Livni, after all, drafted the plan that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is now implementing: negotiating an agreement on final-status principles with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, but delaying implementation until the PA meets key commitments such as fighting terror. Yet Livni has reportedly urged both US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad to lower expectations for these talks, as well as for the upcoming US-sponsored peace conference.
Currently, she warned, expectations are dangerously high: “I don’t believe in holding a fire sale of Israel’s assets,” she reportedly explained.
You also know it is time to worry when Olmert’s Kadima faction, which supported him through a disastrous war in Lebanon, the Winograd Committee’s subsequent scathing critique, the collapse of the party’s raison d’etre (unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank) and multiple criminal investigations, threatens revolt over his talks with Abbas.
Kadima MKs and ministers do not know what Olmert is actually offering Abbas; like other Israelis, they must rely on media reports. But those reports, which Olmert has not denied, detail far-reaching Israeli concessions that many Kadima members consider unacceptable.
One Kadima MK even reportedly warned that the “agreement of principles” could split the party in two, just as the disengagement split Likud.
FINALLY, you know it is time to worry when Olmert’s rationale for a deal with Abbas starts sounding, as Haaretz‘s Aluf Benn aptly noted last Friday, exactly like Ehud Barak’s rationale for the disastrous Camp David summit with Yasser Arafat: He was elected on a promise of territorial withdrawal that he has been unable to keep; the American president is nearing the end of his second term; he himself may soon be ousted unless he produces dramatic developments; and if the peace process does not advance, “everything is liable to fall apart.”
And we all know where Camp David led: far-reaching Israeli concessions with no Palestinian quid pro quo, which then became the starting point for the next round of talks, plus a terrorist war that has killed 1,133 Israelis since September 2000.
ADMITTEDLY, Olmert could be offering less than the media claim; the media have been wrong before. Yet even were this true, the other half of the problem would remain: Abbas, as Livni correctly stated, cannot currently “provide a single concession” in exchange. A recent poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, a respected Palestinian institute, suffices to show why.
According to the poll, almost 70 percent of Palestinians demand that all refugees and their descendants be allowed to relocate to Israel under a peace agreement; they rejected every alternative JMCC proposed, such as compensation, resettlement in Palestine or a quota for relocations to Israel. A politically weak leader like Abbas cannot buck such a solid consensus.
Yet for Israel, this is a deal-breaker: No Israeli government would ever allow 4.4 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants to relocate to Israel.
The poll also found that 82 percent of Palestinians oppose Israel’s retention of the settlement blocs. Yet every Israeli government has insisted on keeping these blocs, both for security reasons (distancing the new Palestinian state from Israel’s major population centers) and to make the deal more manageable for Israel (relocating the roughly 80,000 settlers who live outside the blocs is clearly easier than relocating all 260,000).
The result: another impasse.
FINALLY, THE poll found that fully 94 percent of Palestinians oppose any form of Israeli control over the Temple Mount – even the Clinton formula of Israeli sovereignty “under the mount” and Palestinian sovereignty atop it, which Olmert reportedly accepts. Sovereignty “under the mount” is utterly meaningless; if Palestinians control the mount’s surface, Israelis can neither access the “underneath” area in order to exercise their sovereignty, nor stop the Palestinians from doing as they please with it.
But this formula at least forces Palestinians to acknowledge a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount – something every Israeli government has deemed essential, in the understanding that peace is impossible unless the Palestinians recognize that Jews, too, have rights in this land. How can Abbas make a deal when such an overwhelming majority opposes even this grudging concession?
Abbas could, of course, defy public opinion and make the necessary concessions anyway. Yet even if he did (which is highly unlikely), the complete lack of public support would render them worthless. Thus what would Israel have gained?
These unyielding Palestinian positions are also responsible for Livni’s concern about a “fire sale of Israel’s assets” – because in a situation where Abbas is incapable of offering any quid pro quo, no agreement could be anything but a fire sale: Whatever Olmert offers, he will get nothing in return; it is hard to sell more cheaply than that.
Alternatively, the talks could end with no agreement, as Camp David did. But in that case, the results would probably be the same as well: Like Barak, Olmert has led Palestinians to expect an agreement; and if one fails to materialize, these frustrated expectations are liable to spark an upsurge in Palestinian terror.
GIVEN THE complete lack of movement in Palestinian positions over the last 14 years, Livni’s proposal for an “agreement of principles” on final-status issues could, unfortunately, never have produced any results but these: a “fire sale of Israel’s assets” or a “breakdown” (her term) followed by increased terrorism. And now that Olmert and Rice are running with the ball she set rolling, it is probably too late to avoid one of the two.
Israel can, however, choose the lesser of the two evils – and that is “breakdown.” The reason is simple: If an agreement is signed, Palestinians will expect rapid implementation, whereas Israel, given the ongoing Palestinian terror, will insist on delay. That will ultimately lead to the same consequences as no agreement: frustrated Palestinian expectations and increased terror.
And if we are going to have increased terror in any case, we might as well at least avoid the fire sale.