Things have changed

There is an inclination on the part of most Palestinians, but also some Americans, Europeans and Arabs and even a few Israelis, to assume that when we return to final status negotiations, nothing will have changed. The issues and positions on the agenda will be more or less those discussed at Camp David II in July 2000, and then further refined in ensuing bilateral meetings that culminated at Taba in January 2001. The Clinton principles of December 2000 are also frequently mentioned as points of departure for future negotiations.

Of course, both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Clinton declared their proposals “null and void” once the negotiations ended. But this tends to be discounted. Obviously the ideas put forth are no longer either official or binding. But isn’t it logical, once we stop fighting and resume talking, to pick up where we left off?

Not if we factor into the picture the lessons that Israel must draw from three intervening events: the circumstances of the collapse of the peace talks at Camp David and afterwards, and particularly the “parting” Palestinian positions on the refugee/right of return issue and the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif issue; nearly three years of bloody conflict with the Palestinians; and the aftermath of the American campaign in Iraq.

Thus even a left-leaning Israeli government (and not that of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) is likely to offer a wide range of revisions to the Israeli negotiating position of Camp David-Taba. Some might make negotiations easier; most are likely to make it even more difficult to reach agreement, unless the Palestine Liberation Organization also reassesses its needs and options three years later.

Borders and settlements: Israel will likely show a greater readiness to return to a defensible border that is close to the 1967 lines, and to concede settlements, like, say, Ariel, that would be hard to defend against Palestinian attackers because they could only be annexed to Israel as the extremity of indefensible “fingers” of territory. Here Israel would be applying lessons learned from the intifada, and the parties will have an easier time agreeing on final status borders. (On the other hand, a right wing Israeli government will insist on far greater Israeli annexations of West Bank and even Gaza land than demanded at Camp David. But this has little to do with lessons of the past three years; the right held this view long before Camp David.)

Border security with Jordan and Egypt: In view of its experience with Palestinian arms smuggling before and during the intifada, Israel will demand more stringent controls at the Palestinian borders with Jordan (Jordan Valley) and Egypt (Rafah), in order to ensure that demilitarization provisions concerning Palestine are enforced. This will probably take the form of a more extended and more intrusive Israeli security presence on the ground, even if it is integrated into an international security force. A similar beefed up Israeli presence will be demanded with regard to Palestine’s air and sea borders.

Palestine-Israel border security: While arrangements for trade, tourism and worker mobility remain likely, Israel will place far more emphasis on the concept of the border as “separation” rather than “integration”. This will likely include a security fence along the agreed border.

Early warning stations: In the aftermath of the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, Israel’s early warning requirements looking (electronically) to the east might be somewhat alleviated, thereby possibly partially reducing the number of early warning stations it needs to maintain on the mountain ridge of the West Bank, and limiting the intrusion on Palestinian sovereignty.

Refugee/right of return issue: Israel’s position will be tougher. The Palestinian leadership’s insistence after Camp David that Israel accept the principle of the right of return, coupled with the violence of the intifada, the radicalization of the Israeli Arab community and demographic realities, have persuaded most Israelis that the Palestinians’ ultimate aim is to “Palestinize” Israel. Hence any Israeli government is now likely to insist that a peace treaty comprise Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and not comprise any Israeli recognition of the right of return.

Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif: On this issue, too, Arafat’s post-Camp David insistence that there never was a Jewish temple on the mount is widely understood as yet another attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and deny Israel’s character as a Jewish state. Hence Israel will probably insist that, whatever formula is found, it comprise Palestinian recognition of the mount’s Jewish history, with appropriate Jewish access–of course, without violating the mount’s Muslim history and status.

In short, Camp David/Taba cannot be replicated. But history, sadly, will be repeated, in the sense that Palestinians will discover–as they did after rejecting British partition offers in the 1930s, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947, and Camp David I in 1978–that overall they are being offered less than what they turned down last time.

Yossi Alpher is the author of the forthcoming book “And the Wolf Shall Dwell with the Wolf: The Settlers and the Palestinians.”

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