Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the formal White House launching of the resumed Middle East peace talks on September 2 were the clearest indication yet of his lack of seriousness. But neither the host, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, nor any of the distinguished guests seemed aware of it. Indeed, they applauded his remarks. What they applauded was Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration, as he faced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, that the success of the resumed negotiations will depend on his own and Abbas’s readiness to make "painful concessions" for the sake of peace.
If these words have any significance, they must mean that Netanyahu is prepared to make Israeli concessions that match Palestinian concessions: i.e., if Palestinians concede to Israel part of their territory east of the 1967 border, Israel would concede to the Palestinians comparable territory on its side of that border.
But everyone present at this festive White House event knew this to be completely untrue. Netanyahu has never offered to concede even one inch of Israeli territory to the Palestinians—not even from Palestinian territories Israel acquired in 1948 during its War of Independence, which the 1947 UN Partition Plan had assigned to Palestine’s Arab population. In fact, no one has ever asked Israel to make any concession to the Palestinians—whether territory, water resources, Jerusalem or sovereignty. In respect to these and the other permanent-status issues, the concessions have all been demanded of the Palestinians. None were asked of Israel. So Netanyahu’s offer of parallel Israeli concessions is a lie. Unless, of course, Netanyahu meant to apply the term "painful concessions" to his willingness to return to Palestinians a part of their own territory, all of which—up to the 1967 border—is universally recognized as being under Israeli occupation, and therefore subject to the Fourth Geneva Convention’s strictures that absolutely forbid the transfer of the occupying power’s population to those territories. If that is what he meant, what Netanyahu was telling Abbas is that Israel expects to be rewarded for returning some of the territory it unlawfully confiscated from the Palestinians by having Palestinians concede their right to the balance of that territory.
By getting the distinguished guests at this event to applaud this offer, Netanyahu can fairly be said to have done for international peace diplomacy what Bernard Madoff did for financial markets.
Ironically, Netanyahu’s Likud Party has popularized a slogan that Palestinians only "take and take" while Israel’s many "concessions" go unacknowledged. It is a lie that has become deeply ingrained in Israel’s national narrative. For Palestinians have made a concession to Israel that is unprecedented: in 1988 the PLO agreed formally to recognize the legitimacy of Israeli sovereignty within the 1967 armistice border, an area that includes fully half the territory that, as indicated above, had been recognized as the legitimate patrimony of Palestinian Arabs in the UN Partition Plan. This reduced the Palestinians’ territory from 43 to 22 percent of Palestine while enlarging Israel’s territory from 56 to 78 percent.