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Sunday, July 30, 2000
Official PNA Website describes Israeli concessions and recaps Palestinian demands - declaration of state without coordination with Israel not unilateral

http://www.Official PNA Website describes Israeli concessions and recaps Palestinian demands - declaration of state without coordination with Israel not unilateral


The Camp David talks took place under a heavy cloak of secrecy and a total blackout imposed by the US hosts. The seclusion of the negotiators was indeed irritating, but was probably necessary. A well orchestrated campaign of press leaks of Israeli origin, however, has contributed to project a rather distorted image of those conversations, and the Palestinian commitment to the confidentiality of the debates has allowed these biased accounts to capture the imagination of the public. Now that these negotiations undergo a break, there is the chance to brief, to inform (within the limits required), to explain, and to restore some visibility, if not full transparency, to the process. What could be expected from Camp David, what happened there, and what was achieved ?

One must first remember that the Palestinian side was reluctant to hold a summit without a prior consensus on the great lines of an agreement, and demanded to prepare it better. Given the gap between the positions, there could be no certainty of success, and a predictable failure would at any rate have a negative impact on public opinions. We, however, responded to President Clinton's call, and went to Camp David with the sincere desire to achieve progress.

In spite of the lack of conclusion, and in spite of the fact that all Israeli proposals in Camp David were informal, not written, and therefore not binding; in spite of the fact that the Israeli government is now affirming that all its offers are cancelled and invalid, as they were supposed to form part of a package deal to take or to leave, the Camp David talks have been the occasion of a spectacular metamorphosis of the Israeli position. Whether or not Prime minister Barak is willing to admit it, future negotiations will de facto start from there, and in this sense the now finished round of talks in Camp David represents the first ever Israeli-Palestinian negotiation on the very core, heart and substance of the historical conflict: refugees and their right of return, and the issue of sovereignty over the City of Jerusalem.

From what transpired and from the Israeli public debate in the aftermath of those revelations, it appears that contrary to what has been hammered over and over again for years by the successive Israeli governments, Jerusalem can be "divided" again, and sovereignty therein could be shared. Of course Israel's insistence on extending its sovereignty over the Haram El Sharif makes its proposal totally unacceptable, not only for Palestinians, but for all Moslems and Christians alike. The Israeli claim to annex parts of the city in exchange for relinquishing others cannot be the basis of an agreement. But proof has been provided that the issue of sovereignty on Jerusalem is no longer taboo, it can be discussed, it is indeed discussed inside Israel, and this represents a considerable breakthrough.

On the territorial issue also, the Israeli side has aired new proposals, around the idea of Palestinian sovereignty over the totality of the Gaza Strip and more than 90 % of the West Bank, including its outside borders and the major part of the Jordan Valley. This, of course, was also rejected by the Palestinian negotiators, but it represents nonetheless a substantial improvement of the Israeli position in the direction of an acceptable proposal. Even if denied in the opening bargain of the next round of negotiations, these overtures will weigh heavily on any future debate.

Contrary to the rumors and/or fears on both sides, there has been no agreement on refugees. The Israeli side still continues to deny responsibility for the problem, and to adamantly refuse to recognize the refugees right of return. The figures forwarded by the Israeli side on the issue of refugee return under family reunion schemes are so ridiculous that they cannot even be taken as symbols or promises. But here again, an Israeli taboo has been broken. In fact, one may say that under the guise of rejecting the principle, the Israelis are already discussing numbers.

In short, the Israelis must walk an extra mile to reach a possible agreement. The direction they have taken in Camp David is the good one, but it is not enough. It is time for Israeli public opinion to "internalize" (as Israeli commentators like to say) that the key to peace is full withdrawal and respect of international law and borders, as was the case with Egypt and with Jordan, as is the case with Lebanon and as will be the case tomorrow when Syrian-Israeli talks resume.

This should be clear when talking about "concessions". The basis of the whole Peace Process, and the essence of UNSC Resolution 242, is the exchange of Land for Peace. The Land that Israel has forcibly occupied in 1967 in exchange for recognition. peace and cooperation. Not Peace for Peace, and not Land for Land. The idea that the Palestinians should give away some of their Land in exchange for some of the Land that Israel illegally took from them represents a total distortion of logic, as well as of the terms of reference and the principles of the Peace process, as well as a total violation of international legality. The Palestinian side has made a major historical and territorial concession, ahead of the Madrid Conference in 1991, by accepting to limit its claims to sovereignty for the Palestine State to the territories occupied in June 1967, which is to say to a mere 23% of Mandatory Palestine - half of the surface area of the State of Palestine provided for by the Partition Plan in 1947. It is therefore totally unfair to claim that our stand is a "maximalist", or extreme one, or that "we want everything". Even moreso: by proposing the principle of "land swaps", the Palestinian delegation has opened the door to minor border changes which could accommodate some of the Israeli demands. Even on the issue of Jerusalem, it should be remembered that Israeli sovereignty has not been recognized so far even in West-Jerusalem, and that Palestinian readiness to recognize Israeli sovereignty on West-Jerusalem within the framework of an agreement consecrating Palestinian sovereignty over East-Jerusalem represents a major and decisive concession.

The American role in this exercise, and the remarkable, indeed unprecedented personal investment of the US president in the process deserve our gratitude and our admiration. That's what makes President Clinton's totally one-sided declarations on Israeli TV, obviously inspired by electoral calculations, even more unacceptable. We do not want to see the US administration lose its credibility as a "honest broker", and abandon the formal neutrality that has made its mission possible so far.

Negotiations should resume in the near future. The present break should allow the Israeli Prime minister to reshape his fading coalition, and to engage into serious soul-searching. It is still possible, in principle, to reach an agreement before September 13, if the Israeli government moves resolutely in the path opened at Camp David.

That implies abstaining, as the trilateral closing statement of the Summit emphasizes, from "unilateral acts". This commitment concerns the time-span which still separates us from the end of the interim period. It does not affect our inalienable right to declare statehood on our land. But it does apply to illegal Israeli settlement policies and activities, all of them "unilateral acts liable to prejudice the outcome of final status negotiations".

In this respect, we want to underline that the proclamation of the State of Palestine, already once postponed in coordination with our Arab, European and American partners, when it occurs, will be the result of intense consultations and coordination with all of them, and therefore can hardly be considered unilateral.

We also insist that the establishment of the sovereign State of Palestine as a peaceful, democratic and viable state does not in anyway threaten Israeli security, and that it is in no way intended to foster disorder. The Israeli leaders and security agencies know very well our determination to ensure a smooth and peaceful transfer of powers and responsibilities, and an orderly accession to Palestinian statehood. The recurrent Israeli threats to use force, both before and after Camp David, as well as the totally biased, perfectly unfounded, but widespread speculations of the Israeli media about an imminent explosion of violence as a result of the “collapse of the talks”, feeding promises of harsh retaliation and Israeli national unity in the face of any challenge, are not encouraging signals. In the best of cases, they indicate the permanence of the logic of force, of intimidation, of the Rule of the Strong. Not only a total lack of understanding of the character of the political-public debate inside Palestinian society, but also a classical-colonial basic fear of "native restlessness" (the inevitable result of the settler's guilty anguish).

They know the Palestinian State will not be a threat, but the founding stone of a peaceful regional order. That they should threaten us just to reassure the most chauvinistic fringes of their public opinion and compete with the enemies of peace on their own ideological grounds is indeed a source of worry. Let us hope these negative signals will give way to a serious commitment to move towards peace and put a real end to the conflict that has torn our area for more than a century.

July 30th, 2000

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