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memri
February 7, 2001 No.
184

Palestinian Reports on the Taba Negotiations

In a press conference held by the heads of the Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Taba, the Head of the Israeli Team, Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami declared, "We have never been closer to an agreement." However, Abu Alaa', head of the Palestinian team, stated, "Now that the ambiguity has been removed there has never before been a clearer gap in the positions of the two sides."[1]

According to Palestinian negotiating team member, Saeb Ereqat, the Taba negotiations "Emphasized the size of the gap between the positions of the two sides and the depth of the disagreements... primarily on the subjects of Jerusalem and the refugees."[2]

In the last few days, details of the negotiations have been leaked to the Palestinian media:

The Refugee Issue

The Palestinians continue to demand that Israel recognize the refugees' Right of Return. According to Abu Alaa', a solution to the Refugee Problem must be implemented in the following order: 1. Israel should recognize its political, legal and moral responsibility for the tragedy of the refugees; 2. Israel should recognize the refugees' Right of Return; 3. negotiations should be held about the mechanism for the return of the refugees; and 4. negotiations should be held about compensation for the refugees.[3]

Nabil Sha'ath, who led the negotiations on the refugee issue with Israeli Justice Minister, Yossi Beilin, denied reports in the Israeli media: "The Palestinian side did not discuss the Israeli proposal to hand out questionnaires to the refugees in which they would be given the opportunity to choose between return and compensation. The Israelis can say whatever they want, but the starting point of all of our discussions is the refugees' absolute and sacred Right of Return. We know that if the matter was left in their hands, they would prefer that no Palestinian return to his homeland."

Is it conceivable that we would agree to a questionnaire or a poll about the refugees' legitimate right, which is recognized by the UN and the international community? There is a clear resolution about the Right of Return and the right to compensations for all of the refugees. Can a citizen be questioned about his right to his homeland?!"

"What we are currently discussing is the Right of Return and the mechanism of its implementation."[4]

Sha'ath said that the progress that was made relates to compensation, in which "the Israeli side displays more readiness."[5]

Sha'ath added that "Everything reported in the Israeli media about an Israeli agreement to the return of 150,000 refugees is incorrect. Unfortunately, the Israeli side proposed only a few hundred, just as it did at Camp David." The Palestinians, on the other hand, are not willing to discuss at all [any] number of refugees that will be allowed to return. "So far, no new numbers have been presented to us," Sha'ath explained, "but we, in any case, are not negotiating [any]number [of refugees who will return] because this would mean that we are conceding the Right of Return [for all of the refugees]."[6]

Abu Alaa' added, "The disagreement on the refugee issue is great and deep rooted. There is an immense gap between someone who demands the Right of Return and its implementation in accordance with UN Resolution 194, and someone who denies this right... This story has one single headline and all the rest are just subheadings. The headline is the Right of Return... The Israelis must recognize their political, legal and moral responsibility for the tragedy of the refugees. They must recognize the refugees' right to return, and when this recognition takes place, there will be many details to discuss, such as the mechanism and programs for [the implementation of] the Return, and then the refugees' right to receive compensations... The Israeli side rejected this matter completely... stating that they see the reutrn as the destruction of Israel. As far as we are concerned, however, we hold firmly to our position."[7]

The Territorial Issue

For the first time, the Palestinian side presented a map in which Israel annexes 2% of the territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in exchange for territory "within the Green Line which is equal in size and quality," reported a source in the Palestinian delegation. The territory that the Palestinians agree that Israel would annex is based on the actual size of the [Israeli] settlement-blocs, and does not include the annexation of territories adjacent to the settlements for security reasons. In addition, the annexation "must not harm the Palestinian centers of population, Palestinian geographical contguity or water sources."[8] Thus, as Nabil Sha'ath reported, the Palestinians demanded the removal of the by-pass roads that connect the three [Israeli] settlement-blocs.[9]

The Israeli side, according to the Palestinians, "proposed that the Palestinians get 92% of the West Bank territory occupied by Israel in 1967, and in exchange for the annexation of the rest, the Palestinians will receive Israeli territories equal to 3% of the West Bank territory which Israel occupied in 1967." Israel also proposed that the Palestinians will get the entire Gaza Strip and that the Jewish settlements built there since 1967 be evacuated. Likewise, Israel proposed that the withdrawal will take place over three years, but this was rejected by the Palestinians.

