Bibi Netanyahu’s visit to the Obama White House this week gives us an opportunity to watch history unfold. Or unravel. It’s hard to tell. Maybe it’s like that old Palmach song said, Rabotai, ha-historia hozeret (“Folks, history repeats itself”).
On the eve of the summit, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs is beating up on President Obama for failing to reaffirm George W. Bush’s April 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon. Bush had written that it was “unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” The president was endorsing Israel’s goal of keeping the major West Bank settlement blocs as part of the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
In reality, Bush wasn’t saying anything the Palestinians themselves hadn’t said. Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas said as much just the other day in an on-the-record interview with Israeli reporters. As the Jerusalem Post put it in its version of the interview, “Abbas said that in principle, the Palestinians have agreed to alterations in the 1967 border, as long as it was done on a one-to-one ratio.” Incidentally, Abbas has embraced that position as far back as his 1995 talks with Israel’s then-deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin.
Bush’s letter endorsed the idea of redrawing the border as a likely outcome of negotiations. The assumption was that the Palestinians could be expected to give Israel that reasonably desired outcome — as part of an agreement in which Israel gives the Palestinians an equally reasonably desired outcome.
So what’s JINSA’s beef?
In broad terms, JINSA is taking up a line that’s being touted by various voices on the Israeli right as the back-and-forth heats up: that Israel should receive its key demand on settlements before the actual negotiations begin. That way Israel can sit down and start negotiating from there. In other words, give me what I want in advance, and then we can sit down and discuss who’s willing to give up what.
In effect, the Israeli right doesn’t want Israel to have negotiate its relations with its neighbors on its own. It wants America to impose a solution. Of course JINSA wouldn’t put it that way.
The corruption trial of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert took an unexpected turn today (Thursday, 6/24) when the chief judge of the Jerusalem district court assailed the prosecution for submitting what appeared to be misleading and possibly false documentation.
Olmert’s defense team had written to Israel’s attorney general the day before and called for a criminal investigation into what they alleged was witness tampering and obstruction of justice by the prosecution. The accusation is based on a document that the prosecution had described as a transcript of pretrial preparatory interviews with a witness, Hadar Saltzman of Rishontours. Olmert is accused of using the travel agency as a conduit for double-billing overseas travel expenses when addressing Jewish groups. The trial judge had dismissed the defense’s complaint, but the chief judge, Musia Arad, stepped in this afternoon and slammed the prosecution for paraphrasing and in some cases apparently omitting what was supposed to be Saltzman’s actual testimony. The defense says what she told prosecutors during her extensive pretrial preparation did not match what she initially told police investigators. The prosecutors basically say the dog ate their homework.
So what? Here’s so what: This could turn out to be the latest in a string of cases that have been brought against Olmert in the past decade and fallen apart under scrutiny. The accumulation of allegations forced him to resign as prime minister in August 2008, in the midst of what were described as serious negotiations with the Palestinian leadership to reach a final peace agreement. The negotiations continued while then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni tried to form an alternative coalition to replace Olmert but keep his Kadima in power. But according to Livni, when she gave up her coalition talks in late October 2008 and called for new elections, she and the Palestinians agreed to suspend the talks until a new government was formed. What they got was Bibi. Unless Livni is lying, it’s quite plausible that if Olmert hadn’t been forced from office, the talks could have been brought to completion.
Here’s a 2008 British news report on the suspension of the peace talks following the failure of Livni’s coalition talks. Here’s a Wall Street Journal interview with Livni from this past January describing the progress she and the Palestinians were making before they suspended the talks. Here’s another one in Foreign Policy this past March. She said the same thing more explicitly in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Yediot Ahronot Friday supplement a couple of months ago (it wasn’t on line, and I can’t find my copy) — namely that the talks did not fall apart, but were merely suspended until Israel got a stable government that could negotiate authoritatively.
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