As of late, the Israeli government has been moving into high gear with regards to the planned agreement with the virtual government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. Perhaps it is doing so to appease the United States, or possibly for reasons pertaining to the political survival of the government and the person who heads it.
Seemingly, there's a degree of disharmony between the parties involved, possibly reflecting the manner in which the entire government functions: Haim Ramon is acting "with the prime minister's permission, yet without authority," and offers his interlocutors a "document of principles"; the prime minister's associates are talking about a "document of understandings"; Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni continues to search for a "political horizon," and the "non-political" president advances his own plans.
However, despite the nuances, and despite the declarations that for the time being "nothing has been agreed upon," we can certainly identify the common denominator of all the proposals - in terms of concessions they are even more far-reaching than the Oslo Accords.
The fact that all the relevant points appear in various media outlets in almost the same wording shows that this is not the product of one journalist's imagination, but rather, information that comes from someone who knows what he's talking about.
Contrary to the past, Israel is currently willing to discuss all the "core issues" – including Jerusalem, borders, settlements, and refugees. Ostensibly, we should be praising this, as Israel is indeed interested in a real peace treaty. Yet in practice we are not talking about a peace agreement or even mutual compromise, but rather, a full endorsement of all Palestinian demands, coupled with the renunciation of major Israeli demands in the realm of security, diplomacy and Jewish life.
Based on various reports, the Palestinian "partner" is not even willing to pledge that in exchange for the Israeli liquidation sale it will declare an end to the conflict between the two peoples.
The clauses raised in meetings with Palestinian representatives and apparently also backed by written documents raise questions as to Israel's willingness to hand over its assets. This includes the following:
Jerusalem will be divided (we're talking not only about the Arab neighborhoods in peripheral areas, but rather, the eastern section of the city, including the Old City, with Israel giving up its sovereignty on Temple Mount); Israel will adopt the Green Line as an opening position on the subject of borders, yet demand that three settlements be kept in place (Gush Etzion, Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel). In exchange, Israel will hand over areas west of the Green Line to the Palestinians.
Israel will evacuate all other Judea and Samaria communities – the same communities that ever since the Alon Plan through to Ariel Sharon's "security maps" are considered a major strategic pillar in defending the country.
Yet Palestinian villages near Jewish settlement blocs won't be addressed the same way. Apparently we're also talking about a "safe passage" between Gaza and the "West Bank" that will come under Palestinian control as well.
Another important clause pertains to the question of refugees: As far as we know, Israel will agree to accept "declaratory" responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem – something that is dangerous in and of itself in terms of the country's moral standing and also has practical implications. Similar to the Taba agreement case, Israel will agree to absorb about 1,000 Palestinian families as a "humanitarian gesture."
It appears that the Palestinians, who are encouraged by the government of Israel's domestic and external weakness, are not satisfied with these concessions and are demanding an accelerated timetable for implementing all these steps.
Government spokespersons indeed claim that we are not talking about an agreement, but rather, only about "principles." Yet as any political rookie knows, these principles will inevitably become the opening position of any future negotiations on a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Peace won't come out of this, yet continued Arab pressure for additional Israeli concessions is certain.
The writer is a former Israel ambassador to Washington and member of the Israeli delegation at the Madrid Conference