Haaretz - The peace that nearly was at Taba

In the current reality of terror attacks and bombing raids, it is hard to remember that Israel and the Palestinians were close to a final-status agreement at Taba only 13 months ago.

By | Feb. 14, 2002 | 12:00 AM

The daily chronicle of exchanges of fire between IDF soldiers and Palestinian fighters, F-16 bombing raids and missile firings, terror attacks and assassinations, has turned negotiations on a final-status agreement into a distant memory. Anyone who reads the European Union's account of the Taba talks, prepared by EU envoy Miguel Moratinos and published here for the first time, will find it hard to believe that only 13 months ago, Israel and the Palestinians were so close to a peace agreement. This document, whose main points have been approved by the Taba negotiators as an accurate description of the discussions, casts additional doubts on the prevailing assumption that [former prime minister] Ehud Barak "exposed [Palestinian Authority Chairman] Yasser Arafat's true face." It is true that on most of the issues discussed during that wintry week of negotiations, sizable gaps remain. Yet almost every line is redolent of the effort to find a compromise that would be acceptable to both sides. It is hard to escape the thought that if the negotiations at Camp David six months earlier had been conducted with equal seriousness, the intifada might never have erupted. And perhaps, if Barak had not waited until the final weeks before the election, and had instead sent his senior representatives to that southern hotel earlier, the violence might never have broken out.

The "Moratinos Document," as it is called by the Taba negotiators, is a summary of the opening stages of negotiations that took place in good faith. The main difference between Taba and Camp David is that in the United States, Israel presented its offers, but the Palestinians merely responded with criticism. At the Egyptian resort of Taba, however, the Palestinian delegation also presented its proposals. Ideas were exchanged and plans and even maps were presented. Based on the progress achieved between Camp David and Taba, it is possible that the next meeting between Barak's and Arafat's envoys, or perhaps the one after that, would have ended in a peace agreement.

The EU's special envoy to the peace process, Miguel Moratinos, and his aides were the only outsiders at the Taba Hotel. Moratinos interviewed the negotiators after every working group session and recorded their reports. During the six months after the Taba talks ended, he sent his document to both sides again and again for their comments. The version published here is the final version accepted by both sides last summer.

But Yossi Beilin, one of Israel's chief negotiators, did not hide his annoyance at the document's leak. He said the dry words do not convey the positive spirit that reigned in the hotel, nor do they accurately present either the understandings reached or the gaps that remain. Beilin pointed out that the document reflects both sides' desire to convince their own publics that they protected their peoples' interests. Moreover, he said, this is a midpoint document: It sums up where things stood at an arbitrary point in time.

Beilin stressed that the Taba talks were not halted because they hit a crisis, but rather because of the Israeli election. At the time, the two sides were discussing arranging a Barak-Arafat meeting in an effort to close the gaps; they had also discussed continuing the talks the day after the election, independent of the outcome. Beilin himself continues to talk with the Palestinians about ways to solve the various issues that remain open. From his perspective, the basis for negotiations was, and remains, the proposals made by former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

Taba, January, 2001

This EU non-paper has been prepared by the EU Special Representative to the Middle East Process, Ambassador Moratinos, and his team after consultations with the Israeli and Palestinian sides, present at Taba in January 2001. Although the paper has no official status, it has been acknowledged by the parties as being a relatively fair description of the outcome of the negotiations on the permanent status issues at Taba. It draws attention to the extensive work which has been undertaken on all permanent status issues like territory, Jerusalem, refugees and security in order to find ways to come to joint positions. At the same time it shows that there are serious gaps and differences between the two sides, which will have to be overcome in future negotiations. From that point of view, the paper reveals the challenging task ahead in terms of policy determination and legal work, but it also shows that both sides have traveled a long way to accommodate the views of the other side and that solutions are possible.

1. Territory

The two sides agreed that in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 242, the June 4 1967 lines would be the basis for the borders between Israel and the state of Palestine.

