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Suddenly, the two-state chorus grows louder, more diverse

Something seems to be brewing out there, something new. I’ve been doing Middle East peace work, on and off, since the mid-1980s. I have never heard so many people from so many different corners of America defying right-wingers (and ultra-left-wingers) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and saying the same things at the same time.

What do a distinguished Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, 80 evangelical Christians who love Israel, a coalition of major Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders, some Arab American groups and the pro-Israel left have in common? In the last month, they have all called for the U.S. to actively pursue a two-state solution and they have spoken out–with varying degrees of specificity–against the occupation as well as Palestinian terrorism.

Item 1–Recently, under the media radar screen, Chris Dodd has been sending around a “Dear Secretary Rice” letter to his colleagues. Reliable sources tell me AIPAC is unhappy about it. Not wanting to burn bridges with a Presidential candidate and important Senator, the group has not actively opposed it. But when people call AIPAC and ask about it, they are being told that the letter is (horror of horrors!) “pro-Palestinian.” In fact, it is decidedly (also horror of horrors!) even-handed. Here is a summary from Brit Tzedek’s website, where you will find a link to the full text of the letter:

… On the Israeli side, the letter calls for a freeze on settlement construction, the dismantling of illegal outposts, and a reduction of roadblocks and checkpoints in the Palestinian territories. The letter notes the crucial significance that Israel “ease the living conditions of the Palestinian people as a symbol of its commitment to a final settlement.” In light of the Israeli government’s recently released plans to build 300 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa as well as its threats to cut off fuel and electricity into Gaza, this letter could not be more timely.

The Dodd letter also reaffirms American support for Israel’s right to defend itself and calls on Palestinian President Abbas to continue to denounce all terror attacks and to recognize Israel’s right to exist. It further encourages Secretary Rice to strengthen the Abbas government by providing humanitarian and financial aid to the Palestinian Authority (a message echoing November’s Ackerman-Boustany letter in the House of Representatives).

It is possible now to put forward positions in Congress that would have gotten a Member’s head handed to him not long ago. Even if Dodd were one of the leaders in the Democratic presidential race and had more to lose, it seems reasonable to assume that he would have taken the same action. There is, a Hill insider tells me, “less terror” of calling for aggressive moves to stop settlements and remove checkpoints, as doing so does not necessarily mean the right wing hasbara brigade will target you or that AIPAC-influenced PACs and right wing Jewish individuals will pour money into your opponent’s campaign. [Note that this source says less terror, as opposed to no terror.]

Item 2–While the right-wing maximalist Christian Zionists get most of the press, other evangelicals with equally passionate ties to their Holy Land but more conciliatory views are also organizing, according to a recent post by David Neff in the Christianity Today blog:

Over 80 evangelical leaders have signed a statement indicating their belief “that the way forward is for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a fair, two-state solution.”

These leaders—including Christian college and seminary presidents, denominational heads, and other ministry leaders—pledge their “ongoing support for the security of Israel,” and state that “unless the situation between Israel and Palestine improves quickly, the consequences will be devastating” for Israel. Palestinians with little economic opportunity “are increasingly sympathetic to radical solutions.”

[A brief excerpt from the statement]:

We believe that the principles about justice taught so powerfully by the Hebrew prophets apply to all nations, including the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. Therefore we are compelled to work for a fair, negotiated solution for both Israelis and Palestinians. We resolve to work diligently for a secure, enduring peace and a flourishing economy for the democratic State of Israel. We also resolve to work for a viable permanent, democratic Palestinian State with a flourishing economy that offers economic opportunity to all its people. We believe that the way forward is for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a fair, two-state solution.”

Now, that is not exactly bold language. But, as I understand it, most of these people are not from the left wing of the evangelical movement (e.g., the Sojourners). For all I know, some of them might like Mike Huckabee. And the contrast between them and the “don’t-yield-one-inch” fanatics like John Hagee could not be more stark, or more welcome.

