Israel Palestine Infos
October 2, 2010
EHUD OLMERT raised his hands before his face, two fingertips almost touching: “We were that close!”
He was talking about the negotiation he had conducted personally with Mahmoud Abbas, just before he himself was forced to vacate the Prime Minister’s office.
That was the climax of
the speech he made last week at a meeting of the “
At its center was a
serious effort to draft a full and final peace agreement with the Palestinian
people. It came after a draft prepared by Gush Shalom and resembled it in many
ways. But there were two big differences: the
When this draft was
unveiled in an impressive ceremony in
For some months, the
initiative was at the center of world attention. Many governments found it
interesting. I, too, was active on its behalf, in spite of the fact that I had
not been involved. I spoke about it with several statesmen, including the
And then it disappeared,
as rapidly as it had risen. The coup de grace was delivered by Ariel
What remains is a group of supporters, one peace association among many, who publish ads from time to time and convene the occasional meeting. Olmert’s speech was made at such a meeting.
In the meantime, something strange has happened to the Initiative. Its spiritual father was Yossi Beilin, a person with a fertile – some say, over-fertile – mind. Beilin started his chequered career in the Labor Party, as an assistant to Shimon Peres. When he did not make their Knesset list, he joined Meretz, became its leader and led it to disastrous election results.
Recently, a bizarre
situation has arisen. Beilin is still the chairman of the Geneva Initiative, but
now he opposes the idea of a full peace agreement that would put an end to the
conflict. He claims that such an agreement is impossible, and that the aim
should therefore be an interim agreement - the very opposite of the
FROM THE host to the speaker. Ehud Olmert is the most unpopular politician in the country today (quite an achievement, given the competition).
Right from the beginning of his political career, a cloud of suspicions has hovered over his head, and in the course of time it has become thicker and thicker. As of now, half a dozen criminal trials and police investigation are in progress against him, concerning bribes, fraud, forgery and more. Quite possibly he may end up in prison, to be greeted by several of his colleagues, including his finance minister.
As if this were not enough, Olmert is conducting a bitter campaign against his former ministers, and especially Ehud Barak, hurling at them a barrage of accusations. One of the most serious (in his eyes): that Barak had tried to shorten the Cast Lead operation.
Amid all this clamor,
Olmert has found the time and the energy for the speech at the
From the practical political point of view, the speech carries little weight. The public is much more interested in his forged accounts and the dollar-stuffed envelopes that he received. The part of his speech in which he belabored Barak (“Ehud vs. Ehud”) completely overshadowed the part devoted to peace.
YET IT is worth taking notice of what he had to say. Especially since it comes from a person who grew up in a right-wing home and who has spent his whole career in right-wing parties.
For half an hour, speaking fluently without recourse to notes, Olmert dealt with the core issues of the negotiations with the Palestinians.
As far as the borders are
concerned, Olmert argued, agreement had been almost reached. The border would be
based on the (pre-1967) Green Line, with exchanges of territory that would leave
the large settlement blocs in
In this matter, it seems, a consensus has gradually come into being. But only in principle, because two large boulders block the way to an agreement.
The settlements hard on the border should not pose too much difficulty. The Etzion Bloc, Modi’in-Illit and Alfei Menashe are located almost on the border, and can be exchanged for Israeli land.
But two settlements that
are located deep in Palestinian territory – Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim - pose
quite different problems. Ariel is located
If Ma’aleh Adumim were to
be connected with
The evacuation of these
two big settlements would pose a huge problem. Their continued existence would
pose an even bigger one. Perhaps creative solutions can be found: staying there
under Palestinian sovereignty, or remaining as small enclaves inside the
Palestinian state. Some think of connections such as tunnels, bridges or special
roads, like the one that once connected West Berlin with
The solution will largely
depend on the nature of the border between
ACCORDING TO Olmert, the
This will necessitate a
further big concession on the part of the Palestinians, since some Jewish
neighborhoods have been built as settlements beyond the Green Line. For their
readiness to allow them to be joined to
But the main thing is
that Olmert has finally laid to rest “
BUT THE most important breakthrough in Olmert’s speech was on the refugee front.
Olmert agreed that Israel
should admit its part in the creation of the problem, and proposed to Abbas a
comprehensive plan for the re-settlement of all refugees, including the return
of some tens of thousands to
The importance of this point cannot be exaggerated. The refugee problem has profound emotional ramifications. It touches the very roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until now, all Israeli governments have denied our responsibility and refused to discuss the return of even one refugee (except some miserly “family reunion” cases).
To my mind, the number proposed by Olmert is less important than his agreement to allow the return of refugees at all. As the joke goes, after the respectable lady agreed to sleep with the gentleman for a million dollars, “now that we have agreed on the principle, we must discus the price.”
If the negotiations are
no longer about “whether” refugees will come back, but about “how many”, no
doubt agreement can be reached. (Gush Shalom proposed 50 thousand a year for ten
WHY IS this important? With Olmert’s popularity approaching zero, does it really matter what he says at all?
Olmert is an optimist and has a lot of self-confidence. He believes that he will get out of his troubles somehow and return to the political arena. He really believes that he can become Prime Minister again.
No one denies that he has very sharp political instincts. If a person with such ambitions proposes an agreement, it means that he is convinced that these positions are now accepted by the great majority.
That’s the reason I suggest taking a good look at Olmert’s fingertips.