Those who do not learn from history may be condemned to repeat it. Since Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are still in the offing, it is likely that understanding the reasons for the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian parlay at Camp David in July of 2000 is a history lesson with important logical consequences for future talks.
Many of the accounts of the Camp David negotiations fault Ehud Barak for not being forthcoming enough with compromises the Palestinians could accept, or for not creating a congenial atmosphere, and not preparing the ground properly, in line with the critique of Agha and Malley.
President Clinton, who hosted the talks, did not blame Israel at the time, but he did not make clear the real nature of the stumbling blocks.
A different commentator did elucidate the problem. He made it clear what concessions the Israelis were expected to make to the Palestinians in return for peace. This commentator was none other than Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, who is now the President of the Palestinian Authority and represents the moderate party in Palestinian political life. He is charged with leading the negotiations with Israel, should they be renewed.
In November of 2000, prior to the Washington and Taba meetings, Abu Mazen wrote an article that set forth the Palestinian demands
, and the reason for the failure of the Camp David summit, with frank clarity.
Mahmoud Abbas's article was published in Beirut Al Hayat of November 23 and November 24, 2000. According to this article, two cardinal issues that brought about the failure of the negotiations were the Jerusalem issue and the question of "right" of return of the Palestinian refugees.
Regarding Jerusalem, Abbas explained all of the compromises which Ehud Barak had apparently offered at Camp David in July of 2000, and not just at Taba in 2001, in response to US pressure. These were, it seems, very far reaching. They included granting Palestinian sovereignty over most of the old city of Jerusalem as well as East Jerusalem outside the city walls. They were rejected.
"Our position on the issue of Jerusalem is simple: Jerusalem is part of the territories occupied in 1967 and, hence, Resolution 242 applies to it. Jerusalem must return to our sovereignty and we will establish our capital on it."
This is a rather ambitious stance, going beyond anything the Israeli public has been led to expect regarding Jerusalem.
In the first place, Abbas wrote, "Jerusalem must return to our sovereignty." Jerusalem was never under Palestinian Arab sovereignty in three thousand years of recorded history.
Jerusalem was not part of the West Bank or the territory allotted by the UN to the Arab Palestinian state in 1947. Jerusalem was to have been an internationalized city, though the Arab states and the Palestinians refused to recognize it as such. The Transjordan Legion ethnically cleansed the entire population of the Jewish quarter in May of 1948. (see The Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem). The Jordanian annexation was not recognized by most nations of the world. Abbas did not mention whether or not the "peace" proposal of the Palestinians would allow Jews to live in the Jewish quarter of the old city, or what would happen to the buildings of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. It is unlikely that Ehud Barak would have gotten a majority of Israelis to support his offer for Jerusalem, which consisted of division of the old city. Jerusalem is very central to Jewish culture (see Jerusalem) and it plays a central and symbolic role in the history of modern Israel. It is virtually impossible to envision that a majority of Israelis would agree to give up all of Jerusalem, including the Jewish quarter, the Wailing Wall, the Hebrew University campus and the cemetery on Mt Olives, where Jews have been buried for centuries, and to allow all these to return to Muslim sovereignty, restoring the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and ratifying it with a peace treaty.
It should be clear that the demand that the Israelis vacate all of East Jerusalem and abrogate all claims to it is the real content behind the oft-repeated and very strange slogan, "A Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem" which has become a commonplace of Palestinian Arab diplomatic initiatives and propaganda, and has not been challenged by anyone. There is no international document that recognizes any Palestinian national rights, or Israeli rights for that matter, in Jerusalem. There was never a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was never the capital of any sovereign state other than ancient Israel and the short-lived Crusader state. Yet by dint of constant repetition, this phrase has become acceptable. Imagine if Israeli diplomats and propagandists had repeated the slogan "The right to an Israeli Jewish state with its borders on the Euphrates and the Nile" over and over, until somehow it had been accepted by the world.