1.1 West Bank
For the first time both sides presented their own maps over the West Bank. The maps served as a basis for the discussion on territory and settlements. The Israeli side presented two maps, and the Palestinian side engaged on this basis. The Palestinian side presented some illustrative maps detailing its understanding of Israeli interests in the West Bank.

The negotiations tackled the various aspects of territory, which could include some of the settlements and how the needs of each party could be accommodated. The Clinton parameters served as a loose basis for the discussion, but differences of interpretations regarding the scope and meaning of the parameters emerged. The Palestinian side stated that it had accepted the Clinton proposals but with reservations.

The Israeli side stated that the Clinton proposals provide for annexation of settlement blocs. The Palestinian side did not agree that the parameters included blocs, and did not accept proposals to annex blocs. The Palestinian side stated that blocs would cause significant harm to the Palestinian interests and rights, particularly to the Palestinians residing in areas Israel seeks to annex.

The Israeli side maintained that it is entitled to contiguity between and among their settlements. The Palestinian side stated that Palestinian needs take priority over settlements. The Israeli maps included plans for future development of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Palestinian side did not agree to the principle of allowing further development of settlements in the West Bank. Any growth must occur inside Israel.

The Palestinian side maintained that since Israel has needs in Palestinian territory, it is responsible for proposing the necessary border modifications. The Palestinian side reiterated that such proposals must not adversely affect the Palestinian needs and interests.

The Israeli side stated that it did not need to maintain settlements in the Jordan Valley for security purposes, and its proposed maps reflected this position.

The Israeli maps were principally based on a demographic concept of settlements blocs that would incorporate approximately 80 percent on the settlers. The Israeli side sketched a map presenting a 6 percent annexation, the outer limit of the Clinton proposal. The Palestinian illustrative map presented 3.1 percent in the context of a land swap.

Both sides accepted the principle of land swap but the proportionality of the swap remained under discussion. Both sides agreed that Israeli and Palestinian sovereign areas will have respective sovereign contiguity. The Israeli side wished to count "assets" such as Israelis "safe passage/corridor" proposal as being part of the land swap, even though the proposal would not give Palestine sovereignty over these "assets". The Israeli side adhered to a maximum 3 percent land swap as per Clinton proposal.

The Palestinian maps had a similar conceptual point of reference stressing the importance of a non-annexation of any Palestinian villages and the contiguity of the West Bank and Jerusalem. They were predicated on the principle of a land swap that would be equitable in size and value and in areas adjacent to the border with Palestine, and in the same vicinity as the annexed by Israel. The Palestinian side further maintained that land not under Palestinian sovereignty such as the Israeli proposal regarding a "safe passage/corridor" as well as economic interests are not included in the calculation of the swap.

The Palestinian side maintained that the "No-Man's-Land" (Latrun area) is part of the West Bank. The Israelis did not agree.

The Israeli side requested and additional 2 percent of land under a lease arrangement to which the Palestinians responded that the subject of lease can only be discussed after the establishment of a Palestinian state and the transfer of land to Palestinian sovereignty.

1.2 Gaza Strip
Neither side presented any maps over the Gaza Strip. In was implied that the Gaza Strip will be under total Palestinian sovereignty, but details have still to be worked out. All settlements will be evacuated. The Palestinian side claimed it could be arranged in 6 months, a timetable not agreed by the Israeli side.

1.3 Safe passage/corridor from Gaza to the West Bank
Both sides agreed that there is going to be a safe passage from the north of Gaza (Beit Hanun) to the Hebron district, and that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip must be territorially linked. The nature of the regime governing the territorial link and sovereignty over it was not agreed.

2. Jerusalem

2.1 Sovereignty
Both sides accepted in principle the Clinton suggestion of having a Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods and an Israeli sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods. The Palestinian side affirmed that it was ready to discuss Israeli request to have sovereignty over those Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem that were constructed after 1967, but not Jebal Abu Ghneim and Ras al-Amud. The Palestinian side rejected Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the Jerusalem Metropolitan Area, namely of Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Ze'ev.

