Netanyahu's "strategy" vs. Ehud Olmert's "2008 parameters"

It took the American administration several years to denounce the obvious stalling tactics of Israel’s then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir after the launch of the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991.

By then, back-stage talks between Israeli and Palestinian “academics” and “individuals” over dinners in idyllic settings in northern Europe had reached the stage that the Oslo process was ready to go public, and the Declaration of Principles was signed on the White House lawn in a live event in September 1993.

Now, almost four years after the direct American supervision over direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was launched at the Annapolis Conference, Palestinian negotiators have brought the file back to the UN, saying they want the international community to take a stand, and they want to exercise their right to ask for full UN membership.

As Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said to reporters on the flight to New York, “all hell has broken loose”.

A day before his big speech — which will be broadcast live on screens in centers of major West Bank cities, particularly Ramallah and Nablus — Abbas is reported in the New York Times [see our earlier post] to have said that he is not happy with either the Americans or the Arabs: “I am fed up with all these people + I don’t know what to do when I return back”.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu — who is on tape**,here, during a visit in 2001 to the large West Bank settlement of Ofra, between Ramallah and Nablus, as saying he deceived the U.S. and will destroy the Oslo Accords and prevent a solution — was for a while not even going to go to the UN, in order to deny credibility to the Palestinian “UN bid”. But, it assumed such proportions that he had to go.

Despite an offer, Netanyahu + Abbas have not met in New York. But, that is not a big deal.

For, Netanyahu has a strategy. He and his staff briefed Israeli journalists on it earlier this week. The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon reported it in the Jerusalem Post: “Netanyahu’s strategy is to explain. Explain, explain, explain. He is a man of words. He loves to read, and to speak – some less charitable would say he loves to lecture. And he believes in the power of words, of oratory, of rhetoric … [H]e is carrying a speech to explain to the world what he feels much of it fails to see: that the Middle East has changed; changed radically, and changed fundamentally. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting Netanyahu explained why he decided, after weeks of deliberation, to go to the UN himself and combat the Palestinian Authority’s statehood recognition move. ‘My UN trip will have a double goal’, he said. ‘The first goal is to ensure that this move to bypass negotiations does not succeed and is stopped in the Security Council’. The second goal, he said, is to present the truth about ‘our desire for peace’ and Israel’s historic rights to the country that go back ‘only 4,000 years’. And then he cut to the chase: ‘I will also speak about our intention to achieve peace with our neighbors while ensuring our security. If this was clear and necessary in the past, then today it is even more important. Especially now, when the Middle East is undergoing a great upheaval, from Tunisia to Yemen, from Libya to Egypt, Syria and throughout the region; when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or how things will turn out’.” These remarks, which echo remarks made in recent months by a number of other Israeli military and security officials, are published in the JPost here.

Netanyahu said he was going to the UN in NY to speak the truth. Apparently, most of it has to deal with Israel’s security, and the requirement to maintain superiority and control to maintain Israel’s security.

Indications are, he will speak about the Jordan Valley.

When Israel began to build its Wall, almost a decade ago, it wanted to build it straight down the Jordan Valley. The U.S. Administration at that time [George W. Bush] quietly ruled that out.

Netanyahu wants to revisit the matter.

Toward the end of his article, the JPost’s Keinon wrote that “Last September, during those few days when Netanyahu and Abbas did speak for a few hours, the Prime Minister told Abbas that Israel would need a military presence along the Jordan River for a long period of time. When Abbas asked Netanyahu why, the prime minister replied that one never knows what could happen, and that a presence on the Jordan River – to protect against any untoward developments from the east – was a necessity. And that was before the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the chaos in Syria, the uncertainty in Jordan, and the rift with Turkey. How much truer is it now, he will argue, how much more caution is needed now, than in the past, because who really knows what will develop. If Fatah can lose control of Gaza to Hamas in a matter of weeks, if the Egyptians leadership can now talk about re-visiting and perhaps trashing a 30-year peace treaty, then previous assumptions and strategies and ways of doing business need to be re-thought”.

We posted earlier, on 11 August, on our sister blog here about Mahmoud Abbas telling visiting American Congressmen that negotiations had been blocked by Netanyahu’s demand to keep IDF troops in the Jordan Valley: “Abbas told a group of visiting American Congressmen, including Steny Hoyer of Maryland [Democratic Party whip in the House of Representatives], that ‘there are no negotiations now because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has placed pre-conditions’, specifically a demand that there be an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley. Abbas told the delegation that the discussions he has had with Netanyahu in the past ‘have led nowhere, because unless we agree to be occupied by IDF troops, he doesn’t want to talk about anything in the next step’. Abbas, according to Hoyer, said he met with Netanyahu last year, but that those talks ‘went nowhere because Netanyahu only wanted to talk about security, and that the implementing of that security was deployment of IDF troops in the Jordan Valley’.”

Netanyahu is due to speak about an hour after Abbas makes his address in the UNGA on Friday, around the middle of the day in New York, and evening here in Jerusalem.

**On the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu said in the 2001 home video, linked to above, that “His approach to White House demands to withdraw from Palestinian territory under the Oslo accords, he says, drew on his grandfather’s philosophy: ‘It would be better to give two per cent than to give 100 per cent’. He therefore signed the 1997 agreement to pull the Israeli army back from much of Hebron, the last Palestinian city under direct occupation, as a way to avoid conceding more territory.
‘The trick’, he says, ‘is not to be there [in the occupied territories] and be broken; the trick is to be there and pay a minimal price’. The ‘trick’ that stopped further withdrawals, Mr Netanyahu adds, was to redefine what parts of the occupied territories counted as a ‘specified military site’ under the Oslo accords. He wanted the White House to approve in writing the classification of the Jordan Valley, a large area of the West Bank, as such a military site. ‘Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give [them] the Hebron Agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: ‘I’m not signing.’ Only when the letter came, did I sign the Hebron Agreement. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo accord’.” This is recounted by Jonathan Cook in a 2010 article published in The National, here.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s predecessor as Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert — forced to resign to defend himself against charges of corruption — wrote an Op-Ed published today in the New York Times saying that he feels uneasy at the current turn of events: “As tensions grow, I cannot but feel that we in the region are on the verge of missing an opportunity — one that we cannot afford to miss”.

