John Kerry’s conduct makes one wonder where he has been for the past two decades, and whether he ever consulted with US diplomats who learned one or two things about previous botched attempts to reach an agreement between Israel and the PA.
When US Secretary of State John Kerry coerced Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) into renewing negotiations in July 2013, Israel was supposedly given a choice between a settlement freeze and the release of Palestinian prisoners. The Israeli government chose (wrongly in my opinion) the second option. And yet, Kerry is now partially blaming the failure of the talks on Israel’s decision not to implement a settlement freeze which never was part of the deal.
Kerry also mentioned Israel’s refusal to release the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners. He did not mention the fact that, on 19 March 2014, Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf publicly declared that the PA successfully blackmailed Israel into releasing prisoners (by “threatening” to pursue membership at UN bodies) and that the only purpose of negotiating (or pretending to negotiate) with Israel is to complete the release of prisoners.
One wonders where Kerry has been for the past two decades, and whether he ever consulted with US diplomats who learned one or two things about previous botched attempts to reach an agreement between Israel and the PA.
In his book The Missing Peace, former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross rebuts Arafat’s claim that he had been promised 90% of the West Bank by the late Yitzhak Rabin: “In an earlier briefing I told the president that this was one of Arafat’s mythologies; Rabin had never done that, and, in fact Rabin had envisioned only going to between 70 and 80 percent.”
Not only did Rabin envision relinquishing no more than 80 percent of the West Bank (without territorial “compensations”), but his vision of an agreement with the Palestinians was not as far-reaching as what subsequent Israeli prime ministers agreed to, in vain. Two weeks before his assassination, Rabin spelled out in the Knesset his vision of a final agreement. He said that, in the end, there would be a “Palestinian entity” that would be “less than a state.” Rabin also pledged that Israel will “not return to the June 4, 1967 lines” and that it would retain control over the Jordan Valley “in the broadest meaning of that term.” Rabin also pledged never to release convicted Palestinian murderers.
In August 2000, Arafat told Dennis Ross that Prime Minister Ehud Barak had gone “further” than Yitzhak Rabin would have agreed. “Much further,” Ross corrected him. At Camp David, Barak agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state on 92 percent of the West Bank and to Palestinian sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Before the Camp David conference, Osama Elbaz (President Hosni Mubarak’s diplomatic adviser) said that the dream of the Palestinians was to obtain 91 percent of the West Bank. Asked by Dennis Ross why, then, they had rejected Barak’s offer of 92 percent, Elbaz candidly replied: “They raised their expectations.”
President Clinton’s “parameters” of December 2000 went even further than Barak’s offer. The Palestinians would have ended-up with between 94 and 96 percent of the West Bank (with a 1 to 3 percent land swap with pre-1967 Israel). East Jerusalem (including the Temple Mount) would have become the capital of a Palestinian state. Israel would have recognized the Palestinian “right of return” while retaining the right to decide which Palestinians would be entitled to Israeli citizenship. Israel accepted the Clinton parameters. Arafat rejected them.
As Dennis Ross writes: “Rabin and Peres had made a historical choice; Arafat made only a tactical move … Arafat went to Oslo after the first Gulf War not because he made a choice but because he had no choice … Oslo was his salvation. As such, it represented less a transformation than a transaction.”
Mahmoud Abbas is no better. In May 2008, he rejected Ehud Olmert’s offer, which went further than the Clinton parameters. Together with the land swaps, the Palestinians were now getting the totality of the West Bank (and of the Gaza Strip). Olmert also agreed to relinquish the Temple Mount and to accept thousands of Palestinian refugees. But, as Abbas explained to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that wasn’t good enough because “five million refugees,” and not only a few thousand, should be allowed to become Israeli citizens.
Benjamin Netanyahu was ready to go much further than Yitzhak Rabin in the current talks with the Palestinians. As opposed to Rabin, Netanyahu accepted the establishment of a Palestinian state. As opposed to Rabin, Netanyahu agreed to free convicted murderers. And, contrary to Rabin, Netanyahu seems to have accepted the principle of land “compensation.”
It is a fact that in the past two decades Israel has made significant concessions, while the Palestinians have made none.
Dennis Ross concludes in his book The Missing Peace that the Palestinians should “learn from the past and not simply deny it or reinvent it.” John Kerry would be well advised to learn that lesson, as well.