Secret talks won’t be more fruitful than Camp David

Ha’aretz reports:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will shortly meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert’s office said Tuesday, a day after sources close to Olmert said that the two had been conducting secret talks…

The Prime Minister’s Bureau issued a statement [Monday] saying Olmert spoke of the Arab states’ readiness to reach a peace arrangement that includes recognition of Israel, and stressed the central role played by Saudi Arabia, which has much influence on the Palestinians and the moderate Arab states.

However, Olmert stressed that Israel was adamant about rejecting the right of return as reflected in the Arab initiative.

Could such negotiations be fruitful? Both Olmert and the US are talking like it is possible to reach a compromise on the difficult issues separating Israel and the Palestinians with the ‘moderate’ Abbas.

I’ve argued that Abbas has little power in a Hamas-dominated government, and that even if he had, his Fatah organization is anything but moderate. But what does Mahmoud Abbas himself think? In November 2000, Abbas expressed his thoughts about the failure of the Camp David negotiations, in particular about the issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. You should read the whole reference, but here are two quotations:

On Jerusalem:

Jerusalem is part of the territories occupied in 1967 and, hence, Resolution 242 applies to it. Jerusalem must return to our sovereignty and we will establish our capital on it. We have no objection that East and West Jerusalem will be open to one another and cooperate in municipal activities.

And on the refugees:

…paragraph 2b. of Resolution 242 says that ‘achieving a just settlement for the refugee problem’ is necessary. There is no UN resolution dealing with the Refugee Problem other than General Assembly Resolution 194 from 1949 that states ‘compensation should be paid […] for those who choose not to return.’ The right of return has priority and whoever does not wish it, may demand compensation…

It is noteworthy in this matter… that the Right of Return means a return to Israel and not to the Palestinian State… When we talk about the Right of Return, we talk about the return of refugees to Israel, because Israel was the one who deported them and it is in Israel that their property is found…

These are not positions that can be made acceptable to Israel. The reference makes it clear that Israeli suggestions of compromise were rejected, and that these positions stem from the Palestinians’ historical narrative, in which Israel has no claim on Jerusalem and in which Israel is entirely responsible for the refugee problem.

Since Mahmoud Abbas was Yasser Arafat’s right-hand man for years, what’s surprising is that anyone expected that his position on issues would be substantially different.

If there is a difference, it is only on short-term tactics.

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