In a recent rejection of the idea of land swaps as part of a two-state solution, Dore Gold (fmr Israeli Amb. to the US) posed the following question:
Just because an idea was discussed in the past, does that make it part of the diplomatic agenda in the future, even if the idea was never part of any legally binding, signed agreements?
The question tells us a lot. Whether in terms of Israeli-Palestinian issues or Israeli-Syrian ones, the current Netanyahu government has resolutely refused to pick up where past Israeli governments left off. (As Sharon declined to do in 2001 just after the Taba talks, so Netanyahu has not done in the aftermath of Olmert and Annapolis of 2008.)
This refusal to pick up where talks left off should come as no surprise because to do so would lead the current Government of Israel (GOI) to adopt positions that it does not support. The GOI would rather squander past progress not out of spite but because it does not view those past talks as progress. It is not squandering anything but rather discarding ill-conceived concessions. So while Gold’s question embodies his view of land swaps, it also embodies the view of many other ideas, such as the idea of Palestinian sovereignty in Arab areas of East Jerusalem.
Moreover, Gold’s claim that swaps are not based on “any legally binding, signed agreements” is correct, but it is an argument of convenience. It implies that signed agreements would need to be accepted, something the Likud failed to do in the 1990s under Netanyahu. Yes, Netanyahu did eventually sign the Hebron protocol (1997) and Wye agreement (1998), but those were efforts to renegotiate what had already been agreed to by the Rabin government in Oslo I and II (1993, 1995).
Ideas that do not come to fruition can make a comeback; Gold’s protestations cannot prevent that somewhere in the future (though Israeli settlement expansion might make many of these compromise ideas moot). Oslo I, the Declaration of Principles, was itself based on past ideas for resolving Israeli-Palestinian matters that had not been implemented. Some Oslo ideas were drawn from the Framework for Middle East Peace in the Camp David Accords (1978).
Had Abbas and Olmert signed an agreement in 2008 that a final resolution would be based on land swaps, I would argue that the current GOI would nonetheless reject the idea because they think it is a bad idea. Here’s the real point of Gold’s query: Just because a previous Israeli government was willing to make a concession to the Arabs, it doesn’t mean the current government is willing (or even thinks it would ever be a good idea), signed document or no signed document.