(January 12) - US President Clinton won't partition Jerusalem, as long as Israel and the Jewish people remain determined in their opposition to an imposed settlement. The Clinton plan won't bring peace. At the utmost it will be remembered as an intellectual exercise. Therefore, the crowd at the Jerusalem rally rudely booing Clinton was wrong, as was the government's enthusiasm for Clinton's plan.
If his aides had prepared a full dossier on the American efforts within the Arab-Israeli conflict, Clinton would have learned that whenever American presidents drafted concrete plans for territorial arrangements, they failed. However, when they worked as mediators, they succeed in helping the two sides reach agreement.
Clinton was very helpful in achieving the peace treaty with Jordan, without presenting his own plan for territorial arrangements. President Carter was deeply involved in the negotiations at Camp David (1978) between Israel and Egypt, but there was no "Carter plan" on the negotiating table. The basis of the negotiations was the bilateral contacts between Egypt and Israel, including Sadat's visit to Jerusalem.
Israel doesn't object to American involvement, but over the years it has repeatedly stressed that the role of the US is to bring the sides to the negotiating table and smooth the path of the discussion. But the US doesn't have to present its own plans. The US is entitled to initiate conferences in Geneva or Madrid, or to suggest other procedural proposals, but it should refrain from putting forth solutions which actually complicate the negotiations.
Israel rejected plans proposed by two American presidents at the height of their power: the "Rogers plan," which the American secretary of state proposed in December 1969, which was really president Nixon's plan; and the "Reagan plan," which the president announced in September 1982.
Golda Meir described the Rogers plan as a disaster for Israel, saying, "It would be irresponsible for any Israeli government to support such a plan." The administration did not consult with Israel before the plan was announced, and the American secretary of state, who had met with foreign minister Abba Eban a few days before, concealed the imminent announcement from him. This was not the case with the current "Clinton plan."
The main thrust of the Clinton plan is the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem (the section called "Al-Kuds") as its capital. The Reagan plan had stressed that the US would not support the establishment of a Palestinian state. This was conveyed in a message to prime minister Menachem Begin by Ronald Reagan on the day he announced his plan.
Times have changed, and so have policies. Clinton's promise that "Israel can't be expected to recognize an unlimited right of return to Israel's current borders" may not stand. By breaching the wall of opposition to the absorption of Palestinian refugees he has set a precedent, and a subsequent president can modify the definitions of "limited" or "unlimited" return, according to changing circumstances.
Clinton's speech has no practical significance, apart from the electioneering for Ehud Barak in its introduction. It would have been filed in the government archives on February 7 as "yet another presidential plan" with no content, if the Israeli government hadn't been in such a hurry to welcome the US president's plan.
The Israeli representatives rushing around the capitals of the world to enlist international support for the Clinton plan have granted the plan an established status that will outlast the date when Clinton leaves the White House. In other words, the partition of Jerusalem, a Palestinian state, and a limited right of return will form the basis of any future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
In fact, there are no real negotiations at the moment between Israel and the Palestinians. Most of the time we are negotiating with the Americans or with ourselves: what territorial offers can we suggest to make the Palestinians accept the Clinton plan? The Palestinians aren't interested in any compromise. The more enthusiastic we become, the more indifferent they are to the proposals that we transmit via the Americans.
True, Arafat agreed this week to minimize acts of violence for a while, responding to Israel's lifting of the closure of the territories. This gesture may also be connected to January 20 or February 6. But Israel should not nurture any illusion that the Palestinians are prepared for military cooperation with Israel in combating terror. The concept of military and intelligence cooperation is totally opposed to the spirit of the intifada to which Arafat is still bound.
Arafat reads opinion polls too, and he knows that 72% of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria want a renewal of military action, as opposed to only 32% a year ago, and this is in spite of Israeli concessions.