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'Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit..'
Last uploaded : Monday 31st Dec 2001 at 16:26
Contributed by : Deborah Maccoby


Deborah Maccoby offers a summary of Dr Menachem Klein's lecture 'Reassessing the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks' organised by British Friends of Peace Now and held at the West London Synagogue, London on Wednesday December 12th, 2001
Rabbi David Goldberg began the meeting by lighting the candles for the fourth night of Chanukah and reciting the blessings. He then spoke of the terrible situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories and reminded us of the Haftarah said in the synagogue on the Shabbat of Chanukah (to counteract the military connotations of the festival): the passage from Zechariah: "Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts".

Introducing Dr Menachem Klein, Rabbi Goldberg said that there have been various versions of what went wrong at Camp David and Taba. But Menachem Klein has been an adviser to Shlomo Ben-Ami and to Ehud Barak, and therefore has an intimate knowledge of the negotiations and is in a very good position to talk to us about what went wrong and what might go right in what is a very dire and depressing situation.

Dr Klein dispelled with detailed maps the widespread idea that the Israeli offer at Camp David had been generous and should have been accepted by the Palestinian negotiators. He showed that Israel would have cut deeply into Palestine. Israel was to maintain settlements and security bases in the Jordan Valley in the east and to be in charge of Palestine's eastern border, and Israel was to supervise roads cutting through the Palestinian state to go to the settlements. The Palestinians would only have air sovereignty officially - Israel would have effective control over Palestinian air space. Such a map, said Dr Klein, could not even begin a serious negotiation. Also Israel wanted to annex large areas of West Bank territory, incorporating the bulk of the remaining settlements, offering very little Israeli territory in exchange. At Camp David, Israel wanted to annex 12 per cent of 'West Bank territory, offering a minimum of Israeli land; at the end of Camp David, under heavy pressure from the United States, Barak agreed to the annexation of 9 per cent of West Bank territory, offering in exchange 1 per cent of Israeli territory to the Palestinians. The negotiations degenerated into haggling over percentages, like an oriental bazaar - because neither side had any vision or imagination. Barak was advised to change his strategy, but could not break out of his past as a general, not a statesman; he was a hostage to his own obsession with security. And the Palestinians had no coherent strategy. At each point, both sides made the wrong decisions - that was the tragedy. But conflict was not inevitable - and in that respect he is optimistic despite everything.

But the main topic and the main problem, said Dr Klein, was Jerusalem. He feels both optimism and pessimism about the Jerusalem issue. Important taboos on Jerusalem were broken by both sides - on the Israeli side, the myth of the eternal, undivided Jewish capital was broken and on the Palestinian side the idea that UN Resolution 242 meant Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 Jerusalem border. Both sides accepted the principle of Jewish neighbourhoods under Jewish sovereignty, Palestinian neighbourhoods under Palestinian sovereignty. The debate was mainly over the Old City and the Temple Mount. Here, once again, there was a lack of imagination on both sides and a sense of being held hostage to old, entrenched ideas. Creative ideas about the Temple Mount were brought in too late, only after the crisis had broken out at Camp David; they were not brought in earlier because of the poor preparation on both sides. Once the new ideas were brought forward, they were not dealt with seriously - the Israeli politicians just played with them to adjust them to Israeli positions - thus they would not allow Palestinian sovereignty on the Temple Mount, demanding at least some Israeli sovereign power and authority there. At an earlier stage, the Israelis had asked for a Jewish place of prayer on the top of the Temple Mount. Also the Israelis wanted to keep large blocs of settlements in Jerusalem - the Ma'ale Adumin and Givat Ze'ev blocs - which would have put the Palestinians under a kind of siege, surrounded by areas of Israeli sovereignty. In his view, the Palestinians were justified in rejecting this. The Israelis also wanted to add the Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem, under full Israeli sovereignty.

One of the chief myths dispelled by Dr Klein was the widespread notion that the two sides had been extremely close at Taba. In his view, they had not really been that near an agreement. Some progress was made in the discussion on the territorial issue and on the Palestinian right of return. But on Jerusalem, the Israeli definition of the Ma'ale Adumin and Givat Ze'ev blocs of settlements was still unacceptable to the Palestinians. The speaker said that, as a West Jerusalem resident, he himself rejects this definition which would create many urban problems for Israeli Jerusalem as well as for the Palestinians.

Despite everything, however, Dr Klein claimed he was optimistic about the future, since he felt the two sides had broken taboos and got away from myths, and could never return to the past. When he was challenged at question time to justify his optimism further than this, in view of the dire situation at present, he said he believed something would emerge from the grassroots, even though it may well take a long time and much frustrating work.

Another important issue raised at question time was the subject of the Palestinian school textbooks, which are widely seen as extremely anti-Israel and anti-semitic and are regarded by many Israelis and Jews as a major sticking-point to peace. Dr Klein said in reply to this that the Jordanian and Egyptian school textbooks are actually much worse in this respect, and yet this has not stopped Israel from concluding and maintaining peace treaties with these two countries. A peace agreement must come first - then attitudes will slowly change; otherwise attitudes will never change. And he said he has looked at many Israeli school textbooks and their presentation of Arabs and Palestinians - and he can only say "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Each side, he said in answer to another question - about Palestinian public opinion towards Palestinian concessions - is a mirror image of the other, and each needs to gain confidence in the other as a partner for peace. He is therefore opposed to a solution imposed from outside.

An extremely important subject which there was no time to discuss was the Palestinian right of return. In the course of writing this summary, I contacted Dr Klein and asked him about this issue. I said my own understanding was that the Clinton Plan - which came between Camp David and Taba - advocated major concessions on Jerusalem from the Israelis, in exchange for Palestinian renunciation of the right of return; I had thought that the main reason the peace talks broke down was that the Palestinian reaction to this was to affirm the right of return, simply because they had been asked point blank to renounce it - which made the Israelis decide that the Palestinians didn't want peace, but wanted three million Palestinian to return to Israel, thus bringing about the end of the Jewish State. Dr Klein dispelled another myth by replying to me that the Clinton Plan did not entail asking the Palestinians to renounce the right of return, and the widespread idea that this was the case is the result of Israeli propaganda. He said the whole right of return issue has been distorted and the media in Israel were misled by Barak spokespersons into thinking that this was the main reason that the talks broke down - a view which has become the prevalent version around the world. In his opinion, the issue is so complex that it needs another talk or discussion devoted to this subject alone.
Dr Menachem Klein is a teacher, researcher, author, human rights activist and peace practitioner. As an academic, he is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Bar-Ilan University and, for this year, a Senior Associate at the Middle East Centre of St. Antony's College, Oxford.

As a human rights activist, he is a board member of B'tselem, the Israeli Research and
Information Centre in the Occupied Territories and of Ir Shalem, Peace Now's branch dealing with East Jerusalem. As a researcher and author, he has published extensively on different aspects of the Middle East conflict. His most recent book, which draws on Arabic, Hebrew and English sources as well as his own personal experience, offers an authoritative insider's analysis of
the Israeli - Palestinian Final Status Talks,where he was an expert adviser
to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami.

He has also been a member of the political advisory team operating in the office of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
www.jewishcomment.com acknowledges with thanks British Friends of Peace Now for bringing this review to our attention.


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