For those who are home, and for those who are on the way. For those who support the historic and just return of the land of Israel to its people, forever loyal to their inheritance, and its restoration.
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Gold - The incredible myth machine
11 May '12..
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was interviewed last Friday by CNN's Christiane Amanpour. In the interview, Olmert tried to give the impression that he had been on the verge of a historic peace agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, and it was only the outside funds brought in by American individuals that scuppered it.
Whatever his political motives, Olmert was feeding the international myth machine, perpetuating the story that Israelis and Palestinians had been close to a historic breakthrough, which needed to be bridged by muscular American diplomacy.
Putting aside his dramatic accusations about millions of dollars that were transferred from what he called "the extreme right wing" in the U.S. to hamper his peace initiative, Olmert was not even close to a final agreement, as he implied to the CNN audience. In fact, a careful examination of Olmert's secret talks with Abbas serves as even more proof that the maximum concessions made by an Israeli prime minister did not meet Abbas' minimum requirements for an agreement.
This was not the first time that the myth of an impending Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, that never happened, was widely disseminated. At the end of the Taba talks in January 2001, the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators issued a joint statement saying: "The sides declare that they have never been closer to reaching an agreement." Yet when then-Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami repeated this to an Israel Radio reporter, Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan issued the immediate response of "kharta barta" (slang for baloney). The EU representative, Miguel Moratinos, even wrote in his internal report on Taba that "serious gaps remain" between the parties.
Looking back over the last decade and a half, there has been a strong tendency to overstate the accomplishments of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. David Makovsky, who in the 1990s served as a diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz before going to the Washington Institute, wrote in 2003 that Maj. Gen. Shlomo Yanai had disclosed to him in an interview that the security committee at Taba hardly convened and that the parties not only did not progress on the issue of security, but rather there was "retrogression." In short, the parties were not closer than ever. Nevertheless, the myth that Israel and the Palestinians had been on the verge of a breakthrough persisted.
What do we know about Olmert's talks with Abbas in 2008? First, there was no actual agreement between the two. Olmert never fully disclosed the proposal that he made to Abbas at the time. Instead, he provided certain details of his ideas in various interviews that he subsequently gave. His office told Haaretz in December 2009 that "for reasons of national responsibility, we cannot relate to the content of the map and the details of the proposal."
The most detailed version of the Olmert proposal was outlined in a New York Times Magazine cover story by Bernard Avishai. In language reminiscent of the end of the Taba talks, Olmert told Avishai: "We were very close, more than ever in the past, to complete an agreement on principles that would have led to the end of the conflict between us and the Palestinians."
But was Olmert's description accurate? Avishai wrote that Olmert used "constructive ambiguity" to deal with the toughest issues, like the Palestinian refugees. Abbas told the Washington Post in May 2009 that it was his understanding that Olmert had accepted the principle of the "right of return." Yet Olmert told Avishai two years later that he the exact number of refugees who would return was still subject to further negotiation. How could this obvious gap lead Olmert to conclude that he was "very close" to completing an agreement with Abbas?
In the realm of security, Olmert's proposals were even more troubling. Abbas told Avishai that "the file on security is closed." But he then added, "We do not claim it was an agreement but the file was finalized." How was security "finalized" without an agreement between the parties on such an important issue? Abbas explained that the Israeli security concerns had been worked out with Gen. James Jones, Condoleezza Rice's security adviser, but not with Israel.
Unfortunately, Olmert did not seem to have a problem with this. In fact, according to Rice's memoirs, Olmert told her that the IDF had "a list of demands" and that "some of them are probably okay." But there were Israeli security requirements that the Palestinians would not accept. Olmert asked that the U.S. work this out with the Palestinians. What eventually happened was that the Palestinians worked with General Jones, but they stopped coming to their bilateral meetings with Israeli officials. This arrangement watered down the security arrangements that Israel would obtain during Olmert's term.
Historically, after 1967, Israel sought to retain territories that were vital to its defense, like the Jordan Valley. That was the essence of the famous Allon Plan that had been embraced by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Then, in the last decade, the idea that emerged was that the IDF could be deployed in those vital areas, instead of annexing those territories, even if the result was extraterritorial Israeli military deployment inside a Palestinian state. Rice explained in her memoirs that she thought of removing the Israeli army from those locations and replacing it with international forces, or even NATO. This was reflected in the positions taken by her envoy, Gen. Jones. Thus with Olmert's initiative, the idea that Israel should defend itself by itself -- which had been enshrined for decades -- was seriously undermined.
There are different versions about what Olmert had planned for Jerusalem, each more problematic than the next. He told Avishai that he was willing to give up Israeli sovereignty over what he called the Holy Basin, an area that includes the Old City, with the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives and the area of the City of David. Did these concessions bring Olmert as close to a final agreement as he claims? Rice wrote in her memoirs that Abbas "refused" to accept Olmert's offer, even after President George W. Bush appealed to him to reconsider his position.
In 2009, Abbas was interviewed by the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl and he explained why he could not take Olmert's offer to the Palestinians: "The gaps were too wide," he said.
Why is this question about Olmert's proposal important today? No matter who wins the upcoming U.S. elections, the next administration will seek to shape an Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative and push the parties to accept it. After the failure of Camp David and Taba, the U.S. foreign policy establishment was determined to go back to these proposals, which obviously didn't work. Alternatives were not even considered. In 2010, President Bill Clinton wrote in the New York Times that because of past diplomacy and Olmert's initiative, "everyone knows what a final agreement would look like." Unfortunately, misinformed American presidents who are led to believe that a peace agreement was within our grasp, inevitably launch initiatives based on the terms that they heard were agreed to, only to end up clashing with their Israeli allies and walking away with a diplomatic embarrassment.
Despite his tarnished reputation, Olmert's appearances reinforce this misguided impression that there was a full Israeli-Palestinian deal that once existed, that now needs to be revived. Moreover, Israel is in a very different situation today than it was when these peace proposals were made. Israelis have lived through a second intifada, which brought suicide attacks into the hearts of Israel's cities, the failure of the withdrawal from Gaza that led to a massive escalation of rocket attacks on southern Israel, and an Arab Spring that has underscored the fragility of the regimes with which Israel has signed peace treaties as well as the probability that they would be replaced by Islamist elements. Under these circumstances, Israeli security needs in future negotiations must be stressed harder and not subcontracted to foreign envoys. What is required instead is an alternative diplomatic strategy, and a more secure path for achieving Middle East peace, rather than trying to revive the a formula that has only led to diplomatic failure.
Updates throughout the day at http://calevbenyefuneh.blogspot.com. If you enjoy "Love of the Land", please be a subscriber. Just put your email address in the "Subscribe" box on the upper right-hand corner of the page.Twitter updates at LoveoftheLand
I visited Hevron in November 2000 after the outbreak of the Rosh Hashanah War to see what could be done to assist in the face of the growing daily attacks on the community. After returning to work for the community in the summer of 2001, a bond and a love was forged that grows to this day. My wife Melody and I merited to be married at Ma'arat HaMachpela and now host visitors from throughout the world every Shabbat as well as during the week. Our goal, "Time to come Home!"