However, the state of Israel lived with a divided Jerusalem before 1967, albeit under protest. The outrageous demand for a Palestinian state that usurps the rights of the Jewish people in Jerusalem is only a minor point, it turns out. We will not need our rights in Jerusalem, because under Abu Mazen's "peace" plan, we won't have a state of our own anyhow. For the second demand described by Mahmoud Abbas was far more critical. He insisted on the right of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to "return" to their homes within the 1949 borders of Israel. As about four million Arab Palestinians claim this right, and owing to the high brithrate of Arab Palestinians, it would undoubtedly quickly bring about an Arab majority in Israel and thefore put an end to Jewish sovereignty in Israel.
"Peace" that destroys the right of self-determination of a people is not peace at all. The right to self determination is Jus Cogens in international law. It takes precedent over other actual rights granted by such law, as well as the dubious claim of "right of return."
Abu-Mazen made it fairly plain that he meant a full and literal implementation of the "right" of return:
"It is noteworthy in this matter, and this is also what we clarified to the Israelis, that the Right of Return means a return to Israel and not to the Palestinian State... When we talk about the Right of Return, we talk about the return of refugees to Israel, because Israel was the one who deported them and it is in Israel that their property is found..."
Abbas has made his terms clear, nor has he wavered in any way from them at any time since. On the contrary.
For example, at a memorial service for Yasser Arafat, Abbas said:
"We promise you [Arafat] that our heart will not rest until we achieve the right of return for our people and end the tragic refugee issue," he said.
In January of 2005, AP reported:
Mahmoud Abbas, the leading candidate in next week's presidential election, on Monday promised Palestinian refugeesthey'll be able to return home one day - his most explicit comment yet on an explosive issue that has derailed peace talks in the past.
In November of 2006, the following reaction was quoted in response to Ehud Olmert's remarks on return of refugees:
Abbas's Fatah party also rejected Olmert's statements regarding the Palestinian refugees. Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Fatah official in the West Bank, described the right of return as sacred. "The right of return cannot be ignored or surrendered," he said.
And again, in April 2007, a rumored remark of Jordan's King of Abdullah regarding right of return touched off criticism by every Palestinian faction. Abbasjoined the chorus:
Even Fatah, headed by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, denounced the remarks, saying that, "nobody can decide on behalf of the Palestinian people with regard to the right of return," which he said was "the essence of the Palestinian problem"
If the essence of the Arab Palestinian problem is that they maintain the right to deny self-determination to the Jewish people, as Abbas claims, then there is no possibility of peace whatever. There certainly cannot be peace as long the Palestinians maintain that stand.
What is most ominous is that there is a long record of speeches by Abbas and others buttressing these two positions concerning right of return and Jerusalem, which make it clear that Fatah intends to mobilize Palestinian support for these positions, rather than for relinquishing them in favor of peace.
These are not starting points for a peace dialog, but rather battle standards raised in a struggle to destroy the Jewish state. Israel could never accept right of return, and should not accept a return of Jerusalem to the status obtaining before 1967. Given the bloody outcome of the last set of negotiations conducted on the basis of these principles, it would seem most imprudent to begin any new negotiations until the Palestinian leadership has retreated from them.
Anyone who really wants to see a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must take into account the current stand of the Palestinian leadership which has not varied in seven years, and consider Mahmoud Abbas in a realistic light, and not as we might wish to see him.
That does not imply that Israel is absolved of the need to propose diplomatic initiatives. On the contrary, if Israel wants to win world public opinion to its side, it will need to come up with a clear and realistic plan as an alternative to the Palestinian one. The Palestinian leadership has has made its plan clear. Where is the Israeli reply? That reply, rather than evasion and postponement, should be the heart of a pro-active Israeli peace initiative.
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Replies: 1 Comment
You said it, Ami:peace that destroys a people's right to self-determination is no peace at all. Why does Israel not challenge the Palestinian position? International pressure should be primarily on the Palestinians, not Israel, to make concessions. As for Jerusalem, what exactly are their rights? The Jews once comprised a third of Baghdad - should they not lay claim to that city too?
lyn, Thursday, May 10th
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