"You'll never get an offer that is more fair or more just. don't hesitate. this is hard for me too, but we don't have an option of not resolving [the conflict]." Ehud OlmertNegotiations between reasonable individuals will bear fruit when there are no assumptions, but there are earnest attempts to bridge the gap of expectations. Some give, some take. At the top of the agenda must be the determination to be as thoughtful and as open to recommendations from each side as possible, to balance the needs of each and arrive at workable solutions.
Good will is an overused term, but it cannot be overstressed. Coming into a negotiating session with the pretense of co-operation but the intention of balking at potential solutions spells failure. Just as much as arrogance and entitlement.
When, after prolonged periods of negotiation between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the helpful interventions of the United States and other stake-holders in the Middle East, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for what was to be a final negotiating meeting between the two principals, there were high hopes for success.
Despite which, there was no agreement to be finalized into a workable peace plan. And in the final analysis, that was the case for the very same reason that Yasser Arafat, a far more malicious and corrupt figure than his successor, cited when he finally turned down the offer that President Bill Clinton brokered between Ehud Barak and Arafat; that were he to accept that agreement as preferential as it was to the Palestinians, he would be signing his own death warrant.
As with the Middle East Peace Summit at Camp David in 2000 to negotiate and conclude successfully a "final status settlement" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so likewise with the
U.S.- and Egypt-brokered plan on the verge of a peace deal eight years later. Long gone from office, former prime minister Ehud Olmert had hinted years ago how puzzled he had been by failure, when he felt success was close enough to touch.
"I began by presenting the principles of the arrangement that I was proposing", Mr. Olmert later wrote in his soon-to-be-published memoirs, excerpted in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. "After I finished, Abu Mazen [Mr. Abbas] sighed deeply, and asked to see the map that I had prepared. I spread it out. He looked at it, and I looked at him. He was silent."
What the map made clear to Mr. Abbas was a possible way out of the dilemma posed to each side by the presence of the problematical and long-standing West Bank settlements housing tens of thousands of Israelis. Major settlement blocs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, according to the proposal, would be left in Israel's hands. In exchange the Palestinians would receive land upon which majority Palestinians lived.
It represented an equal exchange of land, but with each side logically receiving land that their own lived upon. For the Palestinians it was land incorporated into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with a narrow corridor of approach from one to the other. Jerusalem would be partitioned between its Jewish and its Arab neighbourhoods, and this would allow for each nation to install their capitals within their portions of the city.
The contested holy site location - where the holiest site in Judaism exists, with the third-holiest site in Islam sitting directly over it, would be administered by an international, special-purpose committee comprised of representatives from both parties, including as well the United States, Jordan and Saudi Arabia; a fully-inclusive governing body.
"Never before had any Israeli prime minister presented such a crystallized and detailed position about resolving the conflict as was presented to him on that day", wrote Mr. Olmert. "For the first time since the negotiations began, I was very tense. For the first time since I had become prime minister, I truly felt the weight of Jewish history on my shoulders, and despite the fact that I was confident that I was doing the right thing, the negotiations were very heavy."
So "heavy", in fact, that they collapsed. In intense negotiations that had preceded this meeting that been ongoing for eight months, none of the offers proved acceptable to Israel by the Palestinians who had themselves offered major concessions. The Palestinians had offered to surrender claims to large parts of East Jerusalem, gave up demands for refugee return, agreed they would share Jerusalem and its holy sites.
And it was the Israelis who adamantly pressed for more concessions. At this meeting Mr. Olmert had the indelible impression that the sides had finally moved together, that each was meaningfully responding to the other, affirmatively. "Take the pen and sign now", he urged Mr. Abbas. "Give me a few days", Mr. Abbas responded. "I don't know my way around maps. I propose that tomorrow we meet with two map experts, one from your side and one from our side. If they tell me that everything is all right, we can sign."
The following day Palestinian negotiators called to say Mr. Abbas had forgotten he had a previous appointment in Jordan. The Palestinian Authority/Israeli meeting would have to be postponed. And that was the day, as it happened, that Mr. Olmert was replaced as leader of his governing party.
"I haven't met with Abu Mazen since then", wrote Mr. Olmert.