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The PRIMER Blog

Let's not get ahead of ourselves

GS Don Morris, Ph.D.

The games are in full play here in the Middle East. As in basketball, a full court press has begun pressuring Israel to commit to something before the Annapolis conference next month. I have checked both Israeli and Arab media sources and can confirm the following:

Palestinians ready to use Taba draft as basis for talks1

Olmert and Abbas have been meeting these last several weeks, a total of 6 times. What has been said and/or discussed has been kept secret, at least from the Israeli public. Our media has offered conjecture and much speculation but as of this posting nothing has been provided in the form of an official statement. It is therefore with caution this writer suggests we better take a step back and process what is being said.

A senior Palestinian official told Israel Radio early Friday morning that the Palestinian Authority has accepted an offer Israel made to it in the Taba talks six years ago. This source further added that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that a draft agreement made during the talks would be used as a basis for negotiations.1

A tag comment was added at the end of this report: Further, the official said that Israel must allow Palestinian refugees to "return to the Palestinian state" and claimed that if Israel were to allow a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel, the PA would be willing to compromise on other issues. Note the notion of symbolic number and lack of clarity defining compromise on other issues. This language is designed for consumption by the EU, Russia and other pro-Arab western states. The intended purpose is to put additional pressure on Israel. The logic goes something like this.

You, Israel, have complained for years you did not have a peace partner. Now, your own PM Olmert and even President Bush have stated Mr. Abbas is such a partner. He has demonstrated good faith (no he has not but these words play well with agenda driven leaders). The international community has asked (code for required) that Israel show confidence in Mr. Abbas by making a few small concessions. This latest request is but a small item-look, he is ready to finally resolve the refugee issue that has been the chicken bone in everyone's throat these last 40 years. We strongly suggest that you once again give him what he demands.

This un-named source who presented this report is a member of a current team of Palestinian negotiators.

This announcement follows on the heels of the EU indicating that they would support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas if he reconciled with Hamas, according to Christina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana.2

While all of this is going on Hamas has indicated it wants to begin talking with Fatah and has indicated it is willing to give up control of Gaza under certain conditions3. The report is that an unnamed Arab country will be the site for these talks. Sounds good-yes? Just what the West wants to hear-this surely is proof that the West's strategy is working-soon there will be peace! Wait, what has not yet been reported in the western press is the following message from Hamas hours ago (Arabic media source): Hamas warned of waiving any of the Palestinian constants during the round of negotiations that initiated between the two commissions for negotiations formed by the PA and Israel, confirming that Hamas will practically reject any agreement resulting from these meetings.4 Mushir Al-Masri, a member of the Hamas-affiliated change and reform parliamentary bloc made this statement earlier today.

So, I will not be surprised if later today and over the weekend the EU pressures Abbas to make overtures to Hamas, and it will also pressure Hamas to renounce Mr. Masri's statement and indicate it would indeed resume talks for purposes of having a united Palestine.

As this unfolds, the US and the EU will put pressure on Olmert and his team. They will say something like the following: On behalf of regional stability, peace and on behalf of security for Israel, we have put a great deal of political capital in play-again all on your behalf. This is a critical historical moment, the future of the entire Middle East is upon your shoulders; do what you know you must do.

Leaders and especially the media are lashing onto the '€˜historical moment mantra-this is part of the strategy to add even more pressure on Olmert-he has demonstrated that he is not strong enough to withstand it and he will submit to the outside special interest groups.

It is therefore no accident that today the idea of using the Taba Draft is being floated. Whenever an unnamed source is used to announce such a request rest assured it comes from the top leadership who wants to see how it is received. I await the response by the Western Governments-what they say will speak volumes about the future of Israel. Why do I say this? Lets revisit the Taba Draft and the answer will present itself.

First, allow me to provide a time perspective. It is July 2000; the Camp David talks between the Palestinians and Israel have failed. On September 28, violence broke out, the Intifada had begun. However, both sides nevertheless agreed to continue talks during December and January 2001. Late in January, they met in Taba, on the Israeli Egyptian border. PM Barak was about to be replaced by Ariel Sharon and President Bush replaced President Clinton this same month. The outbreak of the violence had made it unlikely that Israelis would approve any proposal of concessions to the Palestinians in a referendum. Regardless, both sides frantically hammered out proposals that appeared to have each come closer to each other's positions than ever before. For the record, please note that no official summaries of the proposals were issued, but subsequent leaks provided some details. This has become known as the Taba Draft. At the conclusion of the talks, both sides issued an optimistic joint communiqué. Given the short time left to the Barak government, the lack of interest of the Bush administration, and the continuing violence, the proposals came to nothing. However, discussion points had been put in writing. This is the critical point! Accuracy matters, allow me to review with you what occurred at the completion of this Taba meeting. EU Special Representative to the Middle East Process, Ambassador Moratinos, and his team after consultations with the Israeli and Palestinian sides, present at Taba in January 2001 created what they called a EU non-paper. The paper had no official status, nor does it enjoy that status today. The non-paper drew attention to the extensive work which had been undertaken on all permanent status issues like territory, Jerusalem, refugees and security in order to find ways to come to joint positions. This document outlined each side's positions and implied in its language that agreement and acceptance of each of its points had been resolved. This is absolutely incorrect-it is not true and to say or imply otherwise is a lie.

