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How much more of Palestine will be "compromised" to satisfy Israel?

Whenever Israel and America welcome an Arab initiative it must be in their favour. This is exactly what has happened with the Arab ministerial delegation to Washington offering to modify the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. They agreed to allow some "minor" land swaps but what does this mean? And why did Tzipi Livni, the minister responsible for Israel's negotiations team, hasten to accept the proposal when she rejected such an offer back in 2008?

Leaked documents from the 2008 negotiations with Israel revealed that the Palestinian Authority did actually agree then to Israel's annexation of several East Jerusalem settlements including Ramat Shlomo, Pisgat Ze'ev, French Hill, Neve Yakov and Gilo.

Sameh Al-Abed, the Palestinian Authority's map expert, told Livni at the time, "We have done our best to include the largest number of settlers." Livni replied, "I want to say that we do not like this suggestion because it does not meet our demands…" Veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat reassured her: "We are building for you the largest Jerusalem in history." One year later, with a new administration in Washington, PA President Mahmoud Abbas personally presented the same maps to Barack Obama in May 2009 as the basis for a final agreement.

This is the context necessary in order to understand the scale and importance of what took place in Washington this week. The offer made by the Arab foreign ministers appears to be a reprocessed version of the 2008 plan. The fact that Livni has welcomed it suggests that it may be even more generous, especially with regards to occupied East Jerusalem. This is a cause for grave concern.

Does the "minor" land swap include the big settlements of Ma'ale Adumim and Gush Etzion, which were not included in 2008? The truth will soon come to light. Livni was gloating when she welcomed the Arab offer, saying that the Arab states have finally realised that the 1967 borders must change.

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was much more circumspect. In an apparent response he said that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is not about land but about the existence of the "Jewish state". In other words, whatever that is offered by the Palestinians is never going to be enough for the land-greedy ideology that is Zionism.

Given Netanyahu's commitment to his coalition partners from the Jewish settler movement, particularly Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home party, the chances of the Palestinians emerging from this with any gain or dignity are extremely remote. Already, 52 Knesset members have put forward a request for a debate on the matter. Some have called for a law that guarantees a referendum on any future agreement. The prime minister is obliged to comply because more than 40 MKs signed the request.

With this latest generous Arab "compromise", a central pillar of negotiating strategy has fallen. For decades they have insisted that their minimal demand was all the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Any land swap, great or small, means an alteration to this internationally-recognised formula. Moreover, it negates the established legal principle that the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible.

As for the other two Palestinian conditions an end to settlements and the release of the political prisoners no mention was made about them in Washington. There was, understandably, immediate disquiet in the Palestinian camp and it is set to grow, regardless of how much money the Americans may decide to invest in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Hamas have condemned the move. They ask, rightly, who mandated this Arab delegation to make such compromises? Were the Palestinian people consulted? Did they approve? While Hamas has never recognised the validity of any of the agreements signed with Israel, it has genuine fears that the current initiative will result in even more Palestinian losses.

In other words, today it is a land swap that the PA is prepared to compromise on; tomorrow it will be the refugees and their right to return; and goodness knows what else will be after that. If these proposals are really a recycling of the 2008 plan then the future of Jerusalem looks bleak. Already there are signs that something is amiss. At the behest of the Americans, the PA has suspended all efforts to seek membership of UN agencies even though it now qualifies. Together with Jordan, the Ramallah-based authority has agreed not to condemn Israel at UNESCO for its actions in the occupied Holy City.

This latest charade demonstrates conclusively the lack of political stamina in the Arab camp. Throughout decades of negotiations the Israelis have defined what they want and how to get it; they have never wavered but the Arabs are clearly tired of the whole "peace process". They have no backbone and will do anything to call it a day. One aim of this week's visit was to break the impasse and resume negotiations, which have been stalled for the last two and a half years. The Arab foreign ministers have demonstrated that they are prepared to sell even more of historic Palestine from under the feet of the rightful owners in return for winning pitiful political brownie points with Washington.

More than obtaining their legitimate rights, they now want to prove to the world how much they desire peace. All that is left now is for the Obama administration to announce another international conference to endorse this latest travesty and give the impression that America has promoted the cause of justice and peace. No wonder Tzipi Livni sees this as an invaluable opportunity that should not be missed. The rest of us are left to ask: just how much more of Palestine will be compromised to satisfy Israel?

Commentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestine
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