Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
February 19, 2008 - 6:48pm

Essentially, the Sderot residents are a new version of "the victims of peace." Government spokesmen explain that an invasion of the Gaza Strip may strike a fatal blow to Mahmoud Abbas, the partner, because peace negotiations with the West Bank Palestinian leadership cannot take place under the shadow of scenes of hundreds of Palestinian casualties caused by an Israeli invasion of the Strip.

On the other hand, a cease-fire with Hamas will be considered a victory for the group fighting Israel, and would boost its support among Palestinians at the expense of its Fatah rival. If Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is interested in nurturing the Palestinian partner and making it easier for him to reach an agreement, the Israeli citizens bordering the Gaza Strip must be secured, aided and supported. However, according to Olmert himself, and in light of the realities in the territories, the residents of Sderot are victims of a make-believe peace.

If Olmert is telling the truth to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and is not holding secret negotiations on the future of Jerusalem, he is lying to the entire world. The explanation he offered the Israeli journalists who accompanied him to Germany, regarding the delay of dealing with the status of Jerusalem, is an insult to the public's intelligence.

First, as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni noted in a letter to Jerusalem city councillor Nir Barkat, Israel promised at Annapolis that the negotiations will include all core issues "with no exceptions." She also noted that it was agreed that "until everything is agreed upon - nothing is agreed." In other words, even if we agree on all the other issues, including borders and refugees - without an understanding on the issue of Jerusalem, these accords will not even be worth the paper they were drafted on.

Second, without dealing with the question of Jerusalem it is impossible to hold a serious discussion on a two-state solution. Without drafting the borders of Jerusalem there is no way to draw the permanent borders between Israel and Palestine. The prime minister told the reporters that compared to the difficult issue that is Jerusalem, "the question of borders is the simplest of the core issues and there is a broad basis for its resolution."

Really? Olmert would do well to ask Mahmoud Abbas next time they meet if he too considers Har Homa a neighborhood of Jerusalem. He will hear that Jabal Abu Ghneim, the original name of Har Homa, is a settlement that was established on land confiscated from the residents of the town of Beit Sahur, on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

As far as the Palestinians are concerned there is no difference between the settlement of Psagot, on the outskirts of Ramallah, and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, which sits on the road connecting Ramallah to East Jerusalem. In the best-case scenario, the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that are outside the walls are, from the point of view of Palestinians, one of the "settlement blocs" that will be annexed to Israel in an exchange of territory. In the absence of agreement on the borders of the Jerusalem bloc, there is no way to reach agreement on which alternative land the Palestinians will receive or their size.

Third, delaying the negotiations on the future of the Old City of Jerusalem in general and the Temple Mount in particular, narrows the room the sides have to maneuver on other core issues. Olmert's argument that, "If we do not want to reach an impasse immediately it is best to begin negotiations on other things," was introduced more than seven years ago. The decision of then premier Ehud Barak to hold separate talks on each of the core issues is one of the reasons for the failure of Camp David II.

On the basis of the information he had at the time, in exchange for Israeli flexibility on the sensitive issue of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Palestinians were willing to show flexibility on the sensitive issue of the right of return. In the end, the negotiations collapsed because Jerusalem was pushed to the bottom of the list.

Let us assume that the threat posed by Shas over dissolving the government dictates to Olmert the conditions of the negotiations for a final-status settlement, and Abbas will have to postpone his wishes on Jerusalem. What is the prime minister offering his partners in exchange for such a painful concession? How does he intend to bolster Fatah's standing, as the organization is struggling with Hamas for the hearts and minds of the Palestinians?

Olmert says that "it is best to begin with other things." What "things"? How many times is it possible to promise to lift roadblocks, evacuate outposts and release thousands of prisoners? No, the residents of Sderot are not "the victims of peace." They are victims of the same pathetic standstill of a government lacking direction, just looking to survive.


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