It's back to the same principles

The government's position is correct: The Palestinian government must recognize Israel, honor written agreements and end all terrorist activity. However, this position does not rule out negotiations. Channels of negotiation are an effective tool for overcoming crises and obstacles and preventing needless suffering. In the process of a controlled, continual and genuine dialogue with moderate Palestinians, headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), progress can and should be made toward a permanent settlement based on the "two states for two nations" principle.

A dialogue must be launched with those not bent on annihilating us, a category that most Palestinians fall into. After all, the Palestine Liberation Organization signed all the agreements with Israel and still honors them today. Most Israelis, like most Palestinians, hope the conflict between the two peoples will end with a permanent settlement. The problems lying at the heart of the conflict will not solve themselves and the price Israel will have to pay for a solution is constantly rising.

Ultimately, every political initiative leads to the same fundamental elements of a permanent settlement. Thus, it can be assumed that the guiding principles for a dialogue will largely be based on the permanent solutions that were being discussed seven years ago, before the Camp David peace summit - and today, seven years after it; they constitute a fair, balanced, reasonable historic compromise.

A good starting point for talks on a permanent settlement would blend former American president Bill Clinton's plan of December 2000 with a draft agreement the parties discussed between 1999 and 2001. These proposed permanent solutions were the products of intensive talks between the parties; they constitute a semi-official, stable, objective basis for protecting Israel's long-range interests without ignoring those of the Palestinians.

Here are the main components of these plans:
  • Ending the historic conflict between the Palestinian and Jewish peoples.
  • British Mandatory Palestine's repartitioning between a sovereign Palestinian state and Israel, on the basis of the June 4, 1967, borders, with mutually agreed-upon changes, notably the inclusion of most of the settlement blocs in Israel's territory.
  • The Palestinian state will be defined as the Palestinian people's sole national home and Israel will be defined as the Jewish people's national home.
  • The Palestinian refugees will be rehabilitated in the countries of their present residence, in the Palestinian state and in additional countries that express their willingness to absorb them.
  • The Jerusalem region will include two capitals: Jewish Jerusalem and Arab Al Quds. The "sacred basin" surrounding Jerusalem's Old City will have a special regime that will guarantee freedom of ritual to all religions.

There is today no logic in an absolute boycott of the Palestinian Authority because of Hamas' positions. It is economically strangling the Palestinian population. Nor is there any justification in withholding NIS 2.5 billion in taxes and custom duties that rightfully belong to Palestinian farmers, merchants and private businesspeople. It is neither effective nor just to withhold this money.

Only if negotiations fail, after a sincere and continual effort to make them work, will Israel be obligated to take steps to ensure its Jewish, Zionist, democratic identity. It will do so by way of a sovereign decision that it alone will make to protect its interests. An essential component for such a move will be a disengagement that creates borders that guarantee Israel's security and demographic interests, as they are responsibly decided upon by the government. The Jewish People has a right to self-determination within borders that will protect Israel's vital interests, improve its social situation and strengthen national unity and national security.

The author was one of the leaders of the negotiations with the Palestinians in 1999-2001, and was head of former prime minister Ehud Barak's bureau.

Published in, March 30, 2007