The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is impossible to defer any longer. Most
importantly, we will soon be facing the end of the construction freeze imposed
by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last year, the convening of the Knesset’s
winter session, the recent Arab League resolutions and the elections for the two
houses of Congress in the United States. This quadrangle of political influence
is a signal that we must act now.
The majority of Israeli society wants
to see Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of its Declaration
of Independence, and is ready to pay the price of an accord predicated on two
states for two peoples. The dispute is over how to achieve this.
the public, from both ends of the political spectrum, believe that a withdrawal
to clearly defined borders must take place only within the framework of a
final-status agreement. They thus unwittingly become hostages of the Palestinian
side, which can block an accord by being unaccommodating.
grave possible consequences, other sectors of the public believe that time is
running out and that unilateral withdrawal is in order. They are willing to
accept that such a maneuver would convey the message that Palestinian resistance
This portion of society also believes that although
settlers would see their forcible return to the State of Israel as an
unwarranted deportation, it would be worthwhile. A law arranging for the
voluntary return of settlers currently living east of the security barrier would
be the beginning of a third way, a diplomatic middle road of autonomous
Going down this path would not depend on the Palestinians,
nor would it compromise the possibility of real negotiations with them. Indeed,
it would bolster the prospect that talks could result in an agreement based on
principles clearly set out and acceptable to most Israelis.
A majority of
them are most concerned with seeing a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside
Israel, with borders based on the 1967 Green Line, territorial exchanges to
ensure that most settlers and all Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem come under
Israeli sovereignty, and the return of Palestinian refugees to a Palestinian
A “VOLUNTARY Settler Return Law” for settlers coming back of
their own volition presents the beginning of a process, an independent Israeli
This process, which will create a reality of two states
without raising security risks, would be supported by most of the Israeli public
and will enjoy the assistance of the international community.
proposed law would include generous cash compensation for families to allow
their return to the State of Israel as national emissaries who were sent out on
a mission, now complete.
The law would also ensure that those returning
today would not suffer economic harm, and would in the future receive any
additional payment required to bring them in line with compensation provided to
settlers evacuated under a future government decision.
The law could
provide incentives for former settlers to take up new residence in
national-priority areas such as the Negev and the Galilee.
The law would
stipulate that any settlers who take up residence east of the barrier after the
law’s ratification would not be eligible for any government compensation in the
future should they be evacuated. It would further require that any evacuated
homes be barred from housing new residents; should there be squatters, they
would not be eligible for compensation upon eviction. In this envisaged form,
the law would appeal to three audiences.
The first audience is the
settlers of Judea and Samaria, to whom it would signal the following: 1) Israel
will not have sovereignty east of the security barrier.
2) “We are
calling you home. Your mission is over.”
3) “You are not hostages of
extremists who want to head into a future where there is one state for Israelis
4) “We have learned from past mistakes. We are not
forcing an evacuation without a peace accord, and we are not imposing a
six-month schedule for the family’s evacuation.”
5) “We recognize the
importance of your historical task. Thanks to you, Arab states have acknowledged
Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and now, with your mission complete,
the State of Israel is rolling out the red carpet for your return
The second audience would be the international community and
moderate Arab states. The law would make clear that Israel is taking
responsibility for its future and creating a reality, on the ground, of two
states for two peoples in accordance with UN resolutions. No longer speaking out
of sync with our intentions, we would be passing a message that our diplomatic
statements – doubted by so many – are sincere.
The third audience would
be the Palestinian public.
We would be signaling our integrity and
readiness to talk, alongside a clear declaration that the one-state solution is
not an option.
For the first time since 1967, Israel would be bringing
settlers back from Judea and Samaria, rather than dispatching them eastward.
This message has been absent from our diplomatic posture so far, even during the
period of the Oslo Accords.
We would, furthermore, be calling on the
Palestinians to negotiate, without making this a condition of our conduct and
without compromising our control over our destiny. We would, in essence, be
saying, “If you come and talk, the border will shift to agreed lines; if not,
then in 40 years you will see the world accept the security fence as Israel’s
eastern border, just as it went from the 1947 partition plan to recognizing the
In parallel to the legislation, a peace process predicated
on this Voluntary Settler Return Law would allow Israel to decide that
construction will continue in areas west of the fence slated for
By contrast, the construction freeze would still apply to
areas subject to negotiation. There would be building in Jewish neighborhoods of
Jerusalem, but it would be halted completely in Arab neighborhoods.
incumbent on the government to lead us toward a future in which the Jewish
national home can survive and thrive. A law as described above would offer the
right, independent first-step. It is our civic duty as Israelis, and our moral
duty as Jews, to demand that our representatives in the Knesset legislate this
in the coming winter session.
The author is a retired Israel Navy
admiral, former director of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and co-founder
of “Blue White Future” (www.bluewhitefuture.org.il/English)