Apparently that meeting never took place,” she said

      Reply to Comment
    7. Jan

      It should be obvious that Israel never wanted a peace agreement that would require it to give up land.

      During the Oslo “negotiations” then Housing Minister Ariel Sharon made the announcement that Israel would be “creating facts on the ground” by doubling the number of settlements. If I, as an American Jew, knew that the announcement was a death knell for any decent agreement, surely the Palestinians had to know that as well.

      Since that day Israel has continued with its settlement building, with it Judiazation of East Jerusalem and with the Wall that has eaten deeply into Palestinian land. It is Israel that has shown the world that peace with justice is the last thing on its mind.

      Meanwhile the occupied are supposed to protect the occupier while the occupied are supposed to bow down to the occupier and accept whatever crumbs are thrown their way. This is a recipe for ultimate disaster.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Israel gave up land at the very beginning of the Oslo “negotiations”. As you might recall the PLO was based in Tunis prior to that. Upon signing Oslo they were granted control over all the Palestinian cities in the West Bank and most of Gaza.

        Israel has proposed giving up 90+% of the West Bank to allow the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace deal. It has done so at least three times and the response from the Palestinian leadership has been to either reject the offer or to ignore it. So, can we stop with the nonsense about Israel “never wanted a peace agreement that would require it to give up land”?

        The negotiations have blown up repeatedly over the inability of the Palestinians to accept that they are not going to overturn Israel as a Jewish State. Every time we keep coming back to the insistence of the Palestinians that they must flood Israel with Arabs until it ceases to exist. That is what Palestinians and their supporters call “justice”, and so no, Israel is not going to accept a “peace” which consists of it disbanding itself, because that isn’t “peace”, but suicide.

        Reply to Comment
        • Mohan

          The PA is nothing more than a glorified municipal council. Its armed wing collaborates with Israel. Israel enters, arrests, shoots, demolishes and expands at will.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Right.. A glorified city council with a flag, an army, a justice system, a parliament, a president, a seat at the UN, etc, etc, etc.

            That is like calling the Pakistani government a glorified city council because the US kills terrorists at will on its soil.

            Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            that comparison is ridiculous. the united states hasn’t occupied pakistan for four and a half decades and isn’t building giant colonies inside of it. israel has been doing it and continues to do it and the pa sit there and take it because they by design have no power of israel’s treatment of their occupied territory. but, you point out, they have a flag, which is, i don’t know, indicative of their power to make a flag.

            Reply to Comment
          • Rab

            The comparison is actually excellent. The fact is that 98% of Palestinians have been living under a Palestinian government for 20 years. That government has the same apparatus as any government, even if it doesn’t function too well because both in Gaza and Judea and Samaria you have Palestinian authoritarian kleptocracies instead of politicians who are answerable to their people.

            Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            Many South Africans lived under Bantustan governments. All the claims you make abou the Palestinian government could have been made (and were made) about those.

            Reply to Comment
    8. IlonJ

      People seem to know what they want to know. They ignore facts which mug their preferred reality.

      Reply to Comment
    9. shachalnur

      It wasn’t easy,but it looks like Israel and the PA finally managed to get the US out of their faces.

      The US will move to Syria in an effort to blow up the Middle East anyway.

      Reply to Comment