So far, the Palestinian negotiating tactic has been to get concessions, then cut off talks and 'start where we left off.'By Shlomo Avineri for Haaretz
As prime minister, Ehud Olmert met 36 (or was it 37?) times with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and couldn’t reach an agreement with him. But that didn’t stop him from saying in a recent interview on Channel 2 that he’s certain Abbas is a partner for an accord.
Olmert was prepared to go further than any other Israeli leader in meeting the Palestinians’ demands, including on the issues of Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and territorial exchanges; he offered to evacuate 70,000 settlers as well as make a humanitarian gesture allowing 5,000 Palestinian refugees (or their descendants) to return. This underscored his belief in the need for Israel to make a painful compromise, and given his own political past, his courage and determination was especially admirable.
But what came out of all that? When Olmert proposed in dozens of meetings that Abbas sign a document containing the Israeli concessions, he refused. Olmert explains this by saying that Abbas did not say either yes or no. This is patently ridiculous: By refusing to sign, Abbas clearly said no.
Evidently, Abbas was not ready to commit to anything, but he was able to get Olmert to consent to far-reaching concessions, and then halted the negotiations. The upshot is that when the negotiations resume, the Palestinian side will insist that they must begin “where they left off” – with the starting point being the Israeli positions as set forward in Olmert’s generous proposal, with no concession having been made by the other side.
Am I misinterpreting things? This is exactly what happened in 1995 in Yossi Beilin’s talks with Abbas. Then, too, the talks led to extensive Israeli concessions; then, too, the Israeli side sought to put things down on paper and fashion a final accord – and then, too, Mahmoud Abbas refused to sign. There was never any Beilin-Abbas Agreement. There was only a paper laying out Israeli concessions.
At Camp David, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton became fed up with this method and, as he ran out of patience, told Yasser Arafat that so far he had rejected every offer. Perhaps you have a proposal of your own, Clinton suggested to Arafat. But no such Palestinian proposal was ever placed on the table.