The Final Status of Peace Talks

Article excerpt

A cardinal principle in the resolution of conflicts is that, when negotiating a settlement between warring parties, you negotiate one step at a time.

First, you focus on the issues where there is agreement: this helps you build trust, and you often leave the more difficult matters of conflict to resolve later on, after trusting relationships have been developed.

That logic works, most certainly in the short run, evenin the Middle East.

Israelis and Arabs would simply rather not run each other's affairs. Both peoples can agree on that for openers.

Indeed, during the seven years of the Oslo peace process, since its genesis in 1993, Israel has relinquished control over the civil affairs of more than two million Arabs, thereby facilitating the creation of an independent entity, which is now equipped with its own "strong police force" of 50,000 Palestinian Arab armed personnel. The vision of a "strong police force" for an autonomous Palestinian Arab entity had first been mentioned in the Camp David agreements that were initialed between Israeli Prime Minister Begin and Egyptian President Sadat on the White House lawn in April, 1979.

In addition, Israel and this new autonomous Palestinian Arab entity have also engaged in a series of economic agreements that have brought wealth and prosperity to substantial sections of the Israeli and Palestinian Arab business communities.

Yet the short-term trust that has been forged over seven years has done little to solve the more difficult issues of the peace process that have been postponed for seven years: the positions of Israel and the autonomous Palestinian entity are still diametrically opposed on the issues of Jerusalem and the Arab refugees.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital. Arafat and all members of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority define Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem, as the capital of the Palestinian entity. At no time has Arafat, or any PA official or Arab leader, ever stated that only "East Jerusalem" or "Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem" would constitute a capital for the Palestinian Arab entity.

Meanwhile, Arab refugees have wallowed in refugee camps since half a million Arabs left their homes in Palestine during the 1948 war waiting to realize the "inalienable right of return" to their homes from 1948, as defined by UN resolution #194. UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has operated these camps since 1950, now estimates the number of Palestinian Arab refugees at 3.5 million, one million of whom continue to live in the "temporary shelters" provided by UNRWA in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Israel views the refugees as people who left during a time of war, 52 years ago, whom Israel will not permit to return. From the point of view of the Jewish state, there is a new Palestinian entity that can absorb them.

However, the absolute PLO position is that the refugees have the right to return to their villages from 1948, even if their villages have meanwhile absorbed millions of Jewish refugees into the Jewish state. In April 2000, the PLO's department of refugee affairs issued a 40-page booklet entitled The Palestinian Refugees Fact File to promote the "right of return" for all Palestinian refugees.

In December, 1993, one of the architects of the Oslo accords, Dr. Yossi Beilin, then Israeli deputy foreign minister, told me, in a taped interview together with other foreign correspondents, that the first thing that the new provisional Palestinian National Authority would tackle would be a solution to the Palestinian Arab refugees, to absorb them into the new Palestinian Arab entity.

However, in May, 1994, the first act of the new Palestinian National Authority, when it met at the first session of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was to declare that the new Palestinian entity would not absorb the Palestinian refugees, since they have the "inalienable right" to return to the homes that they left in 1948, all of which lie within Israel proper. …