Item 3–The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, formed in 2003, consists of major Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders. Galvanized by the irrepressible Ronald Young, they came up with a policy statement in advance of the Annapolis peace talks and a similar one after the conference. Among other things, they call for U.S. support for the “benchmark ideas developed by Israelis and Palestinians over the years in official and unofficial negotiations, and reflected in public documents like the People’s Voice initiative and the Geneva Accords.” These are heavy hitters, acknowledged denominational leaders, not just individual clergy signing ads in the New York Times. And they have found a way to unite not just over lofty and general goals but at least a few specific principles.

Item 4– And then there is the American Task Force on Palestine, which I’ve noted before. This is a new and welcome phenomenon: Palestinian American two-staters who are seeking to find common political cause with the pro-Israel left, Churches for Middle East Peace and others.

None of this means that all of these disparate people have the capacity, right now, to coalesce into an effective, energized lobby for the rest of us. But it means that there is an unprecedented convergence of minds and bodies and spirits dedicated to goals that were once controversial and divisive, both in the Middle East and the U.S. That yields some hope for eventual, tangible changes in the American political landscape.

22 thoughts on “Suddenly, the two-state chorus grows louder, more diverse

  1. Where do these various groups stand on demands that Israel permit some Palestinians to settle in Israel inside of its pre-1967 borders?

    If Israel continues to insist that all Palestinian refugees be settled outside of the borders of Israel, possibly in the West Bank, will these groups call on Palestinians not to reject a peace agreement over this demand?

    Are these groups willing to call on Palestinians not to wage war over an alleged “right of return?”

  2. Mnor problem Dan, Hamas is in the saddle, and they say NO. You and the rest of the liberals can pontificate and dialogue to your hearts content but Hamas, Islamic JIhad, the Al-Aksa brigades say NO. One last point, has you well know the sephardic Jews in Israel, the Jews from Arab countries, the ones that know them the best. Are the backbone of the reight wing. What does that tell you.

  3. Excellent question, Jonathan. We’ll see what “these groups” end up saying, won’t we? If you are talking about the coalitions, they would be crazy to try to address that issue with any degree of specificity at this point. Perhaps if the parties ever get to the point where there are tangible ideas on the table, they might weigh in. Your formulations are not principles for negotiations or concrete ideas for final status issues. They are demands that these groups make editorial commentaries.

    The Interreligious Initiative refers to the Geneva accord and People’s Voice Initiative. Look up the Geneva accord and you will see formulas for the refugees that radical Palestinians claim completely reject the “right of return” but right wing Israelis claim leave the door wide open for Palestinians to exercise that “right.”

    I am not sure it will work. I am not sure it is possible to solve this one. I am sure it is worth trying to do so.

    So let me ask you, would you call on Israel to reject a peace agreeement that took the Geneva Initiative’s approach to the refugees but also resolved all other issues to your liking?

  4. Bill, you and the rest of the Betarniks can ponticate and try to hunker down behind the wall all you want, but you still have no answer to the question of how to preserve a Jewish democracy without ridding ourselves of the territories

  5. “””So let me ask you, would you call on Israel to reject a peace agreeement that took the Geneva Initiative’s approach to the refugees but also resolved all other issues to your liking?”””

    Israel is a democracy, and if the Israelis decide they want to bring Palestinians into Israel that is up to them. Personally I would probably not want to if I were an Israeli, but it is not my decision.

    The Geneva Initiative asked 600 Israelis (including Arab and Russian-speaking Israelis) in a poll last October if as part of a peace agreement they objected to or supported a limited right of return subject to Israel’s sole judgement. Even with the latter qualification 54 percent of Israelis objected and 38 percent approved.

    I think President Clinton said it best in his peace plan in late 2000. Clinton said that the Israel could admit Palestinian refugees into Israel if it wanted to, but that a requirement to do so is not part of the Clinton Plan.

    Just as it is okay to criticize Israel who reject land-for-peace, it is surely okay to criticize Palestinians who reject land-for-peace and instead demand land-plus-right-of-return-for-peace.

    I should hope that proponents of a peaceful solution would advise Palestinians not to reject land-for-peace and go to war to demand settlement rights inside of Israel.

  6. Equal due process under the law is the standard.

    Historically, following wars, refugees in a democratic state have the right to due process.

    In a series of Israel laws in the early 50’s, Palestinians were selectively prohibited from applying to courts for even compensation for homes and land taken during the war of independance.

