Steve Rosen, the one-time hawkish AIPAC higher-up, helpfully lays out what precisely is in the way of final-status negotiations between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell’s task in the coming weeks is to reconcile Netanyahu to Abbas’s pre-assumptions (“terms of reference,” in diplomatese). These are what Abbas is demanding, followed by how likely he is to get them:
• The literal 1967 boundary must be considered “sacrosanct.” Most Israelis presume that although the spirit of the ’67 Green Line should guide thinking, various land swaps, reflecting updated facts on the ground, will dictate the actual borders.
• East Jerusalem must be Palestinian. This issue is perhaps the most pivotal. Netanyahu, Rosen says, “has accepted that the Palestinians will bring their claims for Jerusalem to the table, but he is not going to make this or any other concession just to bring Abbas to negotiate.”
• There must be a two-year deadline for a final settlement. Again, Netanyahu is unlikely to agree to any guarantees.
• Reparations, and potentially repatriation, must be offered to Palestinian “refugees”: the “right-of-return” issue. Netanyahu’s room to make concessions here is limited by the simple fact that admitting an Israeli obligation in the wrong manner could delegitimize Israel itself.
• The Arab Piece Initiative, famously launched by Saudi Arabia in a 2002 Thomas Friedman column, must be the negotiating blueprint. Netanyahu has agreed to list it as a reference.
• Interim agreements must be minimized—the goal should be final resolutions. Israel tends to find interim agreements more agreeable to itself.
(Unmentioned: Hamas’s rule over the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million Palestinian residents. But that is a horse of a totally different color.)
The main drama now is where the two sides will bend and where they will not. If enough bending is done—if, for example, Netanyahu agrees that East Jerusalem is on the table, or even extends the West Bank construction freeze to there as well; if Abbas tampers down right-of-return expectations—then we could very well see substantive, even promising talks. If not enough bending is done … well, you already know what that looks like.