In the Op-Ed, published here, Olmert write: “The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, plans to make a unilateral bid for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations on Friday. He has the right to do so, and the vast majority of countries in the General Assembly support his move. But this is not the wisest step Mr. Abbas can take. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has declared publicly that he believes in the two-state solution, but he is expending all of his political effort to block Mr. Abbas’s bid for statehood by rallying domestic support and appealing to other countries. This is not the wisest step Mr. Netanyahu can take. In the worst-case scenario, chaos and violence could erupt, making the possibility of an agreement even more distant, if not impossible. If that happens, peace will definitely not be the outcome The parameters of a peace deal are well known and they have already been put on the table. I put them there in September 2008 when I presented a far-reaching offer to Mr. Abbas”.

Now, by the end of 2008, according to public promises made by the Bush Administration when it launched the Annapolis process in November 2009, there was supposed to be a deal that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state.

Abbas and his advisers aware, by September 2008, that Olmert was under growing pressure to step down.

Israelis and others have accused Abbas of not responding to the Olmert offer. But, Abbas and his negotiators insist that they did produce their own map on territorial matters, and a counter-proposal on the percentage to be exchanged.

The Palestinians did not give their map to Olmert, because Olmert did not give a map to them [one was later published in Haaretz].

Barack Obama won the American Presidential election in November 2008 — to take office in January 2009.

And, on December the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead with such force, and such a death toll in its opening hours, that Abbas and his negotiators were obliged to call off further contacts.

Just before the oath of office, the IDF and Hamas each observed their own cease-fires. A few days later, Obama appointed George Mitchell as the Special UN envoy for the Middle East.

In February, Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party tied with Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party in general Israeli elections, but State President Shimon Peres decided that Netanyahu was more likely to be able to form a governing coalition. He was — the most right-wing in Israel’s history.

Mitchell got Obama to back a call for an Israeli settlement freeze, what the Palestinians said they needed to see before returning, post-Gaza war, to talks. Netanyahu haggled over the time, and got a reduction. Just as direct Israeli-Palestinian talks were set to resume, in March — and, during the visit of American Vice President Joe Biden — an unfortuitous but deliberate announcement of expansion of the Ramat Shlomo settlement blew up the arrangement.

The Palestinians also said that they wanted negotiations with Israel to resume at the point they were broken off in December 2008 — with Olmert’s offer still on the table. At some point in the spring of 2010, Palestinian negotiators say they gave to Mitchell their maps that they only showed to Olmert in 2008.

At the end of September 2010, as Netanyahu refused to renew what he insisted would be a one-time only settlement freeze, efforts to resume talks failed again.

This is when Mahmoud Abbas and his advisers decided to go to the UN. The timing was decided by several factors: Obama’s statement to the UNGA in September 2010 saying he hoped to see arrangements in place for a Palestinian state by the following year, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two-year state-building project August 2009-September 2011.

Now, what?

In his Op-Ed today Ehud Olmert said his “2008 parameters” should again be put on the table. He wrote that this included included a shared Jerusalem [“Arab neighborhoods” = Palestinian capital; “Jewish areas” = capital of Israel], and that neither side would declare sovereignty over Jerusalem “holy places”, to be administered jointly [with the assistance of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the USA].

Other writers have said that Olmert’s Op-Ed is a repudiation of both Netanyahu and, now, Obama. But, while Olmert’s bottom line positions are different from Netanyahu’s — it’s not by a lot. [Guessing: Netanyahu may consider joint administration over Christian and Muslim “holy places”, but certainly not over Jewish “holy places” or “places of historical significance”; Netanyahu would probably not agree to sharing an East Jerusalem that would be the capital of a future a Palestinian state. The Netanyahu government has a broader, though not yet publicly defined, claim to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. And Netanyahu advisers and officials have suggested that they — unlike both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert — would not allow unrestricted immigration of Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian diaspora into a future Palestinian state. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat once suggested that the future Palestinian state wouldn’t, or couldn’t – for financial reasons – allow unlimited Palestinian immigration, either…]

Olmert wrote, in his Op-Ed that “the territorial dispute would be solved by establishing a Palestinian state on territory equivalent in size to the pre-1967 West Bank + Gaza Strip with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that take into account the new realities on the ground”. [This is a combination of the only new proposal contained in the Geneva Initiative of December 2003, a 1:1 territorial swap, combined with the assurance of recognizing existing demographic realities on the ground that George W. Bush supplied to Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in April 2004, in acknowledgement of Sharon’s 14 points of reservations on the Road Map].

On refugees, Olmert wrote that “the new Palestinian state would become the home of all the Palestinian refugees [except for a small number that Israel would absorb on humanitarian grounds] … just as the state of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people”.

And, for Israel’s security, Olmert wrote, “the Palestinian state would be demilitarized + it would not form military alliances with other nations” – [Olmert did not mention Israel retaining the Jordan Valley, but the question is left open if the Palestinians would not be in a position to defend their eastern border…]

[[And, by the way, Ehud Olmert told Turkey in his NYTimes OpEd that Israel is sorry: “In Israel, we are sorry for the loss of life of Turkish citizens in May 2010, when Israel confronted a provocative flotilla … I am sure that the proper way to express these sentiments to the Turkish government and the Turkish people can be found”.]]

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