    That status of imperfect title to land remains. It remains in the form of a potential legal claim. In the US, if land claims originating three generations ago had ambiguous title, that status would hold the sale of real estate from one party to another, UNTIL the title is perfected.

    Liberally, the process in Israel resembles a taking by eminent domain. With the principle of equal due process under the law, even a state taking by eminent domain requires public hearing, and the right of legal appeal.

    Its LONG overdue.

    When the question of the “right of return” is posed to xenophobic ears, it sounds like hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are going to just walk into our homes and push us out.

    That would ALSO be a forced taking, illegal, requiring equal legal due process.

    Ultimately, the question of Israel/Palestine, is NOT the question of title, or should be divorced from that.

    It is and should be the question of jurisdiction of sovereignty. What definition of state jurisdiction results in the greatest degree of self-government.

    Neither a Palestinian dominated single-state, nor a Jewish Israeli dominated single-state optimizes the sense of self-governance.

    The only single-state that would, would be a state in which majorities in both the current Israel and Palestine thought of themselves primarily as human, rather than as Palestinian or Israeli, and constituted a genuine single party.

    Currently, nationalism is the prevailing sentiment, and to achieve ANY nationalism requires fair partition.

  7. Richard, you are answering an important question, but one that differs from the question I pose.

    If Israel continues to refuse to allow Palestinians to move to Israel permanently, but Israel is willing to agree to a Palestinian state (in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and parts of East Jerusalem) should the Palestinians turn down that deal?

    Or should the Palestinians keep fighting in order to force Israel to allow Palestinians to move to inside of Israel’s pre-1967 borders?

    Should the Palestinians settle for land-for-peace, or should they fight on for land-plus-right-of-return-for-peace?

  8. “Right of return” is NOT a simple reality (aside from the politics of it).

    The majority of Palestinians that lived anywhere in pre-1948 Palestine lived as either leaseholders or as permitted “squatters” (I don’t mean that term pejoratively).

    But, the majority of residents did NOT hold legal title to the land that they resided on. Definitely a few wealthy families did own large tracts of land.

    Any settlement of any element of the question must therefore combine reconciling the ethnic/national question as well as the cultural/social class question.

    Do individuals that resided in now green-line Israel that did not have title to land, have the rights of title. Is the “squatters” permission a precedent and transferable legally? And, what does that suggest for the future, if that is an acceptable precedent, a norm?

    The world itself has changed in that time. Specifically, the world has grown more crowded, and there are now very very few permitted non-titled residents anywhere in Europe and Levant.

    What does the “right of return” mean to those Palestinians that state it? Specifically.

    To Jews moving to Israel, it means expedited immigration process, and a range of non-governmental organizations assisting new residents to learn language, get jobs, etc.

    So, its hard to negotiate the rights of return of non-title holders, with current title-holders with imperfect title. Who gets compensated?

    I personally think that Israel should offer those individuals and one generation of children of those individuals who could provide evidence that they resided in geographic Israel, to be able to “return” to Israel, and be Israeli citizens if they wish.

    I think the number that would exercise that right would be small, especially as it entails accepting Israeli citizenship and then renouncing Palestinian citizenship.

    The onus would then fall on Palestinians to offer similar rights of return for ancestors of Jewish families (though their forced removals occurred earlier in the late 20’s and 30’s during the Arab revolts).

  9. Jonathan,

    “If Israel continues to refuse to allow Palestinians to move to Israel permanently, but Israel is willing to agree to a Palestinian state (in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and parts of East Jerusalem) should the Palestinians turn down that deal?…Or should the Palestinians keep fighting in order to force Israel to allow Palestinians to move to inside of Israel’s pre-1967 borders?

    Not sure what “should” means. If it were up to me, they wouldn’t do either one. And if it mattered at all if I told them not to, I would do so! If an otherwise viable agreement is wrecked because of a Palestinian refusal to accept that an enforceable right of return is unacceptable, then that would be a tragedy for them and for Israel and for the world.

