Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, former US president Bill Clinton, and the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Despite it all, still committed to peace

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Gershon Baskin believes that the logic of Oslo was that Israel would withdraw from territory and turn it over to the Palestinians who would guarantee Israel’s security by fighting against terrorism.

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas told the French President Francois Hollande that if Israel releases weapons for his security forces and releases Palestinian prisoners he would be willing to meet in public with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This statement is very peculiar.

Both the demands and the promised outcome require a bit of analysis and inquiry.

Until now, Abbas has conditioned meeting Netanyahu on political demands: freezing settlement building and adopting the Obama statement that the permanent borders would be based on the 1967 lines with agreed territorial swaps. It seems that these two elements remain the Palestinian conditions for renewing negotiations. The Palestinians have not dropped those two basic demands because the logic behind them has only become more compelling in light of recent decisions of the government of Israel to build more houses in settlements which are outside of the main settlement blocs.

The Palestinian logic is that without ceasing settlement building, how is it possible to speak about a future Palestinian state that would meet the minimal compromises of the Palestinian position in the last decades? Settlement building literally removes the base for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The demand to freeze settlement building was not a Palestinian design but rather one of President George W. Bush and appears in his own Road Map for Peace.

Just a couple of days ago I heard former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s chief of staff, Attorney Dov Weissglass, tell the Dutch foreign minister in a private lunch that while the Palestinians fulfilled just about all of their Road Map obligations, the State of Israel hasn’t even begun to address its obligations in that Bushinspired document. So from the Palestinian perspective, if Israel has not yet implemented its obligations from 2003 what sense does it make to believe that Israel will implement new obligations within the framework of new negotiations now in 2012? Abbas will not drop those basic politic demands, but perhaps a new formula devised by Harvard University’s Alan Dershowitz could help. Prof. Dershowitz suggested that a settlement freeze would be enforced while negotiations were taking place and would remain in place until the parties agree to a border between them.

Once there is an agreed-to border Israel would be free to build as much as it wanted in those settlements that would be annexed to the State of Israel. To me, this seems to make a lot of sense. It is not all that often that I adopt an idea presented by Alan Dershowitz! Regarding Abbas’s new requests, I am quite sure that many Israelis recall the slogan “we gave them guns and then they shot at us.”

First of all, Israel never gave the Palestinians guns, but that is really trivial. Israel agreed that the Palestinians would require a robust police-security force in order to fight terrorism, fight the extremists from within and to ensure their part of the bargain of the Oslo deal which was to provide security in exchange for receiving territory.

That was the logic of Oslo: Israel would withdraw from territory and turn it over to the Palestinians who would guarantee Israel’s security by fighting against terrorism.

According to their understanding, they should have received more than 90 percent of the West Bank prior to the talks on final status. From their point of view, Israel reneged on its promise of withdrawal and Palestinians began to feel that they were subcontractors for providing security for settlers who were taking their land. That is where the logic of Oslo collapsed and that is why when the whole package imploded the first Palestinians to use their weapons against Israel were the Palestinian security forces, which were carrying weapons with Israel’s agreement.

Since then a lot of blood has been shed and a lot of destruction has occurred. The massive use of force by Israel after “defensive shield” created real deterrence. The death of Arafat and his replacement by Mahmoud Abbas and Abbas’s election on a platform recognizing the disaster of the militarized second intifada and a clear political ideology based on peace with Israel enabled Abbas to fulfill his main Road Map commitments of dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism in the territories under his control.

There is no argument whatsoever from the Israeli security officials that Abbas has done the job. He has created a new environment in the West Bank. He collected weapons and turned them over the Israel. He retired hundreds of security officials who were not completely loyal to the new doctrine.

He has advanced an American- European supported plan to train new security officers and to deploy them throughout the West Bank.

Just this week the Israeli media reported that PA security forces conducted an arrest raid in the Nablus arresting a number of suspected weapons traffickers and other criminals, some of whom are employed by the PA. Law and order has been established throughout the West Bank.

It should be clear that the Palestinians are not doing this because they love Israel. They are fighting terrorism because they know it will destroy them if they do not.

Now Abbas has told Netanyahu that he cannot deploy two new brigades of US-trained troops because he does not have weapons for them. Today there is one rifle with bullets for every 12 Palestinian security men. They cannot do the job without the necessary equipment. Abbas has said in private that he can smuggle the weapons into the West Bank – it is no great challenge.

He has even said that Israeli criminal elements are more than willing to sell weapons to the Palestinians, but he will not do this. He will only allow the weapons into the West Bank with Israel’s approval and cooperation. He says this, because despite all of the opposing messages he gets from Israel’s government, Mahmoud Abbas is still committed to peace with Israel.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert promised Abbas that 131 prisoners in Israeli jails who have been there since prior to the establishment of the PA would be released. He also said that he would release more prisoners to Abbas than Hamas would get in the Schalit deal.

Neither of these promises were fulfilled. Abbas is not willing to accept empty promises any more. You want to negotiate peace, great, first fulfill your promises from before. What is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s mantra? You give, you get, you don’t give, you don’t get. It goes both ways.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
Gershon Baskin