After a two-month “summer vacation,” the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are back to discussing a solution to the conflict. On the part of our prime minister, we hear an optimistic assessment whereby a final-status agreement can be secured by the end of the year. Meanwhile, his rivals say that in the face of the Palestinian Authority’s weakness and the gaps between the sides, there is no chance whatsoever for a deal. Paradoxically, both sides are correct.
About eight years ago, in November 2000, President Clinton presented both sides with his proposal for a final-status agreement. It was a detailed document that concretely addressed each one of the core issues. Clinton made a frank and courageous attempt to find the midway point between the conflicting demands of both sides. As we know, this attempt did not succeed. Both sides refused to “go all the way.”
Clinton’s proposal was and still is the most balanced solution for a final-status agreement, as long as we accept the principle that two states should exist between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River – Israel and Palestine.
Anyone who engages in negotiations on a final-status agreement based on this principle would end up with a similar result. Any changes would be miniscule. Therefore, Yossi Beilin is right to say that a detailed solution already exists, and all that is needed now is a brave decision by the leaders.
However, the situation can be characterized differently: The most that an Israeli government (any government) can offer the Palestinians (and still survive politically) is much less than the minimum that a Palestinian regime (any regime) could agree to accept (and still survive politically.) The real gap between the sides is huge, and it keeps on growing.
Moreover, if we compare the conditions that prevailed eight years ago to current conditions, we can see that things today are much worse
I shall briefly note five elements that have changed for the worse:
1. The leadership situation – the Clinton-Arafat-Barak trio enjoyed much greater national and international trust and backing than the Bush-Abbas-Olmert trio.
2. In July 2000, when the process got underway, the Intifada had not yet erupted. The cooperation between the two sides, including in the security arena, was immeasurably better than it is today.
3. Hamas’ rise – today it is clear that should a final-status agreement be secured, and should Hamas not torpedo it, there is high likelihood that a Palestinian state in the West Bank would be controlled by Hamas. For Israel, this is not only a question of “painful concessions,” but rather, also of taking an unreasonable risk.
4. The trust between the sides – Our conviction that the Palestinians want “only” a small state split between Gaza and the West Bank is waning. Meanwhile, the Palestinians do not believe that the Israeli government wants to or can implement a final-status agreement.
5. The new military threats, such as rockets, anti-tank missiles, and advanced anti-aircraft missiles, are capable of circumventing any demilitarization agreement – yet another reason to show reservations to the prospect of taking security risks.
In light of the above, the following question emerges in full force: Why should we assume that what failed eight years ago, when conditions were much better, will succeed now of all times?
In practical terms, we can reach two conclusions: First, a final-status agreement, although its details are known, cannot be secured in the foreseeable future. Second, the time has come to think about other solutions. One of them is a return not to the 1967 borders, but rather, to the reality that prevailed in 1967, when Jordan controlled the West Bank.