    The Palestinian negotiators at Taba, Geneva, etc. have all understood that the right of return for their people will mean, in practice, the freedom and ability to return to a Palestinan state. But I don’t think you, I, or Ehud Olmert can expect them to relinquish the idea that they have the “right” to more. That is an important part of their narrative and no one can remove it. We can only hope and urge that they give up the idea of enforcing that right in order to end Palestinian suffering not only in the territories but also in the refugees camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, etc.

    But let us imagine that they do agree to relinquish the dream that someday any Palestinian who wants to can move back to an ancestral home that was near Netanya or Afula, and they accept some kind of arrangement that enables a limited number of refugees –subject to Israeli approval or the appproval of an international tribunal that includes Israel– to be integrated into Israel proper. If the Israelis reject it and ruin an otherwise viable agreement, then that would also be a tragedy.

    I can’t spend more time on my blog today. Hope others will pick this up and run with it.

  10. Teddy, two problems with your premise, first, the wall is working. Second, I don’t want to see Hamas in control of the west bank ridge line and also have the ability to make life in west Jerusalem miserable. And thats exactly what they would do. Look, I know you think that this is all Israels fault but let me ask you this, and Richard Witty, and Dan Fleshler. If any of you guys were PM of Israel what would be your plan. Since this is all in Israels hands evidently how would your guys wind this baby up. Looking forward to your response.

  11. That’s not fair. I don’t think “this is all Israels (sic) fault and while I can’t say for sure I can’t imagine Dan or Richard do either. For one thing, Hamas bombs in ’96 dealt a major blow to the Israeli peace camp and got Bibi elected, which was a disaster. And the second intifadeh wrecked the Israeli peace camp. And there is no excuse for Hamas not cracking down on the rockets falling on Sderot. I could go on….

    The problem with your question is there is no way to answer it without spending an hour and addressing every argument you will clearly make. So a very very partial answer is: I don’t want Hamas to “control the West Bank ridge line” either (My wife is a dual citizen, BTW, and both of us have extensive family connections, including some in the shtachim) But how do you stop that? No simple answers. Try to make a deal with moderate Palestinian leaders while there is still time, something along the lines of the Geneva accord or similar agreements.

    Put it on a platter to the Palestinian people, and ask them if they’d rather have that or a continuing occupation. The vast majority would opt for the former, especially if the promise was to enforce it with an international military presence of some sort, there really is an end to ALL settlement construction, there is a dramatic reduction in checkpoints that restrict movement within the West Bank (hopefully, long before an agreement is reached), perhaps the wall/fence is moved to the ’67 borders and treated as a temporary measure, there is some semblance of economic hope via foreign investment, not just foreign aid (I could go on with 50 other things this agreement will need to have).

    One aspect of the accord would be that the West Bank and Gaza are treated as one polity. Then, the Palestinian people (and the Israelis) would vote on it. Assuming the overwhelming majority accept, Hamas will either have to defer or lose its credibility among many of the Palestinians who voted for it in the last elections. What happens if it rejects the whole process, from begining to end, and the Palestinians have 2 governments throughout the negotiations? How do we keep Hamas from screwing everything up? Let’s hope we get to the point where we have to figure that out. Bottom line is that not even Meretz would accept a situation where Hamas has the capacity as well as the willingness to rain shells on Tel Aviv from encampments in Nablus…

    Ok, now I know there are a zillion things I haven’t answered, so go ahead, start firing away. But I’ve given you the basis of how I would proceed if I were the PM of Israel….

  12. I just want to note two facts.

    1. Every Israeli government since Oslo has accepted the concept of a two-state solution. They differ on how to achieve that solution, or the make up of an additional Arab state. But all Israeli governments on the left, right and center are on record as recognizing the right of Palestinian Arabs to their own state.

    2. Palestinian leadership still refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This includes the “moderate” Abbas and his cronies. They are on record as saying so as recently as the week before the Annapolis conference. They recognize Israel’s right to exist, but not as a state of Jews. It is as though they still consider Jews a lower life form.

  13. “””and they [Palestinians] accept some kind of arrangement that enables a limited number of refugees –subject to Israeli approval or the appproval of an international tribunal that includes Israel– to be integrated into Israel proper.”””

    The Palestinians already accept the concept of “limited return.” It is the Israelis and the Americans who did not accept it during the closing days of Clinton’s term.

