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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Constructive Clarity in Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations

Filed under: Palestinians, Peace Process, The Middle East
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 10, No. 3


  • The PLO platform, as reaffirmed in the Fatah Congress in August 2009, states that their struggle will not stop until the Zionist entity is eliminated and Palestine is liberated. As a logical corollary, they refuse to accept Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
  • This explains why, when Mahmoud Abbas was asked in a Washington Post interview in May 2009 why he had declined Olmert’s far-reaching offer, he answered that “the gaps were wide.”
  • The Palestinian leadership insists that negotiations now start at the point they had reached with Olmert at the end of 2008. That means they are not satisfied with what was put on the table a year ago. They want more than that.
  • One cannot expect a plausible, peaceful solution in the foreseeable future unless the PLO leadership changes its mind, heart, and writings.

MK Begin on Israeli Gestures to a Peace Agreement – Video

What Israel Has Offered


Under the banner of the 2008 Annapolis process, the Israeli government and the PLO leadership failed to reach a lasting agreement. According to Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Olmert proposed that Israel withdraw from 98 percent of the total territory in Samaria, Judea, and Gaza. Actually, the deal encompassed 100 percent because the balance was to be swapped with some territory from inside the State of Israel proper.

Olmert also proposed a safe passage between Gaza and Judea – under Israeli sovereignty. According to Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert also agreed that Israel recognize in principal the so-called “right of return.” Mr. Olmert denies this. However, he did propose that thousands of Arab refugees would be allowed to come into the State of Israel on a humanitarian basis.

As for Jerusalem, Olmert proposed the partition of the city into two parts. The neighborhoods populated by Arabs would become a part of the capital of the Palestinian Arab sovereign state. The Jewish neighborhoods would be retained under Israeli sovereignty. In addition, he proposed that Israel relinquish its sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, and the City of David – referred to by some as the “holy basin.” Israel’s rule of these areas would be replaced by a consortium that would administer them, comprised of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United States, the PLO, and Israel. This far-reaching proposal by Prime Minister Olmert – addressing borders, refugees and Jerusalem – was declined by the PLO.

Why the PLO Said No

Mahmoud Abbas was asked in a Washington Post interview in May 2009 why he had declined Olmert’s proposal and his answer was: “the gaps were wide.” This truthfully reflects the situation because, from the PLO point of view, the gaps were indeed still wide.

During the negotiations in the Annapolis process, the PLO leadership was asked whether once an agreement was reached to the liking of both parties, they would agree to include an article stating that this agreement puts an end to the conflict and concludes all claims by the parties. That question was answered in the negative.

Why would Olmert’s proposal still leave wide gaps, so as to be unacceptable from the point of view of the PLO leadership only a year or so ago? Concentrating on Jerusalem, the answer is that the PLO does not accept a situation of shared sovereignty in Jerusalem over the Temple Mount and its surroundings. Their goal is to have Arab-Palestinian-Muslim sovereignty at that site.

This is not just a whim of the current Palestinian leadership. In 2000, Prime Minister Barak proposed that Israel relinquish its rule over the upper part of the Temple Mount to Arab-Palestinian sovereignty and that the lower part of the Temple Mount would be retained under Israeli sovereignty, but still this was rejected. The PLO assertion was that the whole Temple Mount should be under Arab-Muslim sovereignty.

The PLO Does Not Recognize Two States for Two Peoples

The reason for this has been well explained by the PLO leadership, which is considered to be the moderate faction within the Arab-Palestinian camp. They actually deny the undeniable. They say there is no historic connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount – that the stories about two Jewish temples destroyed 2,600 and 2,000 years ago is a fairy tale. Their basic tenet is that there is no Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Of course this also relates to Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Galilee, and the Negev. For them, there is no historic Jewish connection to any of these places.
The PLO leadership, in this respect, is consistent. This is their basic philosophy, and you will find its corollary in their adamant refusal to accept the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. They explain openly that, for them, Judaism is not a nationality but merely a religion. Since Judaism is merely a religion, and since religions are not entitled to establish and maintain states of their own, then the State of Israel has no right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people and they will not recognize it as such.

Less than a year ago, in August 2009, the Fatah Congress in Bethlehem reaffirmed their platform, referring to Chapter One of their charter as the point of departure for their policy. Article 19 in Chapter One states:

Armed struggle is a strategy, not a tactic. The armed revolution of the Arab Palestinian people is a crucial element in the battle for liberation and for the elimination of the Zionist presence. This struggle will not stop until the Zionist entity is eliminated and Palestine is liberated.

For Fatah, then, there is a “Zionist entity,” not the Jewish nation deserving their one and only sovereign state on earth. Such an understanding is not currently in their mind, in their philosophy, in their ideology, and will not occur for a long time unless they are pressed by the international community to amend it.

