The secretary of the PLO Executive Committee has revealed the details of John Kerry's plan for the Israel-Palestine negotiations. Yasser Abed Rabbo spoke to London's Al-Hayat newspaper.
According to Abed Rabbo, the US Secretary of State's proposal includes Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; establishing part of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine; resolving the refugee problem in accordance with the vision of former US President Bill Clinton; maintaining Israeli control of major settlement blocs and leasing the others back to Israel; Israel's control over border crossings and air space; and the presence of US-Israel-Jordan-Palestinian security forces on the border. "The Israelis would also have the right of 'hot pursuit' of fugitives or suspected criminals in the Palestinian state," he revealed. "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected these ideas because he wants to carve out the land he wants and refuses to discuss the Jerusalem issue. He also refuses the intervention of any other party in security matters, even America."
The PLO official pointed out that this way of thinking was essentially unacceptable. "We Palestinians have been more than clear when it comes to this matter. We have stated many times that we reject the concept of a so-called national homeland for Jews in historic Palestine or the concept of a 'Greater Israel'. Netanyahu has expressed that he not only wants to legitimise the Zionist national narrative and the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 but also Israel's ongoing settlement projects, which aim to achieve the Zionist dream of a Greater Israel."
As for security arrangements, Abed Rabbo said that there is talk of potential security arrangements and the standards by which these arrangements will be run. "They will last for many years and are supposedly subject to improved Palestinian security performance. However, this will ultimately still be controlled by Israel, which will maintain control even though America has pledged that it will remain involved as these arrangements are made and see to it that Israel withdraws from certain areas including the Jordan Valley."
Such security arrangements, he claimed, will maintain Israel's security strongholds on mountain tops and in Palestinian airspace. Israel will maintain the right to fly over Palestinian land should it feel an impending security threat. "At this point, any semblance of Palestinian sovereignty or geographic unity has been completely torn apart", warned Abed Rabbo.
Settlements, Jerusalem and refugees
He pointed out that there have been numerous discussions about Israel's vast settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank. Rumours suggest that Israel wants to rent out settlement units to settlers in the event that a Palestinian state is established. What this means, he claims, is that the settlements will remain as they are and settlers will continue to live there as Israeli citizens with special status in the Palestinian state.
"According to Israel, Jerusalem is not up for negotiation and will remain under full Israeli control as its undivided capital," he explained. "There is rather mysterious general talk about Palestinians establishing their future capital in Jerusalem but, from Israel's point of view, Jerusalem extends from Ramallah to Bethlehem to the Jordan Valley border. Thus, it could easily be argued that Abu Dis or Kufr Aqab could be named as the future Palestinian capital."
As far as Palestinian refugees are concerned, said the PLO official, there are four possible outcomes, as envisioned by President Clinton; one of them suggests the return of a limited number of refugees, as stated in Israel law.
The Palestinian Authority's position
According to Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian Authority cannot accept any of these potential solutions, especially given that Netanyahu is believed to insist on there being no Arab presence in Jerusalem and rejects outright the refugees' right of return.
"Netanyahu does not want the involvement of any third party, American or non-American, in any of his security arrangements in the Jordan Valley even if it remains under Israeli control. He wants all decisions to be Israeli decisions and judging by our previous attempts in the past, any of our attempts to abide by a plan or time table will be disrupted completely by Israel", he noted. Israel and America claim that the Palestinian people will be able to get territory equivalent to the West Bank's 1967 borders through land swaps. "I do not understand how this is possible with settlement blocs, Israeli security zones and the apartheid wall, which divides the eastern and western regions of the West Bank completely. We are supposed to believe that we can gain territory through land swaps? This is impossible."
The PLO veteran described those Israelis who suggest "people swaps" to accompany land swaps as "racist", pointing out that the organisation would not accept any population exchanges.
"Palestinian Arabs living inside Israel are not settlers," he stressed. "They did come to Israel through an invasion or by migration. They are the owners of that land and no one can uproot them from their homes. Swapping settlers for Israeli-Arabs would mean swapping Israeli citizens for Israeli citizens; how is this possible?" For Abed Rabbo, this shows that the Israeli government does not consider Arabs to be true citizens of the state. "They regard them as second or third class citizens with no rights, which is absolutely racist. They seek to ethnically cleanse that territory more than they want to swap land."
That is the framework under which most ideas were discussed, said Abed Rabbo. "We do not have any official documentation to prove it but the information gets leaked from Israel in one way or another."
Reasons for Israeli refusal
He is not surprised that Israel rejects most proposals for the simple reason that it wants to carve out as much land as possible from the occupied West Bank and maintain absolute control, especially in security zones. This would give Israel the "right" to intervene to protect settlements, which would also mean that it has control of the road networks leading to them.
"We are being confronted with an ultimatum," he added. "We are not standing in front of two different options with various formulas that we can accept or reject. However, any attempt to sweeten the language of these agreements instead of criticising their prejudices will lead us to disaster."
He ruled out any blame being attached to the Palestinians should Kerry's plan fail. "The blame game does not concern us and we do not take it in our political consideration. Who will blame us for wanting to have our country based on 1967 borders, and to have East Jerusalem as our capital, and to have a fair and agreeable resolution for the refugee issue?"
Although John Kerry has "done his best" to make proposals acceptable to both sides, argues Abed Rabbo, it seems that he has read the Israeli position at the beginning and accepted the verbal, generic, vague and ambiguous assurances that Netanyahu usually offers to whoever he meets. "He must have interpreted them in some form and when he looked at the fine print realised that there are two different Israeli positions."
As such, he believes, Netanyahu lured Kerry to discuss the issue of security first and Kerry fell for it, thinking that it will lead to a big breakthrough for the negotiations and will open the way for discussion of other issues. "To his surprise, he discovered that the Israelis want to use security as an excuse to justify their ambitions for expansion," concluded Abed Rabbo. "This explains how and why we have reached the current impasse."