    It is President Clinton who did NOT accept it in Clinton’s peace plan, when Clinton stated that the Israel could allow Palestinians to settle in Israel IF it wanted to, but that a requirement that Israel do so was not part of his, Clinton’s, peace plan.

    Since then Olmert and Bush, respectively, have echoed the 2000/2001 statements of Barak and Clinton, respectively. The current US and Israeli position is that any so-called right of return is limited to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Period.

    The question is whether the Israelis and Americans will hold to their positions. If Israel sticks to its position, and it has for MANY decades, then the Americans might as well.

    If so, what should the Palestinians do? Should they fight on, renouncing peace and the immediate opportunity for a state in order to fight for rights to enter Israel proper?

    You have said that the Palestinians should not do that. I agree.

    But then you speak of Israel wrecking an agreement by its refusal to admit any Palestinians into Israel. Would not the Palestinians have at least equally been the ones to wreck an agreement, by insisting on some right to settle inside of Israel when Israel and the US reject it?

    “””If the Israelis reject it and ruin an otherwise viable agreement, then that would also be a tragedy.”””

    Your words imply that the Palestinians, despite land-for-peace rhetoric on the part of many of us, including me, will reject land-for-peace and and a state in order to fight on for land-plus-right-of-return-for-peace.

    You don’t approve of them doing it, but you imply that is what they would do if denied any settlement rights in Israel. Otherwise the current US and Israeli position would not “ruin” as you put it any agreement, since the Palestinians would agree as well not to settle in Israel.

    I question whether settling Palestinians inside of Israel is viable. A majority of Israelis reject it, and they might vote out of office anyone who accepted it.

    The only significant Jewish politician who I know of who ever publicly advocated settling some Palestinian refugees in Israel is Yossi Beilin.

    According to Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, who was an observer of the Clinton talks in 2000/2001, Beilin “unofficially” proposed that Israel admit 40,000. Beilin in turn states that his Palestinian counterpart at that time was demanding settlement rights for 500,000.

    However, Beilin has indicated that eventually, if there had been more time, his Palestinian counterpart would have backed off from the 500,000 figure. Some think the Palestinians would have eventually agreed to settlement rights for 200,000.

    Ehud Barak has stated that he, Barak, would not have agreed to settle ANY Palestinians inside of Israel as part of or as a requirement of a peace agreement.

    After the failure of the Clinton talks in early 2001, Yossi Beilin was subject to considerable verbal attacks from inside and outside the Labor party. One of the constant themes of the attacks was that Beilin had unofficially in a personal initiative agreed to settle Palestinians in Israel, after Clinton had already stated that Israel did not have to do so.

    Beilin then dropped from #2(!) on the Labor list to #36. Beilin then left Labor and the Knesset before reappearing as the leader of Meretz. However, Meretz is now down to 4 seats in the Knesset. It had 7 seats when Beilin became leader of Meretz and 10 when Beilin first joined the party as its #11 candidate.

    So Beilin has had one of the most dizzying political falls that I have seen a Labor leader ever experience. He was right behind Barak (currently defense minister) at one time. And I think that one reason for his rapid fall is that Beilin agreed to settle Palestinians inside of Israel.

    Beilin is a patriot. He is arguing for what he believes. But his is a distinctly unpopular view in Israel.

    My point is that a peace agreement which requires Israel to settle Palestinians inside of Israel subject to an international tribunal may NOT be viable at all. It may be political suicide for an Israeli leader to agree to it.

    The whole agreement could then fail in the Knesset because of this onerous condition requiring settlement of Palestinians in Israel.

    In my view, the peace camp needs to be willing to tell both sides when they are going too far. That includes being willing to tell the Palestinians that if Israel rejects Palestinian settlement in Israel then the Palestinians should not keep fighting in order to force Israel to accept it.

    President Clinton did tell the Palestinians just that in his 2000 peace plan. President Bush did so recently as well. The peace camp needs to be comfortable telling the Palestinians the truth as well.

  14. Dan’s prior article on the Gordian knot is critical. Sequence is important. The steps to peace have to run from stability to stability. And, if the bridge between one stability to another is too confusing for two parties to breach, then they need the help (or intentional “pressure”) to make the breach.

