The two diplomatic formulas which were rejected by Sharon during his term in office - the Saudi Initiative and the Geneva Initiative – are now being renewed by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. If various clauses in these initiatives are adopted, they will join the series of Israeli concessions, withdrawals and flexibility of the last decade - almost all of them undertaken unilaterally and void of any benefit.
In the summer of 2000, then Prime Minister Ehud Barak tried for the first time to end the conflict in one fell swoop. The concessions he presented at Camp David went far beyond anything Israel was prepared to relinquish in the past, crossing what was termed as "red lines."
Yasser Arafat rejected the proposals and didn't even bother to present counter proposals. Weeks later the Palestinians embarked on the Intifada. By the end of the year, in a desperate election eve attempt in Taba, the Barak cabinet proposed further concessions beyond those offered at Camp David – all in vain.
Even with the change in government and in the face of growing violence, Israel's principle positions continued to erode. In the Latroun address in 2003 Prime Minister Sharon stated that the Palestinian state is a "de facto" state.
His statement led to the Quartet's Road Map that allotted three years to a peace agreement and enabled the establishment of a Palestinian state prior to that – without any parallel compensation (such as right of return for refugees to areas under Palestinian rule only.)
Sharon ignored its drawbacks and preferred to highlight the fact that the first phase demanded that the Palestinians dismantle their terror infrastructure; he then forced the Road Map on his cabinet.
Yet just a few months later, he deviated from the Road Map and launched the "disengagement" initiative, which comprised new concessions: Dismantling the settlement bloc and full withdrawal to the 1967 borders before reaching a final-status agreement and without receiving anything in return.
Under pressure from Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon managed to extract from the Americans several understandings relating to a future final-status agreement: American recognition that Israel is entitled to defensible borders; inclusion of the large settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty; and a declaration that Palestinian refugees would not return to Israeli territory.
Leftist wishful thinking
When the "disengagement" was over, its architects, including Olmert and Livni, announced similar moves in Judea and Samaria within the framework of the "realignment." Mahmoud Abbas' helplessness, the rise of Hamas to power and the Second Lebanon War delayed the plan, and we could have expected that lessons would have been drawn, but now it appears that unilateral submission is likely to continue.
Since the "disengagement," dismantling of terror infrastructures is no longer a prerequisite for diplomatic talks, and Israel has come to terms with a Palestinian national unity government that includes Hamas, while it is also prepared to enter talks on a political horizon, namely, on the clauses of a final-status agreement. The renewal of the Saudi Initiative, whose key demand is withdrawal to the 1967 borders on all frontiers, also constitutes the relinquishment of understandings accepted from the time of US President Ford until George W. Bush.
How did it transpire that while the Arabs and Palestinians are sticking to their guns and even increasing their demands, Israel is skipping from one initiative to another while abandoning principles and positions that were deemed crucial only yesterday?
This has several explanations: According to the Leftist approach, for example, Palestinian demands are essentially justified; the Israeli occupation is the mother of all sins, and therefore, any concession or withdrawal is a blessing.
Another position is the enchantment of reconciliation – the belief that aggressive and demanding parties can be placated by giving in to their demands. There's also detachment from reality - ignoring the data and situation, as presented by the intelligence forces – and wishful thinking. Mistakes were also made due to absentmindedness and weakness.
Different approach needed
Another common error stems from ignorance when it comes to the rules of negotiation, and primarily from misunderstanding the difficulties entailed in unilateral moves: There are no free meals and there are no free concessions.
And finally, and this should not be concealed, since Taba, through to the "disengagement" and perhaps until today, the ineffective practice of concessions has been carried out for the sole purpose of political survival.
Will a downfall and a series of concessions satisfy the Palestinians to such an extent that they would end the conflict and cease making further demands on us?
It is doubtful whether this will happen, because historically the more Israel moderated its demands, the more the Palestinians hardened theirs. Moreover, it will not happen because unilateralism or the series of concessions were not subjected to mutual concessions, and also because Palestinians have not allowed closure in any former attempts.
The incumbent Palestinian government's positions are similar to those prevalent prior to Oslo, and gradually signs of Palestinian-Israeli demands are also becoming evident and joining external ones – this does not herald the end of the conflict, but rather, the demise of the Jewish State.
This is not the way to make peace. Right from the start we needed a different Israeli approach, void of the above failures and futile reconciliations. It should have focused on the advancement of Israeli interests rather than on their sacrifice.