Review Oslo’s roots before new peace initiative

As the U.S. prepares to launch yet another peace initiative, based largely on the State Department’s long-standing misperception that inducing Israel to freeze settlements will lead the Palestinians to negotiate a final peace agreement, it is vital to go back to the roots of the Oslo peace process.

The entire peace negotiation with the Palestinians was predicated on a six-paragraph letter from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to Yitzhak Rabin on Sept. 9, 1993. The operative commitments made by Arafat were the following:

The Palestine Liberation Organization commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

The PLO considers that the signing of the Declaration of Principles inaugurates a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability.

Accordingly, the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.

Without those statements, Israel would never have recognized the PLO as a negotiating partner and the Oslo process would have never have gotten off the ground. Now, eight years later, Arafat has failed to live up to these promises, and that’s why there is not yet a peace agreement.

This point must be repeated until perhaps even our State Department can comprehend it. Israel cannot be expected to make concessions under fire and should not be expected to negotiate with people who have violated the first and most essential agreement on which all others were based.

Arafat can’t do it

All but a handful of Israelis have come to realize that Arafat cannot make peace. He simply is incapable of making the psychological leap necessary to reach a final agreement — the leap made by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1977 when he chose to go to Jerusalem.

The best chance for a negotiated solution is to wait for Arafat to pass from the scene (by natural causes) and hope his successor will be more pragmatic. There is some reason to believe this can happen.

First, no other Palestinian has been so wrapped up in the nationalistic and terrorist elements of the cause. Second, the Palestinians who have actually done most of the negotiating with the Israelis have shown an ability to reach agreements.

Third, more reasonable voices are being heard for the first time, notably the new Palestinian representative in Jerusalem, Sari Nusseibeh, who has broken with the official line by saying the Palestinians should forget the “right of return.”

Meanwhile, Israel has to forestall more pressure from the Bush administration. The political and public relations reality is that everyone wants Israel to initiate movement in the peace process. The poor suffering Palestinians are underdogs from whom nothing is really expected.

The difficulty, of course, is that previous-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a better deal than current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will, and Arafat turned it down. So any plan Sharon offers will inevitably be compared negatively.

That can’t be helped. Sharon needs to regain the high ground by making an offer for what Israel will accept if the violence ends.

The agreement can start with what has been Israel’s policy since 1967, a willingness to withdraw to the 1967 borders — with modifications. Those would include withdrawing all troops and moving the border far enough east to incorporate 80 percent of the settlers and to create the settlement blocs that Arafat agreed to at Camp David.

Israel would completely withdraw from Gaza Strip and create a safe passage corridor under full Palestinian control connecting Gaza and the West Bank. Israel will recognize a Palestinian state in Gaza and the remaining areas of the West Bank with its capital in Abu Dis, Jerusalem (as per the Yossi Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement).

In exchange for the Palestinians dropping their demand for the right of return, Israel will offer the 20 percent of Jews living in the more distant and isolated settlements compensation for moving within the expanded borders of Israel (an adaptation of Nusseibeh’s proposal). The settlers may choose to stay where they are and become dual citizens, but they will be entitled to no more benefits than Israelis living in other countries.

A fence will be built to separate the two nations. Trade and employment of Palestinian workers in Israel will depend on the quality of relations between the states.

Both states will acknowledge the conflict has been resolved; and the United Nations will affirm that Israel has completely fulfilled the terms of Resolution 242.

This proposal puts Israel in the position of making tough sacrifices for peace. As has always been the case, the Palestinians are asked to give up their unreasonable demands that Israel give up the entire West Bank, accept a Palestinian right of return and divide the heart of Jerusalem. In return, they get the state they claim to be their goal.

This is what the final settlement is going to look like eventually, so Israel has nothing to lose by putting it on the table. Ideally, the Palestinians would agree, but Israel should unilaterally enact a less generous version of the plan if they do not.