    The first step though is fundamental acknowledgement that BOTH Israelis and Palestinians are human beings, and that BOTH Israelis and Palestinians are not disappearing for at least a few generations hence (who can tell what will happen much later?)

    That being said, the only path to reconcile those UNAVOIDABLE realities, is some reconciliation, some road map, that accomplishes what can be done unilaterally, bi-laterally, and multi-laterally.

    The pains and angers are deep.

    Bill,
    The condition of not trusting one’s former/current enemy is not new, and has led to sadly repititive consequences.

    Its the story of if perceives that one needs to secure the 10 miles from one’s border to make one’s own border secure, then that occurs. But, then there is another corner that is exposed, so further expansion is “necessary”. And so on, until the original community is overextended.

    As Solomon’s empire overextended, and could not remain Jewish, but turned largely pagan, until the prophetic violent purges.

    So, my take on it is whether Jews are in earnest about desiring peace or not. We say it a lot. Do we mean it?

    And, if we do, then Israel should NOT wait for an exchange, but do what it can unilaterally (coordinating so there is an orderly transition – unlike Gaza, but not bargaining). And, when it reaches a status that is difficult to do unilaterally, it should negotiate bi-laterally, perhaps with third party assistance in security, accountability, etc.

    We should acknowledge that the divisions created by the wall that surrounds the settlement blocs (the maze), has been a cruelty on Palestinians, not benign, not solely defensive, but unnecessarily harmful.

  15. Jonathan,

    “The current US and Israeli position is that any so-called right of return is limited to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Period.

    “The question is whether the Israelis and Americans will hold to their positions. If Israel sticks to its position, and it has for MANY decades, then the Americans might as well.”

    Do you mean they might? Or they “might as well” (which means they probably should). If you mean the second one, then you are ignoring a reality that has been clear for some time: neither side is ready to make the sacrifices they need to make in order for an enduring agreement to take hold. The only way out of this is for the U.S. and perhaps the UN and EU to lean on both parties, hard. Why should the refugee issue not be a candidate for international intervention?

    I read a comment here a few weeks ago by someone who said he had “no sympathy” for Israelis who think “the sky will fall” if 40,000 Palestinians (I can’t find it so I don’t know what number he or she cited) are gradually integrated into Israel. I concur. That won’t destroy their Jewish state. If that is the last and final step necessary to an agreement, well, maybe President Obama should insist that Israelis will have to accept it or face drastic penalties…just as most Palestinians will have to give up their dreams of return. My question to Fleshler and all of these liberal Zionists who want to work within their community is: would you support drastic penalities, like a major reduction in military aid, if it would force the Israelis to accept something you believe in? I am sick and tired of this conflict making the entire world a more dangerous place. Some tough love for both sides is necessary and the U.S. should dole it out.

  16. Stubborn Goy:
    Why should any Palestinians be allowed into Israel, why would they want to step into the belly of the Zionist beast. And what tough love would you apply to the Palestinians, anything in particular. 40,000 of those lovable lads from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is that what you have in mind. Basically, after Israel fractures its society by pulling out of the west bank, gives up all the majopr Jewish religious sites and takes in 40,000 psychotic killers would that be it. Would the conflict be over, and do you have the authority to make that deal because its not what’s being offered by the Arabs.

    ne of the most widespread misconceptions about Israeli-Palestinian talks is that “everyone knows what a deal looks like;” all that is needed is for the parties to finally sit down and sign it. As The New York Times put it in an editorial last month, “the issue is less how peace would look than whether leaders … have the political courage to make decisions and move forward. The broad outlines of a deal … have been apparent since President Clinton’s 2000 push.” Haaretz similarly declared, in a front-page headline last Thursday, that “dramatic agreements on core issues” were achieved at the Taba talks in 2001.

    The assumption behind such assessments is that the details are unimportant and easily resolved. Yet in this case, it turns out that the details are the core issues – and the disputes over these “details” reveal that in fact, nothing has been agreed at all.

