Barak’s Vision Offers Scant Hope

Some interesting things happening in the background of the launch of the direct talks today…

JTA is reporting that Benjamin Netanyahu is prepared to recognize the Palestinian claim to the land alongside the Jewish one.

Bibi

That’s JTA’s headline, anyway. The article itself indicates something rather different. It cites Bibi’s speech today, where he said “…we recognize that another people share this land with us. And I came here to find an historic compromise that will enable both peoples to live in peace, security and dignity.”

That’s recognizing the simple reality that the Palestinians are there, not the legitimacy of their claim to the land.

Still, this certainly does strike a far more conciliatory tone than Bibi has in the past. It might reflect the effect of American pressure, and if it does, that gives pro-peace activists both in Israel and the Diaspora something to work toward.

That’s the positive spin. The negative, of course, is that Bibi and his right-wing government is as intransigent as ever and is merely posturing so he can lay all blame for the failure of talks at the feet of the Palestinians. We can’t really know, but sometimes even such plans can be thwarted by active politics.

The other development of note was Ehud Barak getting his vision of a two-state solution reiterated in Ha’aretz. If, as he says, Bibi is willing to split Jerusalem along the lines he suggests, that could be a promising start to talks.

Ehud Barak

But there was something else in what he said that was telling in a much grimmer way. His description of the two-state solution sounds almost whole cloth like the same offer he made to Yasir Arafat in 2000:

“Two states for two nations; an end to the conflict and the end of all future demands; the demarcation of a border that will run inside the Land of Israel, and within that border will lie a solid Jewish majority for generations and on the other side will be a demilitarized Palestinian state but one that will be viable politically, economically, and territorially; keeping the settlement blocs in our hands; retrieving and relocating the isolated settlements into the settlement blocs or within Israel; a solution to the refugee problem [whereby refugees return to] the Palestinian state or are rehabilitated by international aid; comprehensive security arrangements and a solution to the Jerusalem problem.”

Much of this is the typical two-state formulation. What we need to pay attention to is the two words: settlement blocs.

In general, that phrase refers to three settlement areas: Gush Etzion, Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim. The Etzion bloc is generally expected to be part of Israel, with appropriate one-to-one land swaps to make up the difference. It doesn’t intrude overly into the West Bank so it presents less of a problem.

But the other two are extremely problematic. Indeed, the maps, like this one, which show a largely divided and unviable West Bank, reflect the problem of contiguity that is created if Israel keeps these two settlement blocs.

Barak apparently hasn’t changed his view in the past ten years, and it seems highly unlikely he’s come up with some way to deal with the fact that Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim will hopelessly compromise Palestinian territorial contiguity.

Moreover, Barak seems to be on a very different page from Bibi. Barak seems most concerned with the settlement blocs. Bibi has shown himself to be most concerned with maintaining an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, which would effectively give Israel permanent control over the nascent Palestine’s borders.

Either of those ideas are non-starters for the Palestinians.

So, while the talk on Opening Day of Direct Talks was lofty, the details that we see even at the beginning don’t give a lot of cause for hope.