June 9, 2008
Yet Another Position Paper
-Khaled Al Ma’ena
From policy positions to paper, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have started to draft the elements of a proposed peace accord. It would have been thought that with so many peace documents to go by — Oslo, Wye, Mitchell, the road map — one more position paper would be an unnecessary waste of precious time. And the decision does not necessarily mean agreement has been or will be reached on the major issues of final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return.
While the decision to start writing is admirable, what is of legitimate concern is what is being offered and what could be accepted. Israeli peace negotiators have offered the Palestinians land in exchange for territory where major West Bank settlements lie. While it is not certain how much territory Israel is offering, where it is located or how much West Bank land the Jewish state proposes to keep under a final peace accord with the Palestinians, Israel is said to have presented maps giving it 10 percent of the West Bank in exchange for southern Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians seek to incorporate all of the West Bank into a future state. That is the heady utopia, but on hard ground, the facts are a bitter wake-up call. Palestinians are forced to acknowledge that Israel will likely hold on to blocs where tens of thousands of settlers live. In exchange, the Palestinians are being asked to relinquish some West Bank land for an equal amount of Israeli land. The very idea that Israel is giving away land is preposterous. It is Palestinian land, all the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel resides on as the occupying power. To even suggest that Israel is willing to give up some Palestinian land in exchange for Palestinian land is the joke of jokes. It cannot be taken seriously and must not ever be considered as the premise of negotiations. The starting point for any deal is that whatever land Israel is willing to give up is Palestinian territory from the start and thus should not be reciprocated in kind by the Palestinians.
Drafting during previous rounds of peace talks has not always meant that those positions were then preserved for future negotiators. Peace treaties have been abrogated, ripped apart, not adhered to or only partially applied. It must be made clear, in writing, that the future governments of either side will in this case recognize and abide by the letter whatever document is ultimately drawn up.
It has taken since the Annapolis meeting in November, on the stage from which George Bush famously announced a peace deal could be reached before his term expires one year from that time, for the parties to seriously start the task of making the desire a reality. Just even finding the right conditions to sit down, talk and write has been a problem, not least when considering that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is envisioning a possible massive reinvasion of Gaza. Should that transpire, the writing will certainly cease and hopes for a year-ending accord be soundly dashed.