    The Haaretz report, for instance, quoted several “dramatic” points of agreement from a summary of the Taba talks prepared by negotiator Gilad Sher after they collapsed. The parties agreed to “adjustments” of the 1967 border “to meet Israel’s demographic needs,” a division of Jerusalem to make it the capital of both states, and a “balanced solution” for the refugees, with the Palestinians “prepared to show sensitivity” on this issue. That indeed looks likes progress – until you examine the details of the Sher document.

    It turns out that while the Palestinians agreed to territorial exchanges in principle, they refused to concede any specific territory that Israel wanted. They objected to Israel keeping the settlement blocs – one of Israel’s main reasons for wanting territorial exchanges – and generally insisted that any swaps total no more than 2.3 percent of the West Bank, well short of the 6 to 8 percent needed for the blocs. They refused to let Israel keep Latrun, which dominates the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway – a crucial issue for Israel, since gunfire from Latrun can and, pre-1967, often did shut down the entire highway. And they insisted that the “safe passage” connecting Gaza and the West Bank be under Palestinian sovereignty, thereby effectively severing Israel in two (Israel proposed Israeli sovereignty but Palestinian control). In short, there was no agreement on any actual border-related issue; there was merely a lofty declaration of principles.

    THE SAME was true of Jerusalem: There was a lofty declaration about dividing the city, but no agreement on how to do so. Israel wanted territorial contiguity among the city’s Jewish neighborhoods, which would turn Palestinian neighborhoods into enclaves; the Palestinians wanted Palestinian territorial contiguity and Jewish enclaves. Nor was agreement reached on how to secure this patchwork nightmare. In the Old City, both sides claimed the Armenian Quarter (though they agreed on the other quarters). Finally, there was no agreement on the Temple Mount: Israel wanted either “ambiguous” or shared sovereignty and some form of joint administration; the Palestinians insisted that the mount be entirely theirs, with Israel having no rights whatsoever in Judaism’s holiest site.

    As for the refugees, it turns out that Palestinian “sensitivity” did not include forfeiting “the right of return,” a clear Israeli red line; they demanded recognition of the “right” of all refugees and their descendants to relocate to Israel. Nor did their “sensitivity” encompass the question of responsibility: While Israel agreed to accept partial responsibility for the refugee problem, the Palestinians insisted that it accept sole responsibility – a clear distortion of the historical facts, since there would have been no refugee crisis had five Arab armies, backed by Palestinian irregulars, not attacked the nascent state of Israel in 1948. In short, there was no agreement at all on this issue.

    Nor was there any agreement on perhaps the most essential issue of all: Palestinian recognition of the Jewish people’s right to a state in this land, parallel to Israel’s recognition of the Palestinians’ right to statehood. The Palestinians adamantly refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state. This refusal is not mere rhetoric; it implies that instead of living in peace with the Jewish state, the Palestinians intend to continue seeking its eradication via other means: inciting and financing activity against Israel’s Jewish identity by Israeli Arabs, delegitimizing it in international forums, and so forth.

    NEEDLESS TO say, these Palestinian positions have changed not one iota since 2001. Prior to last month’s Annapolis conference, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated that land swaps must not exceed 2.3 percent of the West Bank. He also reiterated the Palestinians’ refusal to acknowledge any Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. And even at Annapolis itself – that alleged dawn of a bright new era of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation – he did not make do with general statements about solving the refugee problem; he insisted in his speech that any solution be based on UN Resolution 194, which Palestinians interpret as recognizing the “right of return.”

    As for the Jewish state issue, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made Abbas’s position crystal clear at a Hadash Party convention on December 7. “Abu Mazen [Abbas] told me that the moment Israel demands that we recognize two states for two peoples, I should get up and leave the talks,” he said. “And that is what I did.”

    In short, not only is there no agreement on what a deal looks like, there is no agreement even on the fundamental premise that must underlie any deal – namely, the establishment of two states for two peoples.

    Given all this, an uninformed observer might be puzzled by the persistence of the myth that “everyone knows what a deal looks like.” Yet anyone familiar with the conflict knows that on this issue, the wish is all too often father to the thought: Because the international community and the Israeli Left both want so desperately to believe that a deal is achievable, they prefer to overlook all evidence to the contrary.

    Unfortunately, however, this is a recipe for ensuring that the conflict never ends – because until these real problems are resolved, there will be no deal. And resolving any problem starts with recognizing its existence.