As long as this is left as something that cannot be changed and maybe need not be changed, it will be there. Unless the leadership of our neighbors changes their view, very little will be achieved in the foreseeable future regarding a peace agreement between Jews and Arabs west of the Jordan River.

Where is the agreement by the PLO to come to terms with reality and to agree in some way to the minimum requirements of any sober Israeli faction in the Knesset? Abbas maintains that Olmert offered him too little. Former Foreign Minister Livni, the leader of the Knesset Opposition, would tell you that Olmert offered him too much. Under this geometry, an agreement cannot be achieved unless the PLO leadership changes their mind. Unless people impress upon them that they should do so, I don’t see this happening.

In June 2009 in Trieste, the Quartet issued a statement that for the first time included the political term “two states for two peoples” as a proposed solution. This is not my solution, but this is agreed to by many – just not by the PLO. The PLO leadership and activists never say that the solution entails two nations.

However, in March 2010 in another Quartet statement issued in Moscow, mention of a two-state solution for two peoples vanished. Mention was made only of the Palestinian people, with no mention whatsoever of the Jewish people. What kind of a signal does that send?

Jerusalem Is Not a Security Issue

Three thousand years ago Jerusalem became the capital city of the Jewish sovereign state. To a reasonable person, this is undeniable. But Jerusalem also exemplifies the larger scope of the dispute.

The Temple Mount can be described as an important hill from a tactical point of view. From this commanding terrain you can control the road leading from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem, northward to Ramallah and then Shechem (Nablus), and southward to Hebron. However, the Temple Mount is not a security issue, but rather a basic issue that has to do with the feelings of people, feelings that must be respected. Yes, it does belong to the Jewish people. Others feel that it belongs to them. Please do not belittle these values.

What More Can Israel Offer?

When people ask what the government of Israel can be expected to offer to the PLO, we may refer them to the fact that previous Israeli governments offered to relinquish Samaria, Judea, and Gaza, and parts of Jerusalem, but to no avail. People must recognize this. The Palestinian leadership insists that negotiations now start at the point they had reached with Olmert at the end of 2008. That means they are not satisfied with what was put on the table a year ago. This means that they want more than that. For example, in February, in a children’s program on PLO TV, a young lady addressed Arab children in Beersheva, Lod, and Haifa – three cities within the State of Israel proper. She told them they have been under occupation since 1948. There are many similar examples on PLO TV.

The Palestine Liberation Organization seeks the liberation of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which is why their true aim is not a two-state solution but a two-stage solution. In stage one they try to push Israel to the 1949 armistice lines. In stage two they will push for the insertion of hundreds of thousands of refugees into the State of Israel, to explode it from within and liberate Palestine. There is no other rational explanation for their total, vehement rejection of the far-reaching proposals by two previous Israeli governments.

Unless there is a profound change in their thinking, the only thing to do is what we have been doing – trying to improve the lives of both Jews and Arabs. For example, the PLO leadership maintains that last year they enjoyed an economic growth of around 9 percent, and Israel had a part in it.

The Moral Basis of Israel’s Position

My position rests on two moral pillars: the natural and historical right of the Jewish people to its homeland, Israel, which of course extends beyond the artificial armistice demarcation line of 1949; and the right of Israeli citizens to national security. From the right of Jews to their ancient homeland ensues their right to dwell and build their homes in Jerusalem, in Samaria and in Judea. It has been proven time and again that if you try to detach these two basic rights, the result is loss of Israeli lives. By relinquishing Jericho, Gaza, Hebron, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, and Kalkilya to the PLO under the Oslo agreements, and thus depositing our security in their hands, the result was the creation of havens of impunity for terrorism that tragically resulted in the Second Intifada which began in 2000. In 2005, another attempt was made to detach these two rights, by unilaterally relinquishing Gaza, and the result was the launching of hundreds of rockets towards Israel.

Let me conclude with a quotation by my father, Prime Minister Menachem Begin. When he went to Washington over thirty years ago, he said that he was coming to Washington, D.C. – District of Columbia, from Jerusalem, D.C. – David’s Capital. This still directs us, to a large extent, in our activities in Jerusalem – David’s Capital.

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MK Ze’ev Binyamin Begin (Beni Begin) is currently Minister without Portfolio and a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s forum of seven senior ministers. Currently serving his fourth term, he first served in the Knesset as a Likud MK from 1988 until 1997. During this period he was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee as well as Minister of Science. In 1997 he resigned in protest against the Hebron agreement. He was then appointed director of the Geological Survey in Israel. He returned to the Knesset in 2009. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on April 25, 2010.