It Will Take More Than 20 Minutes

The virtual negotiations carried out by Olmert and Livni contributed nothing but left behind a trail of damage that will take some time to erase.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on April 7, 2009.)

Judging by the statements made by Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert at the latest Kadima get-together, a lot of drinking must have gone on that night. Throwing caution to the wind and unburdening herself of her frustrations, Livni, referring to Avigdor Lieberman’s remarks at the Foreign Ministry’s changing-of-the-guard ceremony, declared that “in 20 minutes, Lieberman erased years of efforts to advance the peace process.”

Actually, it will take a long time, much more than 20 minutes, to undo the damage she and Olmert caused to the interests of the State of Israel in their negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas and his associates; negotiations they thought would lead to an agreement with the Palestinians to be put on the shelf. The far-reaching concessions they offered in the name of Israel will not be easy to erase.

Foolishly, Olmert prides himself on having offered the biggest concession ever to the Palestinians. By that he presumably means his concessions even exceeded those by Ehud Barak in the ill-fated negotiations with Yasser Arafat’s representatives at Taba in January 2001. Those included an almost complete return to the 1967 lines, the division of Jerusalem and the abandonment of the Temple Mount. We can only guess what Livni and Olmert offered in their last desperate efforts to hang on to power before they had to leave office. While Barak gave the excuse that his egregious offers where meant to show the world it was impossible to reach a deal with Arafat, Livni and Olmert insist they came within a hair’s breadth of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, an agreement that presumably was aborted only by the intemperate will of the Israeli electorate.

It was Barak who set the precedent even after his government had lost the support of the public, and then of the Knesset, which even after it had fallen continued to offer concessions in the name of Israel. It made the ridiculous claim that even after it had lost the public’s support and a date for new elections had been set, it still had all the authority vested in the government. So it believed it still had the right to conduct negotiations on issues most fateful to Israel’s future. After Barak and his party had been rebuked by the electorate, his supporters continued to insist that the terms they had agreed to would inevitably be the terms of any future agreement. In other words, that they had succeeded in imposing these terms on any future Israeli government.

That is exactly what Olmert and Livni attempted during the past year in their negotiations with Abbas. Whereas Barak could properly claim there was reason to assume that Arafat would be able to fulfill any commitments he might make in the negotiations, it was clear from the start that Abbas was in no position to do that, not only because Hamas had taken over the Gaza Strip but also because he did not effectively control Judea and Samaria. These were virtual negotiations that could achieve nothing and could only damage Israel’s vital interests by laying out concessions that would come back to haunt Israel in any future negotiations.

Livni’s claim that the newly elected Netanyahu government should be committed to the path adopted by Olmert’s government makes a laughingstock of the democratic process, which in the recent elections clearly rejected the Olmert government’s policies, as exemplified by the Annapolis process.

Olmert used the farewell party thrown in his honor by his Kadima colleagues to claim that Annapolis had obtained international recognition of Israel and that “thanks to this move, for millions of people around the world Israel is now a fait accompli.”

Do we need to be reminded that international recognition for Israel was obtained 61 years ago by an Israeli government led by David Ben-Gurion, and that it was the valor of Israel’s soldiers that made Israel a fait accompli?

The virtual negotiations carried out by Olmert and Livni contributed nothing but left behind a trail of damage that will take some time to erase.

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