Israeli officials, for their part, expressed satisfaction that Mr. Obama was letting up the pressure on settlements. “The administration recognizes that Israel has made major concessions in the absence of any substantive concessions on the part of the Arabs,” said Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
I take exception to Mr. Oren's explanation. I think the Israel lobby has been a little more instrumental in the decision than any analysis by Obama's administration on the relative merits of both parties' cases.
But his contention does merit some inspection. Are Israel's concessions major? Do Palestinian ones lack any substance? While Hasbara peddlers have made of such claims a cornerstone of their apologizing, the reality is exactly the opposite: the Palestinian concessions have been extensive, while Israel has hardly conceded anything.
But what about the Lebanon withdrawal? What about the Gaza disengagement? What about authority in area A of the West Bank?
See, those were not concessions. Concessions are when you do things that are not in your interest to please the party you're negotiating with. But:
- Israel withdrew from Lebanon because it was losing too many soldiers;
- Israel evacuated Gaza (not disengaged from it; more on this momentarily) because it imposed a heavy burden on its budget, while not being a piece of land it wanted to retain;
- Israel gave the Palestinians full control over less than 18% of the West Bank (the large cities and towns) so that it wouldn't have to pay for the education, health and other services provided to the Arab population concentrated there.
Note that any true concession would have required a relinquishing of the power Israel exerts over those territories, as well as of the advantages of its domination. In the notable case of Gaza, Israel did not "disengage" from its role as collector of customs duties, a major source of revenue for the Strip's government. In fact, Israel has used such role as a major punishing weapon, by withholding for months on end the transfer of customs duties in the order of the hundreds of millions of dollars. Israel's apologists have the chutzpah to claim that Gazans didn't take the opportunity to build their nation, when they were denied the most basic power a government needs to function: the power to collect its taxes. (In a telling example of how reality can be twisted by propaganda, Zionists sometimes even claim, in some cases actually believing it, that those transfers are money Israel is donating to Gaza; a recent Ynet story was titled "Israel's financial aid to Gaza unnecessary?").
But what have the Palestinian concessions been?
Our previous example also applies here. By accepting that its customs duties be collected by Israel, the Palestinians surrendered a major freedom and even gave Israel the power to meddle in Palestinian internal affairs through the inequitable distribution of the funds. See:
Israel transferred millions of dollars worth of tax funds to the new Palestinian government, allowing it to pay its workers in full for the first time in a year _ while skipping the ones who work for the Islamic Hamas in Gaza.
Also, the Palestinians acknowledged, under interim agreements, Israel's sovereignty over the West Bank while it is not transferred back to the Palestinian Authority. Thus, Israel enjoys not only the practical but also the juridical right to do as it pleases in the West Bank, with the sole restrictions imposed by the Road Map and other documents that are not as definitive and binding as a bilateral agreement.
With regard to violence, while Gaza continues to cause trouble, the Palestinian authority in the West Bank has cracked down on militants, largely through its American-trained police body. Next to no terror attacks have been inflicted on Israel from the West Bank lately. This, at a time when fundamentalist Jews have been stealing land like crazy to build outposts, when building in existing settlements has been stepped up dramatically, and when a new settlement is even being constructed from scratch in Maskiot, far removed from the Green Line.
But the Palestinians' most important concession is in, potentially, the most critical point of dispute between both sides: water rights. Water is the single most valuable natural resource Israel extracts from the West Bank. And the Palestinians signed with Israel what is probably the most generous agreement between water-thirsty parties in the world -- so much so that the World Bank has called for a renegotiation that will be less unfair to the Palestinians:
The water-supply regime used by Israel and the Palestinians must be changed, according to a World Bank report that is to be published today.
The report notes that an average Israeli gets four times as much water as the average Palestinian, and warns that the Palestinian Authority water system is "nearing catastrophe."
It concludes by recommending that the current water-distribution arrangement, mandated as part of the Oslo II accords, be changed to improve the Palestinian system.
So that contrary to Ambassador Oren's unsupported assertions, the Palestinians have made really big concessions in exchange for, in essence, nothing. They are already delivering peace in the West Bank before the "land" part of the "land for peace" equation is even begun to be negotiated. Israel enjoys the right to disproportionately use the West Bank aquifers without a single illegal settler having been removed from an outpost.
If and when an Israeli government truly committed to peace arises (admittedly, an unlikely development for the time being) it will acknowledge these Palestinian goodwill gestures and try and build on them, instead of denying them.