Times of Israel: Netanyahu was ready to deal on 1967 borders, Jerusalem in previous term

If this is true, then it would rewrite a lot of narratives about who’s really to blame in the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. That’s a mighty big if, however. The Times of Israel passes along a report from Yedioth Ahronoth about a draft document for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority drafted by Benjamin Netanyahu’s office that showed just how far the PM was willing to go for a two-state solution. The draft, created sometime between 2009-13, would have used the 1967 borders as the starting point for an international border, granted a case-by-case right of return, and would have bargained on the status of East Jerusalem. The only stumbling block, according to both newspapers, was the Palestinian Authority:

According to the document, Netanyahu agreed to negotiate a peace deal on the basis of the 1967 borders, with land swaps; to acknowledge Palestinian aspirations in East Jerusalem; to evacuate settlers from the West Bank; and to allow those who so choose to remain under Palestinian rule.

The paper, according to Yedioth, was the result of secret talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that took place during Netanyahu’s previous term as premier between 2009-2013. Those negotiations — between Netanyahu’s emissary Yitzhak Molcho and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s confidant Hussein Agha — attempted to draw up the framework for more comprehensive peace talks.

“The sides agree that Palestine will be an independent and sovereign state in a sustainable territory which will correspond to the size of the territory controlled by Egypt and Jordan before the 4th of June 1967,” the script states.

“The agreement for the establishment of Palestine will resolve all final-status issues, including the issue of settlements. Israelis who choose to remain in their homes in the state of Palestine will live under Palestinian law,” it continues. “There will be a complete withdrawal in stages of Israeli forces from the territory of Palestine. The last Israeli forces will evacuate when the final stage of the agreement comes into effect.”

Netanyahu’s major failing, according to Yedioth Ahronoth, was trusting Abbas:

Yet from a different and far more significant perspective, the choice was a miserable one. Molcho says what Netanyahu says; they can’t be separated. All the players in the arena know that Netanyahu keeps a close eye on his people. In contrast, Agha is his own man. Netanyahu believed that Agha was Abbas’ Molcho. He was wrong. When it came to the crunch, Abbas claimed he had no hand in the agreements Agha reached; nothing was reported to him and nothing won his stamp of approval.

Abbas, in fact, used Agha as bait. He drew Netanyahu into making concessions without committing to concessions of his own. Abbas is a master when it comes to this game of poker.

From the perspective of the Israeli center-left – parties such as the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid, and Meretz too perhaps – the agreement is a very reasonable one. The Likud and Bayit Yehudi voters aren’t likely to see it as such.

One should recall that the talks took place during Netanyahu’s previous term in office, before the Kerry initiative, under a coalition government in which Netanyahu was the sole authority with regards to the Palestinian issue.

The concessions he agreed to on substantial issues such as borders, refugees and settlements appear to indicate a fierce and far-reaching desire to reach an agreement that would end the conflict. At the same time, Netanyahu implemented measures on the ground that appeared to indicate otherwise. Apparently, he wanted to be seen as a man eager for peace, but on one condition – that he never actually achieved that peace.

Jonathan Tobin argues that the draft shows that the Obama administration has maligned Netanyahu unfairly as the obstacle to their two-state solution. It also matches up with how Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu’s political rival, described the collapse of the Israel-PA peace talks:

For those who care to remember what actually happened in the spring of 2014, the facts aren’t in much dispute. After several months of Palestinian stonewalling in the peace talks, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas blew them up by signing a unity deal with Hamas. He then compounded that folly by ignoring his obligations under the Oslo Accords and heading to the United Nations in a vain attempt to gain recognition for Palestinian independence at the world body. That Obama and Kerry chose to ignore these actions and instead blame it all on Netanyahu was a clear measure of their disdain for the prime minister and his country.

But even Livni, who despises Netanyahu and is working to defeat him in the Knesset Elections this month told the New York Times last year that it was the Palestinians who derailed any chance of peace by stonewalling the talks at crucial moments. Given that the same PA turned down offers of peace and independence in almost all the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, this is a hardly a surprise. The political culture of the Palestinians makes it impossible for Abbas to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

But in spite of these facts, Americans still speak of the intransigent Abbas as a champion of peace and Netanyahu as an obstacle to it. This document will hurt Netanyahu with his right-wing base but it undermines the narrative about his opposition to peace. This latest evidence reported today in Yediot Aharonoth shows that Netanyahu told the Palestinians he was prepared to go as far as the Obama administration had been urging him to do with respect to borders, settlements and Jerusalem. But, as they had three times before, the PA wanted no part of peace even on the terms Obama wanted. Why? Palestinian nationalism is still intrinsically tied to rejection of a Jewish state on any terms that allow for its survival. Until that changes, peace remains just a dream.

Well, maybe. Netanyahu has denied that this paper formed the basis of his approach to negotiations. In fact, he declared to the Times of Israel, it detailed the American position:

“The conversations of Yitzhak Molcho were conducted with American involvement and did not lead to any agreements. They dealt with an American attempt to restart negotiations, with each side reserving the right to oppose certain clauses.

“Throughout the years, many drafts have been tabled without an agreement being reached on any of them, and even if such an American draft resolution was being considered, the prime minister made it clear in advance that he would oppose the clauses that do not adhere to his positions.”

There’s good reason to retain some skepticism over the actual provenance of the document. The elections are in less than two weeks, and Netanyahu’s opponents would love to split the hardline coalition that keeps him in office. Indeed, one of his opponents on his Right, Naftali Bennett, accused Netanyahu of giving away the store after the report was released. Even the YA report notes a “vast difference” between Netanyahu’s repeated positions on a two-state solution and what this document proposed, which does look suspiciously close to the Obama administration’s repeated positions on what a deal should look like. YA, which isn’t exactly friendly to Netanyahu, may have floated this as a dirty trick, what we’d call an October Surprise here in the US.

Still, Tobin’s point remains. Abbas has dealt in this manner with the Israelis, as did Yasser Arafat when he was in charge of the PA and PLO. They want a one-state solution with no Jews left in Israel — indeed, no Israel at all but just Greater Palestine. Blaming Netanyahu for recognizing this is a common failing in American policy, and not limited to just Barack Obama.