Herzog-Abbas Accord Distorted by Press

Categories: Israel, Letters From Leadership
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It’s just been revealed that Labor Party stalwart Efraim Sneh represented Yitzhak Herzog in arriving at a framework agreement with an unnamed representative of PA Pres. Mahmoud Abbas, on the eve of the most recent Israeli election, March 2015.  Here’s the misleading Times of Israel headline on an otherwise astounding disclosure:”Herzog agreed to ’67 lines in talks with Abbas, report says.”

Here are the reported outlines, including the distortion, as I indicate in brackets:

. . .  According to the … document setting out the understandings, Herzog was willing to withdraw to the 1967 lines in full, with the exception of mutual land swaps on four percent of the territory. Land swaps would be negotiated so that Israel could retain control of its largest settlement blocs. [In other words, it was not a withdrawal “to the 1967 lines in full.”]

The final-status equation for Jerusalem would have seen the east of the city become the capital of a Palestinian state, with a single municipality responsible for the two capitals.

The Temple Mount — the site on which the two ancient Jewish temples once stood and where the Islamic holy sites of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock now stand — was supposed to be under the authority of a multinational force, but with Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall, the report said.

The Palestinian refugee issue was to be settled based on UN Resolution 194 and the Arab Peace Initiative, according to the report, with financial compensation for the majority of refugees and a “symbolic” return for some based on a “joint decision.  . . .

This resembles the Geneva Accord/Initiative — a reasonable and noble effort at defining a workable compromise.  However, Herzog never won the election to make anything like this possible.  Naturally, for the rightwing Jewish Press, this would mean “the end of Israel as we know it.”

If Herzog reached this basic framework with Abbas on a final peace agreement, why didn’t he announce it during the election campaign?  If he had made this the corner of a peace-oriented campaign it would have posed a bold choice for Israel.  I know that most Israelis are reluctant to trust the Palestinians because of the Intifada, Hamas and everything else, but at the same time, most still profess support for a two-state solution.

Gershon Baskin addressed exactly this question in his interview on Israel’s TV Channel 10 (click here for a report in Hebrew).  According to Baskin, the parties started their discussions prior to the decision to go to elections and continued during the campaign.  When the agreement was reached, Abbas wanted to make it public, but Herzog refused.  Herzog explained that his campaign managers and PR advisors anticipated a negative effect on his electability.

His campaign advisors had a point; one can easily imagine that Netanyahu and the Right would have presented this agreement to the electorate as a total capitulation, akin to how it’s being framed in news stories today.  Still, since it’s exactly this kind of compromise agreement that’s needed for peace — this would have shown that it’s achievable with Abbas, only if Herzog were prime minister — this appears to have been a very significant error.

In the meantime, underscoring the problem of Netanyahu having triumphed over Herzog last year, his government continues to strengthen and expand settlements, with new funding in the news, without considering what this means for any prospect for peace or what it does to Israel’s standing in the world.

About Ralph Seliger

A veteran editor, freelance writer and blogger, I edited the print magazine, "Israel Horizons," from 2003 until 2011; and I've blogged for and edited the Meretz USA and now Partners for Progressive Israel Blog since its inception in 2006 (although I no longer edit the PPI Blog). I've been an active supporter of the Zionist peace camp since 1982. Other print and online platforms where I've been published include: The Forward, The Daily Beast, History News Network, Tikkun, In These Times, Jewish Week, New Jersey Jewish News, Jewish Currents, Huffington Post, and Dissent.
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