BY VIC ALHADEFF
Sydney Morning Herald
March 15, 2010
It is easy to be sidetracked by the pace of politics in the Middle East and to lose sight of the big picture.
The announcement that 1600 apartments will be built in East Jerusalem is a case in point. It was quickly followed by Israel’s Defence Minister threatening to quit, the Agriculture Minister voicing anger at his government and the Social Services Minister making similar noises.
As if on cue, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, declared he would not participate in indirect talks with Israel unless the plan was shelved.
We need to stand back from the heat and dust to be able to assess the reality on the ground.
Surveys by the Palestinian Policy and Survey Research Centre and Tel Aviv University Centre for Peace Research consistently show the vast majority of Israelis and a smaller majority of Palestinians back a two-state solution: the state of Israel living in peace alongside a state of Palestine.
Furthermore, there have been offers on the table which, if implemented, would have delivered a state of Palestine and met the bulk of the Palestinians’ historic demands. Tragically, none has been accepted.
That is the nub of the problem – the Palestinian leadership, hamstrung by the bitter war between its Fatah and Hamas factions, is simply unable to reach an internal consensus and therefore to make a deal with Israel.
Abbas, who represents Fatah, is arguably committed to peace; Hamas – as its charter attests – is unequivocally committed to Islam ”obliterating” Israel, ”just as it obliterated others before it”. Therein lies the problem, not Israel’s attitude towards freezing settlement construction.
One has only to glance at the historic offer which the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert put to Abbas in 2008. The pair met about 35 times between 2006 and the end of 2008 – more than any other Israeli and Arab leaders. On September 16 that year, Olmert presented Abbas with an unprecedented offer which included a map and permanent borders between Israel and Palestine.
According to the proposal, Israel would annex 6.3 per cent of the West Bank – areas that are home to 75 per cent of the Jewish population of the territories. Thousands of settlers and dozens of settlements would be evacuated. In return for the 6.3 per cent, Israel would transfer to the Palestinians an equivalent bloc – 327 square kilometres of mostly agricultural land, as well as a safe-passage corridor connecting the West Bank to Gaza.
Jerusalem would be shared so it would be the capital of Israel and Palestine; and the sites in Jerusalem which are holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews would be administered by the US, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine. Agreement on the core issue of Palestinian statehood would have provided a basis for resolving matters such as security, water and refugees.
The negotiations never reached that point. Abbas – like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, when offered a similar deal by the then US president, Bill Clinton – did not even propose a counter-offer.
The focus today is on so-called proximity talks, where each side speaks to the US, which relays messages back and forth. The tragic irony is that offers were previously on the table that far exceeded what today’s proximity talks even aim to achieve.
Which poses the question: why was Olmert’s proposal rejected, like previous others that would have resulted in the creation of a viable state of Palestine? If the Palestinian leadership could not seriously consider such an offer, is it realistic to believe it will accept any offer? Is it able to achieve consensus between Fatah and Hamas – which operates on a radical-Islamist doctrine – so Palestine can live in peace alongside the Jewish state?
Or is the civil war between Fatah and Hamas so deep that the Palestinian leadership does not have the capacity to agree to a deal?
Accepting the creation of a state of Palestine through a negotiated deal with Israel means accepting the existence of the state of Israel. That is where the problem starts and ends.
Vic Alhadeff is chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
Download the PDF: 2010.03.15_Alhadeff_SMH_AcceptingIsraelRightToExist