1/26/2011

Palestinian Papers: Impressions

The one thing I learned – and really it’s not so intuitive when you think about it – is that there was a real process of negotiation taking place. I’ll admit, I had been sucked into the belief that the Palestinian side hadn’t budged since the summer of 2000. But there you go. Of course, those who see this as proof of Israeli intransigence are being disingenuous. We know that Olmert offered 1967 with a 6.5% land swap. Even before Aaron David Miller published his maps, we had seen various proposed land-swap maps. What the leaked documents tell us, more than anything else, was that the negotiations were actually working, that the sides were getting closer to agreement, and that each side made serious concessions. In fact, what has already been given up by each side is more significant than the remaining issues.

The document that’s been getting the most play, in which Erekat and Qurei concede large swaths of post-1967 Jerusalem while Livni seems to roll her eyes, looks bad for Israel at first glance. But let’s contextualize this. They were negotiating. Bargaining. All those stereotypes about “A thousand? I wouldn’t spend a cent over fifty!” apply. Imagine the talks took place in a souk. One would expect that while one side makes an offer, the other side rolls its eyes. That’s part of the process. We’re now privy to Israel’s eye-rolling as the PA made its pitch. We haven’t seen the eye-rolling when Israel made a pitch because that hasn’t been released, at least not that I’ve seen. But we’ve seen the maps before, so again proof of Israeli intransigence is absent. I’d like to see the minutes from every proposal and counter-proposal of the last 10 years, and see if every single one looks the same: one side begging, the other side rolling its eyes.

The whole 1967 lines vs. facts on the ground debate is part of the same bargaining process. It’s a question of who’s “conceding” by proposing land swaps. From the PA perspective, offering 1.9% of the WB is very generous because it’s 1.9% more than Israel deserves under law. From the Israeli perspective, the offer of a land swap that gives the PA 100% of the square mileage of the WB is very generous, because we’re not starting from the 1967 lines. In the end, everybody agrees how much land will constitute the Palestinian state. It’s about posturing to make yourself look like the generous one, itself a part of the bargaining process.

What does the current Palestinian reaction mean? Too early to tell. It may mean that the negotiations are dead. It may mean that reaching a deal with the PA would not immediately result in peace. That does not necessarily mean that it’s not in Israel’s best interest to reach a deal.I also wonder if this is the Palestinians' "Oslo moment" - in 1993, it dawned on the Israeli public that this whole deal with the Palestinians is for real. It made for a difficult few years in this country, culminating with the assassination of the Prime Minister. Over the course of the next decade, the two-state solution became the Israeli consensus. I wonder if this has just happened on the other side. Many Palestinians were shocked and outraged to hear that their leaders were willing to concede parts of Jerusalem and the rights of refugees to return to their original homesteads. Perhaps it will take another 15 years to pass through all the phases, but eventual acceptance is not out of the question.

Meanwhile, the Middle East is going to hell in a hand basket, but nobody notices because of a few documents that didn’t add all that much to a discussion.
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