To understand Israeli pessimism, just read the history

By Adi Schwartz, August 8, 2013
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The new round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will unfortunately end without reaching an agreement.

The reason is that the maximum Israel can offer is not enough for the Palestinians, and the minimum the Palestinians want — especially on Jerusalem and the refugees — is impossible for Israel to give.

Despite their continued claims to the contrary, the Palestinians are simply not interested in establishing an independent state in the pre-1967 borders. Had they been interested, they could have created it at least twice in the last dozen years or so.

Peace offers within the framework of the “two-state solution” were rejected by the Palestinian leadership: the first was Ehud Barak’s offer in 2000 and the second was Ehud Olmert’s in 2008-2009.

Mr Olmert offered to cede 94 per cent of the West Bank to the Palestinians (with additional land-swaps); to establish a Palestinian state; to share sovereignty with that state in the old city of Jerusalem; and to symbolically allow 5,000 refugees into Israel. These are the same parameters being discussed now.

Former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, recounted in her memoir No Higher Honor, Mahmoud Abbas’s reaction to this offer. He was not satisfied: “‘I can’t tell four million Palestinian [refugees] that only 5,000 of them can go home,’ he said.”

Mr Abbas’s rejection means that even if Israel presented now the same offer, the Palestinians would reject it. Mr Abbas listened to the offer — supposedly granting him exactly what he wanted all along — and never got back to Mr Olmert.

Mr Abbas never put forward an alternative peace offer.

The Arab Peace Initiative from 2002 is seen as the Palestinian peace plan, but it remains mute regarding the two thorniest issues: Jerusalem and refugees. It has no specific reference to Jerusalem’s holy basin, treating it as if it were an uninhabited hill in the West Bank, and part of the future Palestinian state.

Putting the old Jewish quarter, including the Western Wall, under Palestinian control is obviously a non-starter.

The Arab Initiative calls for a “just” solution to the refugee problem. But what exactly is “just”? How much would be considered “just” — 5,000 refugees settling in Israel? 50,000? Five million? Using the term “just” is highly unusual in negotiations. When selling a car, a seller is not asking for “a just price”; he usually offers a price, and then the two sides negotiate.

The Palestinian reluctance to put on the table a detailed plan on these two critical issues is telling. The Palestinian refugees never gave up their intention to return to Israel, and Mr Abbas never said what exactly is needed in order to reach an “end of conflict” deal. Under these circumstances, an agreement seems simply impossible.

Adi Schwartz is an independent Israeli journalist and researcher

    Last updated: 4:16pm, August 8 2013