The non-paper consists of multiple parts. You can read it for yourself online. I will only point out a few of its egregious components, at least from the Israeli perspective. The paper begins with the following statement:

1. Territory5

The two sides agreed that in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 242, the June 4 1967 lines would be the basis for the borders between Israel and the state of Palestine.

Comment: No, UN 242 never stated that the borders are the1967 lines-this is an intentional distortion of the resolution. Israel did not agree to this but the non-paper states otherwise aka presents a lie.

1.1 Safe passage/corridor from Gaza to the West Bank

Both sides agreed that there is going to be a safe passage from the north of Gaza (Beit Hanun) to the Hebron district, and that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip must be territorially linked. The nature of the regime governing the territorial link and sovereignty over it was not agreed.

Comment: No this is again a misrepresentation of the facts. This statement alone caused much consternation in Israel-the debates continues to this day.

2. Jerusalem

2.1 Sovereignty

Both sides accepted in principle the Clinton suggestion of having a Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods and an Israeli sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods. The Palestinian side affirmed that it was ready to discuss Israeli request to have sovereignty over those Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem that were constructed after 1967, but not Jebal Abu Ghneim and Ras al-Amud. The Palestinian side rejected Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the Jerusalem Metropolitan Area, namely of Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Ze'ev.

The Palestinian side understood that Israel was ready to accept Palestinian sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, including part of Jerusalem's Old City. The Israeli side understood that the Palestinians were ready to accept Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and part of the American Quarter.

Comment: This should be an uh-huh moment. Please understand, this was a lame duck President's idea-it carried no enthusiasm in Israel nor did it claim any legal status. Of course, the Palestinians agreed to this-it was perceived as a victory. It doesn't matter that this is a non-paper, it was put in writing-this alone gave it and gives it today credibility in the eyes of the Palestinians. It is what gives Arab nations the idea that this was accepted, is credible (code for legal authority) and therefore becomes the new starting point for negotiations. The Palestinian strategy in terms of PR is to repeat over and over again a mantra until people come to believe it is true. Simply listen and watch-history repeats itself.

2.3 Capital for two states

The Israeli side accepted that the City of Jerusalem would be the capital of the two states: Yerushalaim, capital of Israel and Al-Quds, capital of the state of Palestine. The Palestinian side expressed its only concern, namely that East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine.

Comment: No, Israel did not agree to this and this statement in this non-paper is misleading. Any commentary that states otherwise is revisionist in its presentation. This represented only the thoughts of an outgoing American Administration, and soon to be replaced Israeli Prime Minister and an aging hostile Palestinian leader that has proven to be a long-term failure.

3. Refugees

Non-papers were exchanged, which were regarded as a good basis for the talks. Both sides stated that the issue of the Palestinian refugees is central to the Israeli-Palestinian relations and that a comprehensive and just solution is essential to creating a lasting and morally scrupulous peace. Both sides agreed to adopt the principles and references with could facilitate the adoption of an agreement.

Both sides suggested, as a basis, that the parties should agree that a just settlement of the refugee problem in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 242 must lead to the implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

Comment: This non-paper misrepresents Israel's position with respect to refugees. So-called authorities continue to link UN 242 with 194. This is incorrect. UN 194 is a non-binding resolution. In legalize this means these are some nice suggestions that many people agree should be implemented but after all is said and done, there is no legal authority to them. Yet this resolution has been for 40 years misrepresented as the justification for the return of Palestinian refugees. This is a classic example of repeat something often enough, even though it is not true, and people will come to believe it. Place this inside a written document and it is considered true. No, this is firmly refuted.

Conclusions: Pressure is mounting upon all parties here in the Middle East. I can say without reservation that Israel and its people want peace. The people living in the disputed territories, the average man and woman in the street want to have peace. However, the history here stands in the way of peace. This is the place of ultimate mistrust-the interactions among all participating leading up to this time are responsible for the lack of trust and without this peace is difficult to secure. It is possible to take steps in what many of us think is a long-term process toward peace. I understand people who live thousands of miles away in comfortable homes may not understand the dynamics of life here in Israel and the disputed territories. Humans tend to view the world based upon their own perspective, which is the result of their daily experiences. Beliefs about human interactions are then formed. Typically people's beliefs are extrapolated to all other people and herein lay the problem. You cannot take your point of view and impose it upon another culture or foreign social setting and expect your view to be how people act, think or feel about life. Now, you can wish it to be so but reality demonstrates time and again that this is but wishful thinking.

To develop policies based upon incorrect thinking, aberrant logic and feel good emotions does not forward the actions here that are necessary for the process of peace to begin. It is past time to abandon such attitudes and it is time to boldly step forward with new proposals. This explains why Israel must avoid committing anything to paper. The killing, dying and day today misery must come to an end. Let us not get ahead of ourselves!

Notes

1. Jerusalem Post, Report: Palestinians ready to use Taba draft as basis for talks, Oct. 12, 2007
2. Jerusalem post, 'We'll back Abbas if Hamas included', Oct. 12, 2007
3. Maan News, Hamas want negotiations with Fatah, Oct. 11, 2007
4. Palestinian Information Center, Marsi, Hamas will reject any agreements reached in negotiations with Israel. Oct. 11,2007
5. EU non-paper-Taba Draft, January 2001



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