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The Peace Plan Israel Needs

Ya'alon, Netanyahu.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, and a nuclear meltdown in Japan have pushed aside news of Muammar Qaddafi's mad rampage, the domestic upheaval throughout the Muslim Middle East, and the butchery by Palestinian Arabs of five members of a sleeping Jewish family in Itamar. Meanwhile, unfazed by such global realities, the United Nations General Assembly has turned its great hall into a theater for the March 14 premiere of an anti-Israel film, and Israel's wobbly friends in Europe and the U.S. are renewing their pressure on Jerusalem to "do something" about the "unsustainable" stalemate in the "peace process." As German Chancellor Angela Merkel scolded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "You haven't made a single step to advance peace." 

Relevant Links
The Red-Carpet Treatment  Benny Avni, New York Sun. The United Nations is preparing to screen Julian Schnabel’s partisan take on the Palestinian-Israel dispute.
Bar-Ilan 2.0  Barak Ravid, Haaretz. Following up on his 2009 address at Bar-Ilan University, Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing a new peace plan.
Israel's Critical Security Needs  Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. As Israel finds itself under intense pressure to make unreciprocated concessions to the Palestinians, the Ya’alon “security first” approach is needed more than ever. (PDF)

Not a single step? Not Netanyahu's dramatic 2009 appeal to the Palestinians and the Arab nations to begin negotiating a two-state solution with no prior conditions? Not the lifting of 400 security checkpoints up and down the West Bank (including near Itamar), the ten-month moratorium on most settlement building, the willingness to extend the freeze another three months? None of these, to be sure, has had much of a diplomatic shelf-life, having failed to move Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian faction an inch away from their refusal to end their two-year boycott of negotiations. But, in the topsy-turvy world of Middle East peacemaking, not they but Israel is blamed for the impasse.

Are the Jewish settlements in the West Bank the sticking point?  If Abbas were actually willing to negotiate permanent boundaries with the Jewish state, that issue would be resolved. But he, unlike Netanyahu, is under no pressure—and why indeed should he negotiate, when his intransigence, internationally backed, promises to deliver an Israeli withdrawal to the euphemistically designated "1967 border"—that is, the wholly indefensible armistice lines of 1949? Impelled initially by President Barack Obama, Abbas has simply stuck to the position that the Palestinians cannot negotiate so long as any Jewish construction whatsoever continues anywhere beyond those lines.  

For his part, Netanyahu, under withering pressure to assuage the smoldering irritation of the settlement-obsessed Europeans and Americans, has reportedly been planning a major address to expand upon his 2009 vision of peace for two peoples. Yet it is difficult to see what, short of capitulating to every one of Abbas's demands, he can say or do to win over the EU and Washington, and all too easy to see disaster for Israel in steps leading ever closer to such a capitulation. With the Hamas-led Palestinian faction in Gaza explicitly and unalterably committed to the destruction of the Zionist enterprise, and with Abbas resolutely committed to an internationally imposed solution and refusing either to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or to compromise on refugees, what can Jerusalem offer?

Netanyahu's predicament recalls Ariel Sharon's in 2003. The latter's plan to disengage from Gaza was partly intended to head off pressure from the Bush administration and the EU, which, at the very height of the second intifada, were similarly pressing Israel to "do something." Essentially, Sharon sought to buy time, reap diplomatic approval, and garner an American commitment to back Israel's retention of strategic settlement blocs in the West Bank. In the event, after the Gaza disengagement went through, all these putative gains proved ephemeral.

Given this precedent, and given the almost certain fact that any Netanyahu peace offering would be dead on arrival—indeed, no sooner had Netanyahu's office leaked the possibility of Israel's recognizing a Palestinian state within temporary borders than Abbas utterly rejected the idea—is this really the time to present a new Israeli peace plan? No and yes. No to further concessions that buy neither peace on the ground nor the support of Western powers. Yes to a different approach that might at least stand a chance of winning both.  

Arguably, the plan that most needs to be articulated is one that should be placed not before the world but before Israel's own people. The fundamentals of such a plan have already been laid out by Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon, now Israel's minister for strategic affairs, and its main point is easily summarized: security and defensible borders first, all else secondary. Building on this foundation, the government might most usefully take it upon itself to spell out concretely to its citizenry what the Jewish state can realistically offer to the Palestinians, and what it must realistically expect in return.

Obviously, a key provision of any such plan would concern the areas in the Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria that Israel needs to retain under any conceivable peace accord. Israelis living in these areas have a right to know which parts will be kept and which abandoned, and it goes without saying that the former must not be subject to any building freeze. As it happens, Netanyahu, ostensibly in response to the outrage in Itamar, has signaled his own understanding of this issue by announcing approval of several hundred new housing units in the strategic settlement blocs.

