The greatest success of the Arab States against Israel (there aren't many) has been to change the terms of reference. In 1947, the Arabs unanimously rejected the UN Partition Plan for Palestine and in 1948 attacked Israel, Goliath against David. Through 1956, 1967, and 1973 Israel was understood to be on the receiving end of the enormous wealth, fury and rejection of the Arab States -- hence the name, "Arab-Israel conflict." But with the exercise of the Arab oil weapon international priorities were transformed, the first priority being not to irritate Saudi Arabia. The Arab States let themselves off the hook, passing the onus of rejectionist thuggery on to Israel, the Goliathite aggressor against the Davidish Palestinians. Now there is the "Palestinian-Israeli conflict," reflecting the preference of the Arab States and priorities of Washington.
To read the Washington newspapers this week, which are representative, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are meeting under the auspices of the American government to make Palestine. The Palestinians and Secretary of State John Kerry allowed it to be known that the Israelis were asked/pushed/threatened to provide a prisoner release, a settlement freeze, and a commitment to begin negotiations on the 1949 Armistice Line (the so-called 1967 border). The Palestinians were asked to provide... well, nothing, actually because that's not the issue.
The Washington Post subhead on page one read, "Jewish Settlements Pose Major Test." It could equally have read, "Palestinian Veneration of Terrorists Dalal Mugrahi, Wafa Idriss, Um Nadal and Ahlam al Tamimi Poses Major Test." Or "Fatah's Lack of Authority to Negotiate on behalf of Hamas or Gaza Poses Major Test." Or "Abbas's Announcement that No Jews will be Allowed in Palestine Poses Major Test."
Its competitor, The Washington Times, listed five substantive issues for discussion:
The final borders of an independent Palestinian State.
Security guarantees for Israel and the composition of a future Palestinian security force.
The status of Jerusalem, which each side claims.
The limits of the "right of return" for Palestinians who left following the formation of Israel in 1948 and their families.
The future of Jewish settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians.
The image emerges of Palestinians who need to claim their state and their rights from Israel. Israel, it appears, has no corresponding claims on the Palestinians. But each Washington Times issue should be turned the other way around to protect Israel's claims:
Israel is entitled to the "secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force" that are the promise of UN Resolution 242. That obligation accrues to the Arab States that made war against Israel in 1967 and Israel is entitled to have them end it.
Israel is entitled to an end to the Palestinian and Arab state of war against it. An agreement that leaves Israel in need of outside "guarantees" indicates that the U.S. believes Israel should plan to be no more secure, and may in fact be less secure, than it is now.
Israel is entitled to protection of Jewish rights in Jerusalem. Having accepted the 1947 UN decision to make Jerusalem corpus separatum, Israel lost access to the Holy City and lost much of Jewish patrimony there to the illegal Jordanian occupation.
Israel is entitled to redress for more than 800,000 Jews, some of whose families had resided in Arab countries for a millennium, who were made refugees in the mid-20th Century by the Arab States.
Israel is entitled to the legitimation of its sovereignty. Official Palestinian maps, and textbooks in PA schools, indicate that Tel Aviv, Netanya and Ashkelon are all Jewish "settlements."
The special American envoy to the talks, Martin Indyk, is a purveyor of the theme that Israel is required to "fix" the Palestinian problem. In an IDF radio interview more than a year ago, Indyk said, "I think that the heart of the matter is that the maximum concession that this government of Israel would be prepared to make, fall far short of the minimum requirements that Abu Mazen will insist on."
The "heart of the matter" is that Israel can't give enough to make the Palestinians happy. What are the Palestinians offering to make Israel happy? Where is the Palestinian "concession" to Israel's legitimacy, security and peace? What if the Palestinian offer falls "far short of the minimum requirements" that the Government of Israel will insist upon? It doesn't appear to have crossed his mind.
Former diplomat and envoy to many, many "peace talks," Aaron David Miller, wrote recently about clues to watch for during the talks and favors written texts, outlines and maps. "Maps, perhaps more than any other single element... are a critical sign of seriousness or lack of seriousness. If we're talking borders, then maps, particularly those presented by Israel, will become an early test of whether this is serious."
He is almost right.
Maps presented by Israel, however, are already a fairly well known quantity. They will look more or less, give or take, like the outline of the West Bank (and Gaza under some future circumstance) with the "major settlement blocs" ending up inside Israel. The better question -- and the better test of seriousness -- is whether the Palestinians come with a map and where they place the sovereign State of Israel on that map.
Without sharper focus on Israel's rights and requirements as well as Palestinian interests and goals the process deserves to fail.