Did the Palestinians Reject Great Israeli Offers?

By Jeffrey Goldberg

The Israelis and Palestinians might be engaged only in indirect proximity talks, but Goldblog is now in direct negotiations with Ibishblog, and peace will soon prevail in the Holy Land. Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine, posted earlier this week on why this moment is a good one for the Palestinian Authority to enter negotiations with Israel. I linked with some approving commentary, and a Goldblog reader soon e-mailed me with a question for Hussein:

"Has he faced up to the two rejected offers? I'd like to know.  When the Palestinians do get their state, some of their own will eventually ask why the Barak and Olmert offers were passed up."

This reader was referring to the Camp David negotiations in 2000, when Yasser Arafat walked away without even making a counter-offer to then-Prime Minister Barak (Bill Clinton put the blame squarely on Arafat for the failure), and to Ehud Olmert's sweetened offer for something like one hundred percent of the West Bank.

I forwarded to Hussein this e-mail, and he answered it this morning, on his blog. I'll respond more fully later to his answer (and talk about why I think Camp David was a blown Palestinian opportunity, rather than a mutual screw-up), but here is an excerpt from his long and thoughtful answer (but you should read the whole thing):

The bottom line is that neither side has yet accepted the other's proposals for a final status agreement. There have been lots of Palestinian proposals that have been interesting and creative at different times, not to mention the Arab Peace Initiative, and none of them have been accepted by Israel either. Therefore more negotiations in good faith are required. I think there are a lot of myths on the Israeli side about all the supposed "generosity" of various Israeli proposals, and a Palestinian point of view that the fundamental problem is that Israel has never really offered to actually end the occupation at all. As I say, the lack of documentary evidence makes it difficult to evaluate the accuracy of these views, but they are deep-seated opinions.

I think clearly both sides have an obligation to reach out as much as possible to both the leaders and the public on the other side, to make clear exactly what it is they want, how they propose to get there, and why this is in both the Israeli and the Palestinian interest. It's obvious that most people on both sides want a negotiated agreement but believe that the other side does not. Both sides also have their "evidence" demonstrating this, and the Goldblog reader's question is a very common Israeli version of that. There is an entire, complex and substantive Palestinian discourse that makes the same case vis-à-vis Israel. I think aggressive public diplomacy from both parties to counter these fears and suspicions is appropriate, but given the political vulnerability of the leaderships on both sides, public diplomacy is usually aimed more at a domestic political audience that really reaching out to hearts and minds on the other side.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/05/did-the-palestinians-reject-great-israeli-offers/56351/