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Dr Musa A Keilani: It’s all written in the book
November 08, 2011
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Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said last week that prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace are far worse today than when she left office. She partly blamed the focus given by the administration of President Barack Obama on Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied territories for its failure to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. She is probably right because Obama’s hardline position against settlement construction and his demand for a complete and absolute end to such Israeli activities in the occupied territories prompted Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to adopt a similar position.

However, when Obama was forced to step down from that stand under unprecedented pressure from the pro-Israel US political establishment, Abbas could not stand down with him because of his political imperatives. Abbas had hoped that Obama would not blink against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and would apply his power as president of the world’s superpower to prevail upon Israel just as what happened between then Israeli prime minister Yizhak Shamir and then US president George Bush in the 1980s. However, Obama’s inability to do so left Abbas in the lurch.

The Palestinian president, who was weakened by wrangling in the ranks of his Fatah group and the challenges put up by Hamas, was in no position to abandon his demand for a freeze in settlement construction since it would have meant not only a loss of face but also credibility among his Palestinian constituents. He maintains that position even today, hoping that the outcome of the Palestinian bid for UN membership and their success in joining the UN Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) last week would somehow scramble the equation and produce an atmosphere conducive to resuming peace negotiations.

It is difficult to agree with Rice that there were prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace when she served as secretary of state. Unless of course she is talking about Israel imposing its will on the Palestinians and forcing them to accept an Israeli version of a peace agreement. After all, it is clear that the US knows well that Israel would not accept anything less than what it wants and that the Palestinians would never gain their legitimate rights from Israel as long as the current geopolitical conditions are not changed.

In the meantime, Abbas has to deal with the Israeli “punishment” of the Palestinians for joining Unesco. These include speeding up construction in Jewish settlements and suspending transfer of taxes collected on goods going to the West Bank through Israeli ports. Unless the international Quartet comes up with a feasible plan, there is little prospect of revived peace negotiations.

In the meantime, it is surprising to hear the “revelations’ in Rice’s book, titled No Higher Honor. She writes that in 2008 former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had offered Abbas compromises that no Israeli leader would ever make. These included an offer for a Palestinian state with holy sites under international control in a shared Jerusalem and a return of 94 per cent of the occupied West Bank. Obviously, the six per cent West Bank land that Olmert wanted to retain covered the Jewish settlements there.

If true, the proposal was indeed the best the Palestinians could ever expect. It is taken for granted that Israel would never agree to hand over Arab East Jerusalem to complete Palestinian control and any peace agreement would have to involve shared control of the holy city. Jerusalem would have two capitals — West Jerusalem for Israel and East Jerusalem for the Palestinians while the whole city will be governed as an international site by a committee of “wise people” — rather than officials — from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian National Authority, the United States and Israel.

Similarly, it is also accepted that any deal over the West Bank would have to involve mutually agreed territorial exchange to accommodate the Jewish settlements. Olmert also agreed to allow some 5,000 Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. This could be problematic since there are more than four million Palestinian refugees living in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and other Arab countries in the region. Rice says this point was raised by Abbas in meetings with her and she arranged a meeting between Abbas and Olmert.

According to Rice, Olmert even had produced a map outlining the territory of a Palestinian state. “All the other elements were still on the table, including the division of Jerusalem. Olmert had insisted that Abbas sign it , then and there,” Rice writes in her book. “When the Palestinian had demurred, wanting to consult his experts before signing, Olmert refused to give him the map.” She suggests that Olmert feared the details of his offer would be leaked prematurely.

“The Israeli leader told me that he and Abbas had agreed to convene their experts the next day. Apparently that meeting never took place,” according to Rice.

Except in the context of refugees, the offer was too good to be true, it is difficult, to say the least, to accept that Abbas did not follow up on it. It is also surprising how Olmert thought he would be able to sell it to his own people.

It is possible that Rice could have been misled, but the details she has given leave no room for any doubt. It is now for Abbas to make his clarifications over the purported Olmert offer. He owes it to his people.

The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman.

 

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