Israel Report

June 2001         

Brave Honesty Needed

By Mark A. Heller
June, 15 2001

- Let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the cease-fire brokered (dictated?) by CIA Director George Tenet actually works. This is a dubious proposition. The notion that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is genuinely committed to any cease-fire is itself a shaky assumption; ask the Jordanians and the Lebanese what they think about the value of Arafat's commitment to cease-fires. And even if he is serious, the cease-fire will remain hostage to the good behavior of all kinds of organizations and individuals more interested in pursuing their own political agendas, subverting Arafat, exacting revenge for real or imagined injury, or just spilling Israeli blood than in stabilizing the situation on the ground.

But as an intellectual exercise, we can still try to imagine what happens if this cease-fire does survive a cooling-off period, if confidence-building measures proposed by the Mitchell Committee are implemented, and if things do hold together for a few weeks or months. In that case, we will eventually get back to permanent status negotiations, that is, to where we were last summer, just before (or after) the Camp David Summit.

Actually, not even there, because the atmosphere has been further poisoned by all the mistrust, disillusionment and bad blood built up over the past eight months of violence. So in the best of all possible worlds, a "successful" cease-fire will do nothing more than bring the parties back to the peace gap that could not be bridged in Camp David, in Washington, or even in Taba.

Is there anything, then, that can avert a replay, somewhere down the road, of the same scenario that brought us to where we are now? The answer is probably "No," unless the path laid out in the Mitchell Report is accompanied by something that former senator Mitchell and his colleagues did not dare recommend: truth-telling in politics.

On the Israeli side, that involves acknowledging former prime minister Ehud Barak's political legacy: either there will be an acceptance of something very close to the terms discussed at Taba, or there will be more periodic eruptions of what we have witnessed for the past eight months, as far into the future as one can see.

President Clinton declared that his bridging proposals, on which Taba was based, would be off the table if they were not accepted before he left office. Technically, that's true. Practically, they will remain to haunt whoever tries to push for something else.

This is a problem for Israeli politics, and especially for the current government, but it doesn't involve a tectonic shift. After all, those ideas - an independent Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, evacuation of most the settlements, a fair division or sharing of Jerusalem, and Israeli participation in a comprehensive solution of the refugee problem - are already currency in the Israeli political discourse. And in different circumstances - i.e., if they had not been proposed under fire, during an election campaign by a government that had lost its majority, and if they had been accepted by the other side as the formula for ending the conflict - they might already have secured public endorsement.

On the Palestinian side, the challenge of truth telling is even greater. If any hypothetical negotiations in the future are to have a greater prospect of success than did those in the past, it is vital for Palestinian political leaders to acknowledge that certain assumptions, thus far considered axiomatic in their public discourse, are not valid: Israel is not obliged to withdraw from 90% of the West Bank in the framework of further interim redeployments; Resolution 242 does not require Israel to withdraw to the lines of 4 June 1967 in the context of a permanent status agreement; Israel does have a legitimate claim to some kind of recognized status on the Temple Mount; and the "right of return" to Israel claimed for Palestinian refugees will not be accepted, much less realized.

In short, the Palestinian leadership will need to challenge the assumption guiding the discourse on peace - that the Palestinian side at Oslo already made all the concessions it intended or could be expected to make by recognizing Israel within the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian Armistice Lines, and that nothing remains except for Israel to deliver on remaining Palestinian demands.

No one should underestimate the challenge this represents. In effect, it requires a conceptual about-face for those in the Palestinian leadership who thought that they could sell Oslo only by misrepresenting what it said. But Arafat, who still matters, has repeatedly called for "the peace of the brave." If that is ever to happen, it will need a little more political bravery from him, as well.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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