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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The difference between the "peace process" and peace

To me, the biggest surprise in the "Palestine Papers" released so far is that, unless they are a massive hoax (and I don't believe that,) the Palestinian Arab negotiators were much more flexible and forthcoming in the talks than they are in public.

This is not to mean that even their more flexible demands can be accommodated by even the most dovish Israeli government.

The most important memo, so far, is this June 2008 meeting between the two sides and Condoleeza Rice. It is really fascinating. Here are some parts over which Jewish areas east of the Green Line the PA wants :

Livni: I want to understand one thing, since you have come back to 1967 borders. At that time there was no Palestinian state. Today we want part of this land and we think that you deserve to be compensated for what we want. My question is: Do you have a problem because of the area of Ma’ale Adumim or its location?

Abu Ala’: Our problem is not in the kilometers, but the settlement block Jerusalem from the East, and from the south there are Kidar and Jabal Abu Ghneim settlements that block Jerusalem. There is a settlement belt around Jerusalem.

Livni: I think I mentioned in the last meeting on borders that there is a misunderstanding and the idea we have is not to block Jerusalem completely.

Abu Ala’: - We do not want to live in enclaves. We want people to live in peace and to fight against terrorism.

Perhaps Ma’ale Adumim will remain under Palestinian sovereignty and it could be a model for cooperation and coexistence. We may also have international forces and make security arrangements for some time. It is the location of Ma’ale Adumim not its size.
There is also Ariel settlement which was set up on the largest water basin. It was not set up simply to provide Israeli with housing units but rather to control the water basin.

Livni: - The idea behind our desire to annex Ariel settlement was not to get more water but because thousands of people live there. We want to have an answer for those who have lived there for forty years.

Future borders will be complicated but clear. I have seen in Yugoslavia how areas can be connected. The matter is not simply giving a passport to settlers.

Abu Ala’: Having Ariel under our control means also that the water basin will be under our control.

Livni: We have said that even if we agreed to have Ariel under Israeli control, we have to find a solution to the water issue.

Abu Ala’: We find this hard to swallow.

Rice: - Let us put Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel aside. I am not trying to solve them here.
...

Livni: - When we decided on the annexation, we made it clear to the Palestinians that we will not compensate them with land that is part of Israel now.

The issue now is that the Palestinians will not accept that some locations become part of Israel.

Rice: This is exactly what I am saying.

Livni: Are you talking about two locations only?

Abu Ala’: There are more than two locations. There are Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, Ephrat, Giv’at Ze’ev, Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa).

Abu Ala’: Ariel goes for 19 kilometers into the West Bank, and this impedes geographical contiguity and enables Israel to control water resources.

Saeb: Our proposition will allow for the inclusion of 70% of settlers, that is about 310,000 settlers.

Rice: Did you see their proposition?

Livni: We looked at it. There are no Ma’ale Adumim, Ephrat, Ariel, Giv’at Ze’ev or Hara Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim).

Saeb: Why do I not say the opposite, that there are Zakhron Ya’cov, the French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Ramot Alon, Ramat Shlomo, Gilo, Tal Piot, and the Jewish Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem.
These show that Livni was pretty much ready to give up on all Jewish towns that were not near the Green Line, except for Ariel. The PA wanted a number of Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, especially Maale Adumim, which no Israeli leader could possibly consider giving up.

The sections that "everyone knows" would be a part of Israel is represented as a major concession by the PA. Meanwhile, no one is even discussing the dismantling of dozens upon dozens of Jewish communities - with schools, shops, recreation centers, parks, playgrounds, cemeteries - that Livni is so easily giving up.

Even so, the PLO is appearing to be cognizant of Israeli requirements and needs, and to be willing to work with them. This is a far cry from how the PLO acts in public.

And therein lies the problem.

No Israeli is going to be surprised by what Livni is giving up (in fact, her insistence on some security issues is fairly strong even as she is willing to give in on other areas.) But the violent reaction to these leaks in the PA underscores the major issue, the latest elephant in the room to be added to the long list:

The Palestinian Arab leadership has never prepared their people for peace.

While I admit to being initially impressed with what Erekat and Abu Ala have to say in these memos, a little further reflection shows that all of these moves are cosmetic. Even if an agreement would have been reached, the people are not part of the process.

At the exact same time that these two sides were joking and trying to narrow the gaps between them, the official PA media continued to incite its people with TV shows extolling jihad, with schoolbooks that eliminated Israel, and with talk about the "return" of millions to Israel.

Israelis are acclimated to the idea of compromising for peace. Hell, they've done it numerous times, often very painfully.

The Palestinian Arabs, on the other hand, haven't even been taught the basic concept of compromise. Their leaders have never said a word about the necessity of a middle ground where Jewish parts of Jerusalem and major settlement blocs will remain in Israeli hands, where millions of people will not be moving to Israel, and where - inevitably - Arab nations will need to finally step up and offer to naturalize their Palestinian Arab "guests."

There has been no groundwork to change the process from a theoretical exercise into a concrete reality. There has been no reduction in incitement and no attempt to acclimate people to peace with Israel.

Why not?

Is the "peace process" is a farce, meant solely to appease the US? Is it simple fear on the part of the PalArab leadership not to tell inconvenient truths to their people? Is it fear of Hamas taking advantage of the tumult that would follow?

I can't say for sure. But what is certain is that no peace is viable if the people do not buy in to it.

The official PA incitement and glorification of terror is far more important than what Erekat says behind closed doors with Rice and Livni.

In an open society like Israel's, the leaks are more or less what everyone expected. But to the PA they are a bombshell. And that dissonance between reality and the fantasy that the PalArabs have been fed for decades is the entire problem.

The leaders' reactions to this problem are telling. Rather than stepping up and explaining the context, they have into full blown denial-and-blame mode.

I have yet to see an Arabic op-ed saying, "Duh, what do you think they talk about in the negotiations?" Instead we are seeing full-scale attacks - on the PA if you are aligned with Hamas, on Al Jazeera if you are aligned with Fatah.

All of this proves that real peace is not, and never was, a priority for the Palestinian Arab leaders. If it was, then these leaks would not be a big deal - everyone would have known it already.

If a Palestinian Arab leader starts telling people the truth, that would be impressive. (Ironically, it would also make Israel much more flexible in her demands as well. ) Until then, however, the entire negotiations track is divorced from reality, and doomed.