How To Restart Peace Talks
Major negotiating blunders at Camp David last summer by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat led to the current, disastrous Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Now Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's “negotiating'' posture further diminishes prospects of resuming negotiations.
So, the question is: What can be done about it?
At Camp David, Barak violated a cardinal negotiating rule. He conceded Israel's maximum before ascertaining Palestinians would accept. He placed on the table most of what the Palestinians have been seeking for the past decade: nearly 95 percent of the West Bank, Gaza, resettlement assistance for Palestinian refugees, shared administration of Jerusalem and the relocation of many Jewish settlements. His eagerness and speed led Arafat to believe still more could be exacted.
Violent defiance of Israel was Arafat's ready-made option for capitalizing on wide-spread Palestinian frustration with a peace process yielding few dividends. Arafat's blunder was not to recognize that Barak had laid out Israel's bottom line.
For years, the Palestinian propaganda machine has been suggesting that Palestinians are willing to accept 23 percent, the West Bank and Gaza, and live side-by-side with Israelis. What the Palestinians have not said is that this is only one part of what they want. The second part is repatriation of all Palestinian refugees.
That would demographically overwhelm Israel. Within a few years, Palestinians would become the majority and Israeli Jews the minority, which even ardent supporters of peace among Israelis won't support.
Sharon's demand that the Palestinians cease violent hostilities as a precondition is justifiable. Stating in advance, however, that Israel will allow no more than 45-50 percent of the West Bank and Gaza to be incorporated into a Palestinian state and vowing not to dismantle a single settlement are nonstarters.
Barak's concessions established high expectations, and Palestinians are hard pressed to accept less.
SERVING NO ONE
The situation may get considerably worse before both sides realize that their present course will do nothing to improve either side's negotiating posture.
Security talks between both sides should be resumed in earnest.
Arafat must make every effort to reduce violence. In addition, the Palestinian Authority must begin the process of disabusing the Palestinian community of the notion that there is any chance of Palestinian repatriation. With these two steps, Arafat could regain the support of a majority of Israelis who would accept a peace agreement within President Clinton's guidelines.
Simultaneously, Sharon must reciprocate by easing Israel's military grip in the territories and by forwarding millions in taxes collected from Palestinians working in Israel. Once violence subsides, Sharon must reopen talks with the Palestinians with no prior conditions. Should negotiations then fail, leave it to the Israelis to pressure their government to make the necessary concessions or to elect a new government, which they have done three times in five years.
Finally, the United States cannot afford to sit idly by while the conflict rages out of control. President Bush must use his leverage to pressure both sides. America's huge strategic and economic interests in the region are at stake. The Bush administration must get actively involved to prevent a dangerous situation from escalating into a disaster of unparalleled proportions.