The Palestinians contradict Israeli PM Ehud Barak's statement that the Palestinians agreed to the principle of [Israeli] settlement-blocs and that the remaining disagreement was only about their size. Abu Alaa' said, "If these statements are part of Barak's election campaign, the Israelis can say whatever they want, but it is not correct. We agreed in Camp David to land swaps equal in size and quality, but we did not recognize [the principle of [Israeli] settlement-blocs]...

We refused to accept the Clinton initiative as a basis for the negotiations. The Israelis said that Clinton's proposal should be the basis, but we rejected it. Therefore, when Clinton said that 80% of the settlers should be absorbed [in the settlement blocs], we asked: according to what criterion?! According to what logic? These criteria have no meaning for us and therefore we do not see them as a basis [for negotiations]. As far as we are concerned, the International Legitimacy [i.e. UN resolutions] are the basis for negotiations."[10]

The Palestinians are opposed to Ma'aleh Edumim and Pisgat Ze'ev becoming a settlement-bloc under Israeli sovereignty and demand the evacuation of these two settlements. The Palestinians also demanded to stop the building at Har Homa, claiming that "this settlement damages Palestinian territorial contiguity."[11]

Sources in the Palestinian delegation reported that the Palestinian side completely rejected the idea of leasing Palestinian territories by Israel.[12] These sources added that Israel... expressed its readiness to evacuate additional large settlements which in the past were an Israeli redline, like Beit El and Ofra."[13]

Security

Sources in the Palestinian delegation reported that the Israelis once again demand five early warning stations in the West Bank, after having conceded them in the past. According to these sources, the Israelis also now demand that Israeli military flights be allowed in Palestinian air space, as well as the deployment of the Israeli army in Palestinian territories in the case of an emergency. The Palestinians rejected the term "in the case of an emergency" and one official Palestinian source said on this issue: "The Israelis have a hard time freeing themselves of the occupation mentality. We cannot agree to security arrangements that impair the sovereignty of the Palestinian state."[14]

Member of the Palestinian delegation, Saeb Ereqat said, "After the Israelis said that the Jordan Valley will be under Palestinian sovereignty, they demanded the presence of [Israeli] forces under international supervision there. Every time they give us something, they try to take it back in another way."[15]

Jerusalem

Israel demanded the establishment of a "special regime" in the "holy basin" in Jerusalem and asked that there be a discussion about everyday life arrangements and only then determine sovereignty. The Palestinians rejected this and demanded, first of all, that Palestinian sovereignty over all of East Jerusalem be established. Abu Alaa' said that, as far as he is concerned, the issue of the "holy basin" is a novelty and the Palestinians reject the Israeli proposal, because it concerns areas which are under Palestinian sovereignty.[16]

The Purpose of the Joint Statement Ending Taba

Since there was no closing of the gap between the two sides on the essential issues, why the joint statement?

According to Palestinian sources, the goal, for both sides, had more to do with PR than substance: "Barak will profit from this by being able to turn to his supporters as the one who made every effort up to the last minute, to reach an agreement. He will also be able to turn to his opposition and say that he carried out negotiations until the last minute, without conceding anything.

As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the sources added, the profit in the positive language in the statement is twofold:

First of all, no one will blame them for the failure of the negotiations.[17] It should be noted in this regard, that Palestinian negotiator, Muhammad Dahlan¸ who at first described the results of the Taba negotiations as "Bullshit" ["Kharta Barta"], denied ever saying that after he was widely quoted in the Israeli press.

Secondly, the joint statement will obligate Ariel Sharon, if he wins the elections, and will limit his ability to foil the negotiations. If he does so he will be internationally isolated."[18]

Abu Alaa' said in the press conference that the Taba negotiations will obligate any future Israeli government. If Sharon ignores them, Abu Alaa' added, the PLO will return to its political and diplomatic struggle, as well as to struggle "using all means."[19]


[1] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 28, 2001.

[2] Al-Quds (PA), January 28, 2001.

[3] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 29, 2001.

[4] Al-Quds (PA), January 26, 2001.

[5] Al-Quds (PA), January 26, 2001.

[6] Al-Quds (PA), January 26, 2001.

[7] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 29, 2001.

[8] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 26, 2001.

[9] Al-Quds (PA), January 26, 2001.

[10] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 29, 2001.

[11] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 26, 2001.

[12] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 26, 2001.

[13] Al-Hayat (London-Beirut), January 27, 2001.

[14] Al-Hayat (London-Beirut), January 27, 2001.

[15] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 26, 2001.

[16] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 29, 2001.

[17] Al-Hayat (London-Beirut), January 28, 2001.

[18] Al-Hayat (London-Beirut), January 28, 2001.

[19] Israeli TV Channel II, January 29, 2001.