The decision that needs to be made

Two years ago, Major General (res.) Uri Saguy, a former director of Military Intelligence, and I tried to meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. We had finished drawing up a political initiative for Israel, based on gradual disengagement from the Palestinians, first in the Gaza Strip and then in Judea and Samaria, with the constant aim being to attain a permanent solution. The initiative was drawn up under the auspices of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and took shape in the course of intense work over a period of five months, during which the team we headed heard from dozens of experts and current and former senior officials. The plan entailed a responsible and attainable format to ensure Israel's vital interests and reinforce the country's national security. Sharon didn't want to hear anything about us or our plan. Today he is determined - determined? - to leave Gaza. In itself, that's a wise political declaration, but even if it's implemented it will have no value separate from a comprehensive process at both the external policy and domestic levels.

Without an immediate separation from 3.5 million Palestinians - that is, from the majority of the territories - Israel will continue to deteriorate to the point of social, economic and security collapse. Already today it faces concrete danger to its existence as a Jewish and democratic country. No one knows when a signed agreement with the Palestinians will be achieved, and we have learned the hard way that a military victory is unattainable without a bloodbath that will ignite the entire region.

In order to ensure a meaningful Jewish majority in the sovereign territory of Israel and to block the possibility of the emergence of a binational state, we need an Israeli-initiated separation to borders that will sustain Israel's security and demographic needs. This is the decision the government has to make; this is the decision that is longed for by the sane majority in this country. In the end, the conflict will in all likelihood be terminated by a signed agreement between the sides, but until then we must not continue to wait idly.

An Israeli-initiated separation does not depend on Palestinian agreement (though there is no reason that it should not be coordinated with them). It can be implemented in the wake of a sovereign decision by Israel and based on its exclusive considerations, in stages, based on the following principles:
  • Withdrawal from the Gaza Strip:
Creation of a temporary but real, hard and defensible border that will be able to prevent effectively the entry of terrorists into Israel. The route of the temporary border will remain intact until the final negotiations on the permanent border.

The temporary line of the Israeli-initiated separation (and afterward the permanent border) will ensure vital Israeli interests: security, political, demographic, settlement, economic and infrastructure. According to this line, 80 percent and more of the settlers in Judea and Samaria will remain within Israel's borders, while only a minimal number of Palestinians will be incorporated into Israeli territory.

The return home - to the large settlement blocs, or to other areas in Israel, according to national planning - of the inhabitants of the settlements that will be relocated from Gaza and from Judea and Samaria, and the granting of fair compensation to the inhabitants. No Israelis will remain in the area that will be transferred to the international mandate, and afterward to Palestinian rule.

The area of Metropolitan Jerusalem (including Ma'aleh Adumim), the region of the city of Ariel, large parts of the Etzion Bloc and areas where an Israeli majority exists and that are in territorial continuity with the Green Line, will remain inside Israel.

Until the permanent solution, control of the outer envelope of the Palestinian territories and their supervision at the border crossing points with Egypt and with Jordan (including control of the Jordan Rift Valley), and supervision over the maritime and aerial spaces of the entire region, will remain in Israeli hands.

Israel will support every effort for international involvement, according to a defined mandate, in the administration of the Palestinian territories, until the establishment of a responsible Palestinian leadership.

Israel will receive solid, long-term international guarantees that will ensure regional stability. The Israel Defense Forces will maintain full freedom of action in the territories that will be evacuated, but will not be deployed in them on a permanent basis.
  • The Palestinians will not have the right of return into Israel:
Upon the establishment of the Palestinian state, the historic conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will be declared ended. As a condition of its establishment, Palestine will be a demilitarized state.

Israeli Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, and Palestinian Al-Quds will be the capital of the Palestinian state. Israeli sovereignty will be preserved in the Old City of Jerusalem and in the sacred basin during the interim period, and a special regime will be installed that will ensure freedom of access and worship for the members of all religions.

The government will at long last be able to divert most of its efforts and resources to dealing with the country's social and economic problems. The national order of priorities will be altered, in order to ensure that the country returns to a course of growth and focuses on closing the social gaps and creating a just society. The national leadership will strive to restore universal basic values and integrity to the government and the civil society.

Realization of the initiative that was proposed to Sharon at the time, and is being proposed anew now, will strengthen the personal security and the feeling of security of Israel's citizens, ensure Israel's existence as a Zionist, Jewish and democratic state, and act as a lever for growth and national cohesiveness.

The writer is a lawyer. From 1999 to 2001, he was director of the Prime Minister's Bureau, under Ehud Barak, and a negotiator with the Palestinians.

Published in, February 15, 2004