  17. “””Jonathan,

    “The current US and Israeli position is that any so-called right of return is limited to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Period.

    “The question is whether the Israelis and Americans will hold to their positions. If Israel sticks to its position, and it has for MANY decades, then the Americans might as well.”

    Do you mean they might? Or they “might as well” (which means they probably should).”””

    I meant that they “might also” or “might, like the Israelis.”

    However, although I didn’t say it, I also happen to think that the Americans should continue, as President Bush has done, to stick to the provision of President Clinton’s peace plan which stated that while Israel could admit Palestinians into Israel if Israel wanted to, but that a requirement to do so was not a part of the Clinton peace plan.

    “””The only way out of this is for the U.S. and perhaps the UN and EU to lean on both parties, hard.”””

    Lean on both parties hard to do what with respect to demands that Palestinians settle in Israel? I am certainly in favor of leaning on the Palestinians hard to get them to make peace on the basis of land-for-peace, not on the basis of land-plus-right-of-return-for-peace.

    “””Why should the refugee issue not be a candidate for international intervention?”””

    I agree that it should be, and that the intervention needed is for the world to tell the Palestinians firmly that while Israel can allow Palestinians to immigrate to Israel if Israel wants to, it doesn’t seem to want to.

    The intervention would tell Palestinians that it would be unacceptable for the Palestinians to fight wars against Israel in order to force Israel to allow Palestinians to immigrate to areas in Israel behind the Green Line.

    “””I read a comment here a few weeks ago by someone who said he had “no sympathy” for Israelis who think “the sky will fall” if 40,000 Palestinians (I can’t find it so I don’t know what number he or she cited) are gradually integrated into Israel.”””

    The Israelis have not requested your sympathy regarding its immigration policies inside of its pre-1967 borders, so it doesn’t make any difference whether you provide it.

    “””I concur. That won’t destroy their Jewish state. If that is the last and final step necessary to an agreement, well, maybe President Obama should insist that Israelis will have to accept it or face drastic penalties…”””

    Has President Obama agreed with you that he is going to do that if elected?

    What if President Obama refuses to do what you suggest?

    What if President Obama concludes, as President Clinton concluded, that the Israelis can allow Palestinians to immigrate to Israel if they want, but they are not required to do so under America’s peace plan?

    “””just as most Palestinians will have to give up their dreams of return.”””

    The Palestinians already agree that most will have to give up this dream. That is not at issue.

    The question is whether the Palestinian governing authority, at this point President Abbas’ government, should give up the demand to settle some Palestinians in Israel if Israel and the United States refuse to accept it.

    Or should the Palestinians conversely reject a state, reject land-for-peace and go to war to try and force Israel to accept land-plus-right-of-return-for-peace?

    “””My question to Fleshler and all of these liberal Zionists who want to work within their community is: would you support drastic penalities, like a major reduction in military aid, if it would force the Israelis to accept something you believe in?”””

    It is not clear that Fleshler believes in settling Palestinians inside of Israel. What does it mean to “believe in” settling Palestinians in Israel?

    “””I am sick and tired of this conflict making the entire world a more dangerous place. Some tough love for both sides is necessary and the U.S. should dole it out.”””

    Agreed. And the tough love should include telling the Palestinians that the United States supports land-for-peace, not land-plus-right-of-return-for-peace. If the Palestinians reject land-for-peace and go to war to secure rights to immigrate to Israel, then there will be a drastic reduction in THEIR aid.

  18. “””Law.”””

    The law in Israel is that people, including Palestinian refugees’ descendants and everyone else as well, can immigrate to Israel if they marry an Israeli citizen.

    One-fifth of Israelis are Arabs and not Jews. It is fairly common for Israeli Arabs to marry Palestinians from the West Bank.

    In recent years there was a change so that Palestinians who immigrate to Israel under the above law must be females over 25 or males over 35.

    That is the law. If the Palestinian side is willing to obey that Israeli law then great. If the Palestinian side rejects land-for-peace, rejects a state and fights to invade Israel and change that law then they would be making a huge mistake.

    Indeed, there is no basis for invading a country, including Israel, in order to change an immigration law which one does not like.

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