The secret in the safe in the Muqata

The peace initiatives that have been tossed around here for decades are based on a delusionary expectation that PLO members will abandon their ideology.

By Benny Begin | Dec. 22, 2015 | 8:11 PM |  1

There are very few diplomatic secrets in our region that remain undisclosed. One of them, which is apparently kept in a safe in the Palestinian Authority's headquarters in the Muqata, in Ramallah, is the secret peace plan of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

A foreign observer might assume that this plan is not so different from the one presented by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2008. Its main points: establishment of a Palestinian state on an area that is 100 percent equivalent in size to that of “the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”; creation of a corridor between Gaza and Hebron, controlled by the PLO; division of Jerusalem into two capitals; the surrender of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives, which will be administered instead by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the PLO and Israel; and permission for the entry of several thousand Palestinian refugees into Israel over the course of several years.

As contrast to the legend, Olmert’s proposal did not surprise Abbas: Then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice updated him about it during a meeting in Ramallah, but he rejected the proposal three times: In September 2008 he refrained from replying to Olmert, in November of that year he rejected Rice’s request to inform her that he was accepting the proposal, and in December he refused the pleas of then-U.S. President George W. Bush to announce that he had accepted it.

A foreign observer would probably assume that Abbas rejected the Olmert scheme in 2008 because there was no time left to discuss minor differences between it and the PLO peace plan, but we have testimony from the interested party himself: In May 2009 Abbas was asked by The Washington Post why he had rejected Olmert’s proposal. He didn’t use the excuses offered by disappointed Israelis, but answered briefly and straight to the point: “The gaps were wide.”

From that day until this one, Abbas’ threshold demand for entering negotiations with Israel is simple: The starting point of such talks would be the Olmert proposal that he rejected. The “wide gaps” will have to be reduced with the help of further Israeli concessions.

For his part, Joint Arab List MK Ahmad Tibi, who is familiar with the secrets of PLO policy, maintained several years ago that “the maximum that any government in Israel can offer the PLO does not reach the minimum that the PLO can accept.”

But to this very day, not a single peace activist among the frequent travelers to Ramallah, Oslo and Geneva has demanded that the PLO reply to the obvious question: What is the minimum the PLO can accept? If Israeli consent to the entry of 5,000 refugees into its territory, according to Olmert’s proposal, is not sufficiently generous – would its agreement to 50,000 suffice? Or perhaps 250,000?

The answer is known to anyone who wants to know it. PLO leaders declare that they are not authorized to relinquish fulfillment of the right of every refugee who so wishes to return to his home – an individual right according to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194. Therefore, the PLO is unable to include in a peace agreement with Israel any restriction on the number of refugees who wish to return to their homes. In addition, since the PLO cannot agree to the existence of the nation-state of the Jewish people in any part of Palestine, it cannot agree to any clause in the accord in which it promises to refrain from making any demands of Israel in future.

The peace initiatives that have been tossed around here for over two decades are based on a delusionary expectation that PLO members, who are considered in Israel to be “secular,” will abandon their ideology. If we Jews, pragmatists that we are, are willing to sign an agreement that includes giving up Beit El, Nablus and Hebron, the PLO would probably be willing to sign an accord that includes giving up Beit Guvrin, Ramle and Jaffa.

However, these initiators of peace refuse to put their illusion to the test. They don’t demand that the PLO reveal its secret and finally present its conditions for an accord with Israel, because presenting those conditions would expose the truth: Not only would an extremist Zionist government headed by Zionist Union be unable to sign a peace agreement with the PLO – even a moderate and sane Zionist government headed by Meretz would be unable to do so.

At present that is the test for anyone who still claims that “the PLO is the solution.” Let him please demand of the PLO, openly and consistently, to open the safe in the Muqata and present its plan for a peace agreement with Israel, and let him draw a courageous conclusion in public from the stubborn refusal of the PLO to do so.

The writer is a Likud MK.