But the central point is this: instead of allowing Europe and the Obama administration to railroad it into concessions that will deliver neither peace nor security nor even short-term diplomatic breathing space, Israel's better course may well be to engage in a forthright internal dialogue aimed at strengthening an already existing consensus in support of a plan yielding a state for the Palestinian Arabs and real security for Israel. Toward that end, the government might present to the electorate a revised, fully detailed version of Ya'alon's blueprint and seek a clear mandate for its implementation—if need be, by means of new elections. Israel's mainstream political parties would likely have no trouble embracing Ya'alon's outline; if and where they dissent, let them explain why.

Is it too much to hope that, were a clear electoral mandate to emerge, and were Israeli decision makers, backed by that mandate, empowered to speak coherently and consistently on these matters, the country could garner support for its position in Washington and in fair-minded EU countries? As steps forward go, this would be a giant one.

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Tim Rakei on March 15, 2011 at 8:41 am (Reply)
It seems to me that if Bibi announces "the areas
in the Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria that
Israel needs to retain under any conceivable peace
accord," then the Arabs, and indeed the whole world,
will consider we have renounced all the rest of the
territories before we sit down at the table, and
the question remaining will be how much of Bibi's
minimum we are willing to concede in addition.
Grantman on March 15, 2011 at 9:06 am (Reply)
What Bibi and all the rest of Israel's leaders, intelligencia, and supporters worldwide must do is to unequivocably state its case that the Palestinians are not partners for peace. They must clearly articulate that Israel *has* made concession after concession and that their opponents have not made any.
Commentator on March 15, 2011 at 9:35 am (Reply)
You are right, but do not go far enough. After getting the electoral mandate, Israel's government should repeat what it did in Gaza (and what Sharon would have done in the West Bank if he had stayed in office): unilaterally withdraw behind a new border that its electorate can accept and recognize a Palestinian state in the rest of the territory. The occupation will be effectively over and Israel will have its defensible borders.

Negotiations are nice in theory, but an imposed solution that left the country with stable borders and no territory to occupy would be far better.
Grantman on March 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm (Reply)
Commentator - how familiar are you with the physical geography of Judea and Samaria to create defensible borders? How close would you recommend to the 1948/49/67 borders...oops, armistice lines? (They weren't borders, you know).

How would you handle Jerusalem? Put barbed wire down the middle of the street as it was for the 19 years Jordan had it? RPGs can be fired from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem...right across the street.

And Sharon's unilateral withdrawal got what, exactly?

Imposed solution...imposed by whom? On whom?

The bottom line is that until the Arabs figure out that Israel's here to stay, there will be no peace.
Larry on March 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm (Reply)
Bibi needs to clearly state Israel's case and explain why the "settlements" are, in fact, legal and just, and that the real root cause of the entire Arab conflict against Israel is the refusal by the Palestinians to acknowledge that the Jewish people have a deep historical connection to the land of Israel.
Rob Miller on March 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm (Reply)
I think there's a misunderstanding going on here.

There's nothing Netanyahu could offer the 'Palestinians' that they would except short of a surrender of all of Judea and Samaria, half of Jerusalem, the release of terrorist murderers currently incarcerated in Israel's jails and the right to swamp what's left of Israel with genocidal 'refugees'.

In short, national suicide.

Nor would Obama and the EU accept anything less,because they feel they have to placate Muslims.

Even further, on the off chance Abbas did accept this,Hamas would take over Judea and Samaria in short order.

I agree..Israel needs clearly defined, contiguous borders. I've been saying that for over a decade now. They need to declare them unilaterally,move the Jews to one side and the Arab non-Israeli citizens to the other, and defend those borders.And declare this nonsense done, once and for all.

It would be a big story for a couple of weeks and then fade to the back pages. Any UN resolutions or sanctions would be about as effective as they are with Lebanon or Iran,which is to say not at all.
Oh, and here's another thing Israel needs, IMO:

john bennett on March 16, 2011 at 2:15 am (Reply)
Israel will never gain peace by giving up promised land!!!
Raymond in DC on March 16, 2011 at 8:39 am (Reply)
There's an interesting piece of "Jewish wisdom" found in the opening chapter of the Mishna's tractate Baba Metzia relevant to this discussion. Concerning a dispute over a found cloak, it reads:

If one says, "All of it is mine", and the other says, "Half of it is mine", he who says "All of it is mine shall swear that not less than three-quarters belongs to him, and the one that says "Half of it is mine" shall swear that not less than one-fourth belongs to him; the former then takes three-quarters and the latter one-quarter.

Palestinians are insisting "All of it is mine". Israel, by conceding territory up front is saying that half is "not mine". What's *then* up for discussion is dividing the remaining half. If Yaalon (who I generally respect) and by extension Israel think that by setting out its expectations - its red lines - that they won't be pressed for more, they're kidding themselves.

This really gets to the larger issue that's dominated Israel's approach since Oslo. It's what I call the "We want peace" approach. (Peres is its most famous advocate.) What Israel *should* be doing is arguing "We have legal and historic rights too, as well as national interests like any sovereign country. And we are prepared to defend them."

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