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Even when they gave, they didn't get

 By Shaul Arieli, Ha'aretz


The international pressure dragging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas into direct talks with Israel counterbalances the pressure that produced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan University speech. That's what those exerting the pressure believe. In their view, it's a give-and-take, which, despite being imposed, is necessary to return to the formula whereby if they give, they'll get, and if they don't give, they won't get.

 But the truth is that in the decade since that formula was coined by Netanyahu and internalized by Abbas, its validity has not always been maintained, especially with regard to the question of what Israel is prepared to give and what motivates it to do so.

What was the background to the formula? The Palestinians, in whose name Yasser Arafat promised a peaceful resolution of the conflict, let terror strike Israelis and destroy the trust that was starting to be built.

In return, they got a shattered Palestinian Authority and a renewed Israeli takeover of its territory, in addition to the separation fence and hundreds of roadblocks that made wide areas of the West Bank inaccessible to them. But they also got the evacuation of 21 settlements and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, with no agreement or anything given in return.

At the same time, as part of the give-and-take of the interim agreements, Israel was granted the right to retain all the settlements until a final agreement is reached, but with the commitment not to create new facts on the ground. What did it give in return? An additional 200,000 Israelis in the West Bank, new neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and 100 unauthorized outposts.

Israel's illusion that it would get complete quiet in the Gaza Strip and that the Palestinians would allow it to build on every hill and dale in the West Bank and Jerusalem, in return for a unilateral withdrawal from 6 percent of the territories and the evacuation of 4 percent of the settlers, was proven wrong. Sine then, Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have said no to terror in every forum and initiated reforms to build a state-in-the-making, subject to the agreed-upon road map to peace.

But the recovery of the Palestinian economy, the improvement of security coordination as part of the war on terror and the operation of the new security forces, recognized and praised by officers of the army and the Shin Bet security service, have produced just a partial removal of Israeli roadblocks, and a dirt road to the new Palestinian city planned for the West Bank. All the same, Israel, which was responsible for blockading Gaza, jailing Hamas activists and launching Operation Cast Lead to return Fatah to Gaza and Gilad Shalit to his home, was quick to open the Gaza Strip for the passage of many goods, precisely because of the provocative Turkish flotilla.

In the proximity talks with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, the Palestinians submitted maps and documents clarifying their positions on the final-status issues - borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water and security - based on international resolutions and previously signed agreements.

Netanyahu, in contrast, who recognized the idea of two states for two peoples, still hasn't gone publicly beyond granting a demilitarized Palestinian state in 60 percent of the West Bank that will absorb the refugees. East Jerusalem will not be its capital, and most of its water will be pumped by Israel. Less publicly, Netanyahu, who is so keen to talk directly to the Palestinians, has so far bothered to show his plan only to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who firmly rejected it.

The parties must move to direct talks and conduct the give-and-take solely between them. Netanyahu must stop demanding that he get things from Abbas and give things in return to the Americans, Europeans and Egyptians, or, reluctantly, to Hamas and its ilk. The United States must give Netanyahu and Abbas incentives to give each other the maximum possible and get the minimum necessary to gain the support of their peoples for an agreement.

 Read the article online at Ha'aretz.