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Translation of an article to be published
in Ma'ariv on May 1, 2000

Uri Avnery

Welcome to the Semitic Region:

Framework Agreement. Permanent Status Agreement. May. September. End of the conflict. Words that should sound like history in the making, and that appear now at the bottom of page 5 and cause a big yawn. Bla-bla-bla.

How does a dream become a pipe dream? 
Well, it goes like this:
Ehud Barak believes that he can make Arafat an offer he can't refuse. Israel will recognize a Palestinian state. Its borders will be fixed in such a way that it will have a continuous territory in the West Bank as well as in the Gaza strip, with a high bridge connecting the two. The Palestinian state will have full control of its border crossings.

In return for these generous presents, Arafat is supposed to give up the territory of the "settlement blocs". These will be annexed by Israel and connected with each other by a system of upper and lower bypass roads, crisscrossing Palestinian territory. How big an area will these blocs gobble up? Several figures are being mentioned, but in the end Barak will be satisfied with 20%. Arafat must also give up Jerusaleem, in its present borders, and the Right of Return. He must declare that thereby the historic conflict has come to an end.

Is this realistic? The recognition of the State of Palestine by Israel is worth a lot. Of course, more than a hundred states will recognize the state anyhow, immediately upon its inauguration, but without Israeli and American recognition that's worth a lot less. Not to mention the probable outbreak of armed struggle all over the country.

The elimination of Israeli control over the border crossings and thsea and air ports is worth a lot, too. What kind of a state would it be, if nobody can enter or leave it without the permission of another state?

Up to this point, there is much in Barak's proposal to tempt the Palestinians. For such a great achievement, Clinton suggests, Arafat should make concessions. But there are limits.

The borders, for example. Arafat cannot recognize the legality of the settlements, and even less their annexation by Israel. This is Palestinian land, and we have already seen that the return to the June 4, 1967 borders (the "Green Line") has a profound symbolic value for all the Arabs - Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese alike.

Moreover, the settlements sit on the land and water reserves of the Palestinian state. They are necessary for the development of the state, even more so if it is expected to absorb large number of refugees.

Then there is Jerusalem. No need to repeat that no Palestinian, Arab or Muslim can give Jerusalem up. No one. Jerusalem needs a complex solution, one that will turn it into the capital of the two states and the three religions. There is no chance at all that Arafat will sign a document giving up Arab Jerusalem forever.

But all this is nothing compared to the third problem - the refugees. Even assuming that some compromise about the settlements and Jerusalem could be achieved (i.e. the Arab neighborhoods will be connected to the Palestinian state), without the solution of the refugee problem Arafat will be unable to declare the conflict finished. More that half of his people would consider such an agreement treason.

So what? Will there be nothing?

In theory, there are four possibilities: Either Arafat will give in, or Barak will change, or there will be no agreement at all, or there will be a partial agreement.

Arafat will not surrender, because he doesn't want to and because he can't. Barak may change, but that's rather improbable.

Remains the choice: no agreement or partial agreement. I bet on the second possibility.

Perhaps Arafat can accept some of Barak's terms, if this will not mean an end to the conflict. If, for example, it will be stated that the problems of the border, Jerusalem and the refugees will be put on the agenda after, say, five years. Arafat can then tell his people that after five years of consolidation, the State of Palestine will be in a stronger position to struggle for these issues.

I do not recommend such a solution. Because the meaning would be: The historic conflict goes on.

Gush Shalom
[Visit the Settlement Special]


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