At an annual memorial ceremony to honour the memory of Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered some thirteen years ago, by someone who ‘Haaretz’ describes as an “ultranationalist Jew”, the outgoing Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said, that Israel “….must also give up Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem and return to the seed of the territory that was the State of Israel up until 1967, with obligatory amendments as a result of the reality created in the meantime.”(1) Moreover, with the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh apparently ready to offer Israel a long term truce in exchange for a Palestinian state that follows the 1967 borders,(2) there would appear to be good reason for optimism.
Nevertheless, a number of things suggest that this optimism might be misplaced. Firstly, what does Olmert mean when he talks about “obligatory amendments”? Is this another example of Israeli newspeak? Secondly, do Hamas have the right to speak for the millions of Palestinians in the diaspora? the UN General Assembly Resolution 194 from 1948 is quite categorical, regarding their right of return. Now, while political realities might require a very real compromise here, can Hamas decide on the extent of that compromise without very real consultations with the Palestinians in the Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere? Or does Hamas conveniently want to follow in the footsteps of Fatah in the name of political expediency? Of course, it should be pointed out that Hamas is not saying that it will recognize Israel or, indeed, make peace with it. The establishment of a state along the 1967 lines “at this time” along with a long term peace treaty is what they are willing to offer. However, even if Israel were to agree to a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, it would require a peace treaty and recognition of the Jewish state. Of course, it is all very hypothetical because finally, Olmert can be “generous”, even if his “generous offer” is tempered by “obligatory amendments”. Olmert is leaving office and he won’t be doing any of the “negotiating” and when it does get down to the “nitty gritty” we will indeed see the real meaning of those “obligatory amendments” that Olmert mentioned yesterday, while the “reality created in the meantime” is something Palestinians are already all too aware of. The evidence would appear to suggest that hopes and expectations that Olmert’s speech and Ismail Haniyeh’s offer have engendered are bound to be disappointed.