Israel is at a dramatic crossroads for its national security.
of Iran going nuclear, the shifting sands of the Arab Spring, the total
stalemate in the peace process and the ongoing delegitimization of Israel in the
world – all these are not plagues from the heavens, but characterize the region
in which we live, technological developments and a world not accepting the
occupation of another people.
And what is the government’s answer to
these challenges? A multitude of irresponsible press briefings and interviews
and a total lack of policy initiative. A stagnant government in a stormy
Regional threats are not new in the Middle East. I was
fortunate to serve as Israel’s peace negotiator in the Rabin-Peres government,
and I remember well the deliberations leading to initiating a peace process
vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Syria.
The discussions, held together with
our security establishment, were not mainly about the PLO or Hafez Assad, but
about the wider periphery of the region, mainly the threat of Iran opting for a
It was clear to our leaders then that because of the more
existential threats to our national security, we have to create a buffer between
us and Iran, then also Iraq, and to strengthen our position among the nations,
first and foremost, with the United States. This in turn created the process
with the Palestinians, the peace with Jordan, the renewal of normalization with
Egypt and a dramatic improvement of our international relations, above all with
then-president Bill Clinton.
The Arab world and the international
community were with us, sharing the view of a dangerous Iran.
rationale is true today as well. To deal with Iran militarily would amount to
nothing short of a non-conventional regional war. The response to the Iranian
challenge must be led by the international community, headed by the United
States. As for us, we must recreate the cordon sanitaire around us, starting
with the Palestinians, rescuing our peace with Egypt and Jordan, improving our
relations with Turkey and strengthening our international posture and the
strategic alliance with the United States.
With such challenges, dangers
and opportunities on our national agenda, what is the only policy decision the
government took last week? The establishment of 2,000 new housing ing units beyond the green line.
We seem to deserve a Nobel Prize in the
field of “self-inflicted political damage.”
What the government needs to
do, most urgently, is make a realistic offer to the Palestinian Authority that
will ensure the renewal of the peace process, i.e., propose direct negotiations
on borders and security, based on Barack Obama’s Washington speech and a
settlement freeze for six months.
It is high time that the government
make a choice between the advice of Gush Emunim’s leadership and that of the
heads of our security establishment, who almost to a man advise embarking on a
viable peace process, given the volatile situation in the region. So far the
government’s choice is clear: a government of the settlers, for the settlers. In
the West Bank there are today 330,000 settlers, who inhabit 10 percent of the
territory. The government has made this its first priority. On education, the
government spends 30% more on settlers than on Israelis within the Green Line.
The only affordable housing for Israelis today is in the West Bank.
must understand that for the Palestinians, the settlements are not an excuse to
avoid negotiations, but a direct challenge to their desire to establish a
contiguous Palestinian state within the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land
swaps. Take for instance the new settlements, the “outposts” – 80% of them are
fully or partially on Palestinian private land. The same is true for the bigger
settlements – 35% of Ariel for instance is on private Palestinian
Sixty-five percent of the new construction in settlements is east
of the security barrier. For the Palestinians it is clearly a matter of
settlements or a state; for us, it is settlements or peace.
settlements policy of the Netanyahu government is the litmus test for its
willingness to take difficult decisions on the way to peace. On the issue of
settlements, it’s Israel against the whole world, without a single exception –
193 countries, including the United States. A continuation of the settlement
policy will lead us to a catastrophe – it will put an end to the two
nation-state solution; it could even lead to a violent uprising from the West
Bank; it will push Fatah closer to Hamas; it will alienate Egypt and Jordan, and
possibly put our peace treaties with them at risk; it will harm our political
and economic relations with the European Union; it is already putting arms
purchases at risk, as seems to be the case with one of Israel’s greatest
friends, German Chancellor Angela Merkel; it places us on a collision course
with the administration in Washington; it harms our internal cohesion – as this
is not a consensual issue within Israel; and paradoxically it puts even the
settlements at risk, as we want to secure the settlement blocs within Israeli
sovereignty, which is possible only through negotiations.
I do not blame
the settlers although I oppose entirely their messianic, sometimes racist
I blame the government, which is led by them. It is almost too
late; we may have a brief window of opportunity in which secret talks with the
Palestinians should lead to a formula for renewing negotiations:
• A settlement
freeze for six months.
• Negotiations for six months on borders and
security – A statement that the negotiations will lead to an end of conflict and
• An end to all unilateral actions, from both
I hope that in the deliberations occurring now within the inner
sanctum and cabinet of our decision- makers in relation to our position in the
Middle East, given the turmoil around us and the Iranian nuclear option, wisdom
and courage will prevail. The alternative will endanger our national security.
It seems the government is frozen in its thinking process and its ability to
initiate policy. Instead it should freeze the settlements now and ask in return
for the Palestinians to freeze their unilateral and futile actions at the United
We have just marked the 16th anniversary of the assassination of
Yitzhak Rabin. It is time to continue his security legacy, which is based on
accommodation with our immediate neighbors, a strong alliance with the United
States and an understanding that the dream (or nightmare) of “Greater Israel” is
This would lead to the most effective answer, alongside the United
States and possibly many within the region, to the Iranian nuclear
The writer is the president of the Peres Center for Peace.