In 2000 and 2001, Israel
, the United States and the Palestinians conducted "secret" negotiations under the principle that nothing is agreed that everything is agreed, and stipulating that no sides are to release any details of the negotiations. As it turned out, the negotiations led nowhere except to the so-called second Intifadah. After the fact, partisans of each side published their own versions and commentary of what was offered and what happened. It is pretty certain that we can know most of what was really offered in 2000 and 2001 according to the account of Dennis Ross
. Palestinians were offered a contiguous state in 97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, free passage between them and sovereignty over a part of the Old City of Jerusalem as well as East Jerusalem suburbs. The status of the Temple Mount was apparently also discussed, but it is not clear what was included in the Israeli offer. In the hands of various anti-Israel publicists from Robert Malley to Jimmy Carter and Tony Klug, this offer was reduced to nonviable "Bantustans" - a fiction that they use to justify the Palestinian violence.
Having made that mistake once, you would think that Israeli negotiators would be wise enough to insist on a different format for the renewed negotiations in 2008. Instead, they have again adopted the formula of "secret" negotiations in which nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This time, the manipulation and potential repercussions are even worse. The talks have not yet failed, as they probably will, but already the Palestinians are hastening to put out "versions." Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
has of late filled the media with complaints that the talks are going nowhere and no progress has been made at all (see and here
for example). A different picture emerges from recent utterances of Ahmad Qurei
. Qurei manages to give different portrayals of the status of negotiations in different media outlets. In the Palestinian Maan News, he explained
that negotiations have gone nowhere - the glass is mostly empty and most of what is there is poison for Palestinians. In Israeli media, he is quoted
as saying that Israelis have made some concessions that are surprising and perhaps well beyond the national consensus - including Palestinian sovereignty in parts or all of "East Jerusalem" and in Latrun, a critical area on the road to Jerusalem. The glass is mostly full for Palestinians, and some Israelis will view most of the contents as poison.
The talks may soon become even more leaky, because the United States, in the grip of an election year, has now reminded itself to get actively involved in the negotiations and proposes to host trilateral talks
. An outgoing president wants to make his mark on history and help his party by producing the rabbit out of the hat Middle East conflict solution. Where did we see that before? Are we going to have to have an Intifadah here every eight years in order to accommodate the needs of the US political system? To its credit, the United States also has pressured the sides to come up with a declaration of principles "soon." This would at least put the areas of agreement and disagreement before the public eye, and give both Israelis and Arabs some real way to judge what is being put on offer in their names.
In the best of all possible worlds, each meeting between the sides should result in a communique stating what issues were discussed, what offers were made and what was rejected or accepted. That might be inconvenient for diplomacy, but it is good for democracy, and it would protect the positions of all parties who were acting in good faith. Israelis of all political persuasions want to know what is happening. Doves want to know if what was offered was "enough" and hawks want to know if what was offered was too much. The same must be true of Palestinians. Therefore, this should be a universal demand. We know that is not going to happen unfortunately.
However, if there is supposed to be secrecy, let there be complete and absolute secrecy. The only comment that should be permitted about the progress of the talks should be "no comment." Otherwise, there will be a constant barrage of leaks that become weapons in the continuing propaganda war. In any case, the final result should be subject to a referendum of both Israelis and Palestinians before it is implemented. Ami Isseroff
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