By Issa Khalaf
On his site, ‘Bernard Avishai Dot Com,’ an outraged Avishai had this to say about the Palestine Papers:
"…the Guardian’s spin on the talks, based on documents leaked by Al Jazeera, is outrageous.
"The Guardian has seemed bent on making Palestinian concessions seem like a betrayal. But they have reported only one hand clapping. Palestinian territorial and other concessions, I will show, were the other side of significant, creative Israeli proposals and concessions. Any prospective agreement would be a compromise, for God’s sake. …"
I waited with held breath. His response came—“A Plan for Peace that Still Could Be,” in that bastion of Israel advocacy and a generous platform for Avishai, the New York Times, on 7 Feb. 2011—and went. I could hardly stomach having to go through it, but today I did. Not because I reject the good intentions of Avishai’s Israeli liberalism—despite its severe shortcomings and inability to look at itself squarely, including the delusion of proto-state Zionism’s romantic foundations—or his call for equality for Israel’s Palestinian citizens and his concern for liberalizing Zionism and rescinding its institutions that make it racist and unequal. Or, for that matter, his concern to get on with peace and the evolution of “Israel’s globalization” which he believes is changing it into a cosmopolitan entrepreneurial culture that one day, after a long transition based on two states, will lead to deeper cooperation between Palestine-Israel, even federal structure between Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. (I read his Hebrew Republic and Tragedy of Zionism.) This is okay with me. Though I’d prefer, and take, a bi-national state, given the realities as I see them, a two state solution would indeed have been a start towards the long term process of Palestinian-Israeli coexistence. The operative words are “would have been,” because I now believe two states to be in the past. But not Avishai, who argues that the negotiations of 2008-09 “provide an invaluable template of a new, Obama-led push for peace.” He said he interviewed both Olmert and Abbas, on January 21, about the duo’s own negotiations.
What does he find? I’m not sure, for virtually everything new he said he uncovered by his separate interviews with Olmert and Abbas in one day, pretty much confirm the Palestine Papers. Abbas accepted demilitarization and several other, sovereignty denuding aspects including giving Israel the right of chasing “terrorists” across Palestine’s border. Okay, denuded or otherwise, no Palestinian gives a damn whether Palestine has military forces; they just want the Israeli albatross lifted from their lives. The Israelis gave nothing in this area.
Then Avishai goes into the nauseating business of annexed and exchanged land percentages and swap ratio, which should be 1:1. Abbas offered 1.9 percent of the West Bank (defined to include Latrun “no man’s land” and, surprise of surprises, Palestinian East Jerusalem) even though the area of the built up settlements is 1.1 percent. The Israelis wanted 6.3, but Abbas offered 5.8 but Olmert would take nothing less than 5.9, though 4 percent was floated post-negotiations at Rice University’s Baker Institute. (God!)
Abbas accepted all the colonies except Har Homa, because, Avishai says with sentimental approval, Abbas recognized it’s not realistic to expect Israel’s built up settlements, including East Jerusalem “Jewish suburbs” or “neighborhoods”—encompassing according to Avishai at least 60 percent (way low) of the settlers—to be dismantled. To Avishai, only “Ariel is the most blatant problem”—after all it was begun by Netanyahu only after Oslo. The sparsest colonies would generously go. That the colonies surrounding Jerusalem to the north, east, and south, were, clearly, not about to be let go; that the towns/colonies/blocs of Efrat (part of Gush Etzion), Maale Adummim, Alfei Menahse, Ariel, etc. effectively sever the West Bank in half and annex some of the best lands and water sources, is unseen by Avishai.
In Jerusalem, “Jewish neighborhoods” would remain under Israeli sovereignty; Palestinian neighborhoods would remain under Palestinian sovereignty—as if an instance of a path-breaking Israeli concession, Avishai parenthetically comments: “(Olmert even showed me an architectural sketch for a symbolic Palestinian checkpoint leading to the American Colony Hotel in Sheik Jarrah.)” Avishai also tells us that, “At the same time, Abbas suggested that East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem would be municipalities, but the city as a whole would not be divided. ‘There would be an overall body to coordinate between them,’ he said.”
The Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holy places in the Old City would be governed by an international custodial committee. Anyway, Olmert’s willingness to consider the holy city’s internationalization—an inaccurate description by Avishai as it hardly compares to the British and UN partition internationalization proposals of what was then the entire city of Jerusalem—is seen by Avishai as a historic Israeli concession. Apparently not agreed on (it wasn’t clear what Avishai was saying on this), was that Olmert wanted Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods, Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and Mount of Olives to be included in the “holy basin” which includes the Old City, but Abbas refused.
“So when Olmert finally showed Abbas his map on Sept. 16, it was an established principle of these negotiations that any territory Israel sought to annex in Greater Jerusalem would have to be compensated like any other occupied territory. This was unprecedented. …
“And so the putatively impossible problem of Jerusalem now boiled down to the question of whether A-Tur and parts of Silwan would be excluded from Palestine and whether the Har Homa suburb would be excluded from Israel [as if indigenous Palestinian neighborhoods of their city are legally and morally equivalent to illegal Har Homa]. I checked back with Olmert about the question of the holy basin, and he replied, ‘The exact lines were not drawn, but I believe it could easily be agreed’.
“Olmert made his most comprehensive offer to Abbas on Sept. 16, 2008, the opening day of the General Assembly in New York. Abbas then ‘went silent’ (as Olmert puts it), weighing a response as the Gaza border was heating up, not sure which American presidency the Palestinian leadership would confront—and also questioning the point of continuing negotiations with a lame-duck prime minister. (Olmert was under investigation for corruption and announced in late July that he would be stepping aside once his Kadima Party chose a new leader.) Yet negotiations were not formally suspended until January, after Israel attacked in Gaza. Rice had invited the sides to meet in Washington.” Oops, Olmert took time out to obliterate Gaza before resuming “peace” talks—to deflect from his personal problems?—who knows.
What’s wrong with this picture? Legally, morally, historically, territorially the Israelis have no claim, certainly to the occupied territories naturally including Palestinian East Jerusalem. Avishai’s assumption is an emotional one, that Israel was ready to make concessions in indivisibly Jewish Jerusalem and Land of Israel. To Palestinians, they are giving up 77 percent of the country, the part the Zionists, who owned 7-8 percent of historic Palestine before Israel’s creation, took by force and ethnic cleansing in 1948. So Israel is not making concessions but stealing yet more land, and hardly dividing Jerusalem, but coercing the Palestinians to divide their control and authority over it. In reality, only one side is making concessions.
Okay, you might say, this is bitter reality based on power; that Palestinians have to give up more of Palestine (that is, in the West Bank/East Jerusalem) to end the occupation and have their state. I accept that. Negotiations mean compromise. However, to argue that the Israelis are making historic concessions is absurd and dishonest in the extreme. The Palestinian offer of 1 to 2 percent of West Bank Palestine is extremely generous because this much giveaway does, in fact, include the built up settlements and then some. This, then, is where the Israelis should reasonably stop, but they’re after the land that was expanded as part of an annexed Palestinian East Jerusalem and the Wall and the lands on both sides of it.
On a more practical level of viability, two objections immediately come to mind: One, it’s less an issue of percentages given away by the Palestinians and more whether they provide for Palestinian economic, geographical, and political contiguity and viability. Two, it’s difficult to conceive swapped land from Israel to Palestine would be anything less than virtually useless land rather than good fertile land along the Green Line—unless Olmert was thinking to get rid of areas where “Arabs” are heavily concentrated, such as the Triangle, thereby also “transferring” Palestino-Israelis into the Palestine state. In any case, Olmert was neither clear in what he was offering, if anything—he refused to produce a final map unless Abbas signed off first—nor was he willing to swap at a 1:1 ratio, wanting 6.3 percent in return for 5.8 percent compensation and a 25 mile tunnel (yes, tunnel) to Gaza to make up for the shortfall. It’s worthwhile consulting Halper:
“Israel may indeed relinquish 95% of the West Bank but still remain in complete control over a Palestinian Bantustan with no viable economy. If it insists on controlling the borders, denying the Palestinians free movement of goods and people, the Palestinian state is not viable. If the 5% the Palestinians must cede includes a corridor across the West Bank, or if Israel insists on keeping the Ma