In a Conversation with Israel and Palestine, MK Benny Begin (Likud) stated that we recognize that no deal with the Palestinian Authority is possible.
Departing from Naomi Chazan’s optimism of and the Avrum Burg’s idealism, Begin argued not only that no peace agreement is on the horizon, but furthermore, Begin fundamentally believes that a peace agreement is impossible to achieve. To support his argument, he quoted MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List) who said that “The maximum proposed by Olmert did not approach the minimum that Abu Mazen needed in order to reach an agreement.” No Israeli Government, Begin said, even one headed by MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) or Issac Herzog (Zionist Camp) will agree to the Palestinian right of return, and no Palestinian leadership can give up on the right of return.
Time and again, Begin referenced the “almost reached” agreement between Olmert and Abbas, and the latter’s assertion that he had to reject the offer because “the gaps were too wide.” No matter how far-reaching were Olmert’s concessions, they were still unacceptable to the Palestinian Authority.
Begin see the Palestinian Right of Return as the crux of the gap. Whilst Israeli governments have been willing to let in a token amount of refugees and their descendants as part of a completed agreement, the PLO and PA have never budged on this issue, and neither have they given a concrete number of Palestinians who would be allowed to return. Ultimately, their political goals remain maximalist, and this prevents any agreement from reaching fruition.
Begin stopped shy of putting the blame for the collapse of Peace Talks entirely on Palestinian shoulders. However he did challenge the listeners and politicians in Israel to demand from the PLO and PA a specific number of Palestinians allowed to return to Israel, stating that he’d be surprised if they answered, but would look forward to seeing the nature of the demand should it come.
When asked about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lack of sincerity in pursuing talks with Abbas, Begin responded that Abbas’ strategy of internationalizing the Palestinian issue instead of contacting Bibi was proof of the unwillingness of the Palestinians to compromise, stating that he thinks Abbas hopes for the UN to “hand him a state on a platter,” and therefore bypass negotiations altogether. Begin thinks the success of this strategy unlikely.
The only alternative to negotiations, according to Begin is a unilateral withdrawal. However, Begin thinks Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza has been proven disastrous. The results will prevent Israel from ever trying unilateral withdrawal again.
Ultimately, he concluded that as bad as the situation currently is, with all its misery, difficulties, and dangers for both peoples, it is a lot better than it could have been, and it can always get a great deal worse. Yet, he offered no concrete alternatives to building a better future.