The Palestinian side understood that Israel was ready to accept Palestinian sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, including part of Jerusalem's Old City. The Israeli side understood that the Palestinians were ready to accept Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and part of the American Quarter.

The Palestinian side understood that the Israeli side accepted to discuss Palestinian property claims in West Jerusalem.

2.2 Open City
Both sides favored the idea of an Open City. The Israeli side suggested the establishment of an open city whose geographical scope encompasses the Old City of Jerusalem plus an area defined as the Holy Basin or Historical Basin.

The Palestinian side was in favor of an open city provided that continuity and contiguity were preserved. The Palestinians rejected the Israeli proposal regarding the geographic scope of an open city and asserted that the open city is only acceptable if its geographical scope encompasses the full municipal borders of both East and West Jerusalem.

The Israeli side raised the idea of establishing a mechanism of daily coordination and different models were suggested for municipal coordination and cooperation (dealing with infrastructure, roads, electricity, sewage, waste removal etc). Such arrangements could be formulated in a future detailed agreement. It proposed a "soft border regime" within Jerusalem between Al-Quds and Yerushalaim that affords them "soft border" privileges. Furthermore the Israeli side proposed a number of special arrangements for Palestinian and Israeli residents of the Open City to guarantee that the Open City arrangement neither adversely affect their daily lives nor compromise each party sovereignty over its section of the Open City.

2.3 Capital for two states
The Israeli side accepted that the City of Jerusalem would be the capital of the two states: Yerushalaim, capital of Israel and Al-Quds, capital of the state of Palestine. The Palestinian side expressed its only concern, namely that East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine.

2.4 Holy/Historical Basin and the Old City
There was an attempt to develop an alternative concept that would relate to the Old City and its surroundings, and the Israeli side put forward several alternative models for discussion, for example, setting up a mechanism for close coordination and cooperation in the Old City. The idea of a special police force regime was discussed but not agreed upon.

The Israeli side expressed its interest and raised its concern regarding the area conceptualized as the Holy Basin (which includes the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives, the City of David and Kivron Valley). The Palestinian side confirmed that it was willing to take into account Israeli interests and concerns provided that these places remain under Palestinian sovereignty. Another option for the Holy Basin, suggested informally by the Israeli side, was to create a special regime or to suggest some form of internationalization for the entire area or a joint regime with special cooperation and coordination. The Palestinian side did not agree to pursue any of these ideas, although the discussion could continue.

2.5 Holy Sites: Western Wall and the Wailing Wall
Both parties have accepted the principle of respective control over each side's respective holy sites (religious control and management). According to this principle, Israel's sovereignty over the Western Wall would be recognized although there remained a dispute regarding the delineation of the area covered by the Western Wall and especially the link to what is referred to in Clinton's ideas as the space sacred to Judaism of which it is part.

The Palestinian side acknowledged that Israel has requested to establish an affiliation to the holy parts of the Western Wall, but maintained that the question of the Wailing Wall and/or Western Wall has not been resolved. It maintained the importance of distinguishing between the Western Wall and the Wailing Wall segment thereof, recognized in the Islamic faith as the Buraq Wall.

2.6 Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount
Both sides agreed that the question of Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount has not been resolved. However, both sides were close to accepting Clinton's ideas regarding Palestinian sovereignty over Haram al-Sharif notwithstanding Palestinian and Israeli reservations.

Both sides noted progress on practical arrangements regarding evacuations, building and public order in the area of the compound. An informal suggestion was raised that for an agreed period such as three years, Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount would be under international sovereignty of the P5 plus Morocco (or other Islamic presence), whereby the Palestinians would be the "Guardian/Custodians" during this period. At the end of this period, either the parties would agree on a new solution or agree to extend the existing arrangement. In the absence of an agreement, the parties would return to implement the Clinton formulation. Neither party accepted or rejected the suggestion.