In the last days of October 2010, the London-based Asharq Al Awsat ran a report saying that Israel and the US administration were holding secret negotiations and discussing a new peculiar option: Israel would lease land in East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley from the Palestinian state for 40-99 years, in exchange for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Although US and Israeli officials refused to comment the report, the Arab newspaper cited Palestinian and Egyptian sources confirming the story.
Commenting this report for the International Jerusalem Post (Nov.12-18), Caroline B Glick said: “Netanyahu has reportedly accepted Obama’s proposal in principle. The only remaining dispute is the length of the lease.” As she argued against the proposal, she cited Israeli Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz saying: “if we agree to the offer, we will be broadcasting to the Palestinians that the land is actually theirs.”
Glick and Herschkowitz and many others decided that the proposal was about ceding the “Jewish people’s national right to the land,” and that no Israeli leader could accept it. This is ostensibly what determined the Israeli Parliament about two weeks later to issue a new legislation requiring a two-thirds majority before any withdrawal could be approved.
However, it is necessary to understand that while the right-wing Israeli propaganda started preparing the public to accept the idea that this “land is not for sale,” the American proposal as pragmatic as it may sound will not necessarily meet an enthusiastic reaction among the Arab public either. It may even look utterly disadvantageous to the Palestinians as it seems emptying their future independence from its substance.
People will ask: Does it make sense to establish a Palestinian state if its birth will be associated in history to giving up its long-claimed rights? Why should the Palestinians accept, in the first place, to make this concession since their right to statehood is inscribed in the UN charter as well as in its resolutions that Israel has never applied? Maybe like the Israelis, the Palestinian leaders need also to resort to their parliament or to referendum before leasing territories, which under international law, are property of their people.
Anyway, if I understand well the US propositions made to Benjamin Netanyahu (The International Jerusalem Post, Nov.19-25, 2010), Eastern Jerusalem is not included in the freeze on settlements proposed for 90 days. The question is: why? Does that mean that the United States, reversing its own policy on this issue, allows Israel a “free hand” in Arab East Jerusalem?
This question is all the more bewildering that Washington proposes to “use its veto in the UN Security Council against unilateral efforts for Palestinian statehood.” This seems to be a straightforward answer to those in the Palestinian Authority who figure out they can ask recognition of a Palestinian state from the international community, in case the negotiations with Israel lead to an impasse. Recently interviewed on Al Jazeera, Saeb Ariqat, the chief negotiator of the PA, hinted that such a perspective is seriously contemplated.
To many people in the Arab world this handling of the negotiations would seem highly dubious. Some, recalling Obama’s speeches would wonder: is this a double game?
I am sure this is not intended deliberately, though. Yet, the message these confusing proposals convey is: the US administration is still groping like a blind leading a one-eyed man. Is it so hard for this administration just to stick to its promises to the Arabs? We are not even asking to fulfil them, but just to hold on and show the world just one single time that this great nation that is America can respect its word and its own values, instead of drifting away, either by miscalculation, or by selfish interest, or even by complaisance?
Peace-loving people and men of good sense see very well that the present Israeli government is unable to deliver on peace, as it is handicapped by a fundamental ideological incompatibility with the mere idea of accepting an arrangement that would oblige Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders. Ask the Knesset!
Entangled with its domestic problems following mid-term elections, the Obama administration seems also unable to “get to the point.” Does it make sense to reward Netanyahu with 20 F-35 joint strike fighter jets in addition to whatever he would anyway grab just to cajole him into a 90 days settlement-freeze? What if 90 days and even 900 days are not enough for the Likud to change its mind?
If the negotiations are meant to be for the show, go on. But if you really care about peace, fair peace, then it is unnecessary for a superpower to make such concessions, unless the decision makers in the Obama administration take seriously Bill Clinton’s ironic remark about Netanyahu (reported by Dennis Ross): “He thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires.” After all, who needs peace more than the Palestinians and the Israelis? If they say no, allow them time to think it over. There is no necessity to rush.
Not very long ago I read in Foreign Affairs magazine (March-April 2010) a piece by Ehud Yaari, an Israeli commentator and fellow of the WINEP, saying that “because a large majority of Israelis still support a two-state solution, the Knesset would be likely to approve any interim agreement reached by the Netanyahu government and the PA.” We hope so, but the last reaction by the right-wing dominated Knesset did not augur of such development. Nevertheless, the interesting point Yaari made has somehow predicted the present confusion. He said: “instead of concentrating on an ineffective freeze of settlement construction, diplomats should focus on reaching a deal in which those settlements within the new armistice boundaries of a Palestinian state would actually be removed.”
This is indeed a good idea that would avoid the US administration to appear ridiculous with its “incentives” given up for nothing in return, on the condition that the PA accepts to continue negotiations without linking them to an immediate freeze on settlement. But for this to happen, either the Palestinian leaders have to be convinced of the American good will or the negotiations will have to be maintained in secrecy. After all, Mahmud Abbas is well the leader who imposed secrecy as a way of negotiations.