One of the most widespread misconceptions about Israeli-Palestinian talks is that "everyone knows what a deal looks like," and all that's needed is for the parties to sit down and sign it.
As The New York Times put it in an editorial last month, "the issue is less how peace would look than whether leaders ... have the political courage to make decisions and move forward. The broad outlines of a deal ... have been apparent since President Clinton's 2000 push."
The assumption behind such assessments is that the details are unimportant and easily resolved. Yet, in this case, it turns out that the details are the core issues -- and the disputes over these "details" reveal that, in fact, nothing has been agreed at all.
At Taba back in the year 2000, the parties agreed to "adjustments" of the 1967 border "to meet Israel's demographic needs," a division of Jerusalem to make it the capital of both states, and a "balanced solution" for the refugees, with the Palestinians "prepared to show sensitivity" on this issue. That indeed looks likes progress -- until you examine the details.
It turns out that while the Palestinians agreed to territorial exchanges in principle, they refused to concede any specific territory that Israel wanted. They objected to Israel keeping the settlement blocs -- one of Israel's main reasons for wanting territorial exchanges. They refused to let Israel keep Latrun, which dominates the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway -- a crucial issue for Israel, since gunfire from Latrun can and, pre-1967, often did shut down the entire highway. And they insisted that the "safe passage" connecting the Gaza Strip to the West Bank be under Palestinian sovereignty, thereby effectively severing Israel in two (Israel proposed Israeli sovereignty but Palestinian control).
The same was true of agreement on "sharing" Jerusalem. In particular, on the Temple Mount, Israel wanted either "ambiguous" or shared sovereignty, and some form of joint administration; the Palestinians insisted that the mount be entirely theirs, with Israel having no rights whatsoever in Judaism's holiest site.
As for the refugees, it turns out that Palestinian "sensitivity" did not include forfeiting "the right of return" -- a clear Israeli red line; they demanded recognition of the so-called "right" of all refugees and their descendants to relocate to Israel.
Nor was there any agreement on perhaps the most essential issue of all: Palestinian recognition of the Jewish people's right to a state in this land, parallel to Israel's recognition of the Palestinians' right to statehood.
The Palestinians adamantly refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state. This refusal is not mere rhetoric; it implies that instead of living in peace with a real-life neighbor, the Palestinians intend to continue seeking its eradication via other means: inciting and financing activity against Israel's Jewish identity by Israeli Arabs, delegitimizing it in international forums, and so forth.
Needless to say, these Palestinian positions have changed not a bit since 2001.
Prior to the recent conference in Annapolis, Md., Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated the Palestinians' refusal to acknowledge any Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. And even at Annapolis itself, he did not make do with general statements about solving the refugee problem; rather, he insisted in his speech that any solution be based on U.N. Resolution 194, which Palestinians interpret as recognizing the "right of return."
As for the Jewish-state issue, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made Abbas' position crystal-clear on Dec. 7, when he said: "Abu Mazen [Abbas] told me that the moment Israel demands that we recognize two states for two peoples, I should get up and leave the talks," he said. "And that is what I did."
In short, not only is there no agreement on what a deal looks like, there is no agreement even on the fundamental premise that must underlie any deal -- namely, the establishment of two states for two peoples. Yet because the international community and the Israeli left-wing both want so desperately to believe that a deal is achievable, they prefer to overlook all evidence to the contrary.
Unfortunately, however, this is a recipe for ensuring that the conflict never ends -- because until these real problems are resolved, there will be no deal.
And resolving any problem starts with the most initial measure of all -- recognizing its existence.
Evelyn Gordon is a Jerusalem-based columnist.