shaul mofaz 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz could easily have been prime minister right now.
Mofaz only lost the September 17, 2008, party leadership race to Tzipi Livni by 431 votes. With allegations of vote tampering and of 1,500 Mofaz voters who left lines at polling stations when the nightly news reported a Livni landslide victory, had Mofaz appealed the results, he might very well have been crowned the winner.
He then could have formed a coalition with Shas, which Livni was not able to, and left Binyamin Netanyahu as leader of the opposition and a Likud with only 12 MKs.
But Mofaz did not want to go to court to prevent Livni from forming a government, so he temporarily quit politics and eventually sought and received the guaranteed second slot on the Kadima list.
After failing to persuade Livni to take Kadima into the government, Mofaz is now a regular opposition MK. The man who could have been prime minister, and for the last decade was IDF chief of General Staff, minister of defense and transportation minister, now has a small Knesset office decorated with pictures of him with former prime minister Ariel Sharon, and with his newborn first grandchild.
Mofaz could have decided to mope around the Knesset like other former Kadima ministers and whine about what might have been. But instead, he is trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During the Knesset's four-month summer recess, he met with top security officials and worked hard on his diplomatic plan, which he presented at a Tel Aviv press conference Sunday.
What did he receive in return? Headlines about his willingness to talk to Hamas and accusations in Kadima of him suddenly becoming a leftist.
Mofaz did say in answer to a question that he would negotiate with Hamas if it won the January Palestinian election. But his caveat that he would only do so if it renounced violence rendered it irrelevant.
He did not mention Hamas in his speech at the press conference. The terrorist organization only appears in the final two paragraphs of his eight-page plan, and only in the negative.
The empty hype over Hamas overshadowed a plan that should be taken seriously as a realistic alternative to Livni's Annapolis negotiations on a final-status agreement and Netanyahu's bottom-up approach of building economic peace in the West Bank while negotiating the terms of a demilitarized Palestinian state.
ACCORDING TO the plan, Israel would annex settlement blocs while withdrawing from 60 percent of the West Bank, comprising Areas A and B that amount to 40% of the land where 99.2% of the Palestinians live and an additional 20% to create territorial contiguity. A Palestinian state would be set up in those areas of the West Bank and in Gaza, while no settlements would be evacuated.
Israel would then negotiate the fate of the rest of the West Bank and other core issues of the conflict with the leadership of the new Palestinian state, while passing legislation sanctioning compensation for settlers living in outlying settlements that would be evacuated. A national referendum would take place before the implementation of the issues agreed upon in the final-status negotiations.
"Such an initiative will place the responsibility of performance on the Palestinian leadership, which will be asked to prove that it is ripe and ready to function as an independent, responsible and effective state, prior to Israel taking the necessary, but painful steps of withdrawing Israeli settlers from throughout the West Bank and resettling them in the large settlement blocs and the Negev and Galilee," Mofaz wrote.
Mofaz said he believed the initiative would strengthen Israel's legitimacy in the international arena, while leading to peace agreements with Arab states. He said the gradual nature of the process was needed to monitor the initiative's implementation, give the public time to come to terms with the new situation and allow for the optimal compensation and resettlement of Israelis withdrawn from the West Bank.
"The biggest danger for Israel is a binational state," Mofaz said. "In 15 years, there could be an Arab majority between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. Time doesn't play into our hands. Our generation's leaders have a responsibility to fix the problem. I don't want my grandson to have to do it."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the possibility of a Palestinian state in temporary borders in a speech Wednesday marking the five-year anniversary of the death of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. But Mofaz believes the Palestinian leadership would accept his plan, because it guarantees negotiations on final borders that would amount to roughly the same size of the West Bank via land swaps with pre-1967 Israel.
"I would give the Palestinians the maximum that Israel can, while making sure the new security situation would be solid from every possible perspective," the former general said. "After 16 years of trying multistaged approaches [like Oslo and the road map] and all-or-nothing approaches [like Annapolis], I decided to combine between the two approaches in a way that can succeed."
Mofaz already presented the plan to ambassadors from the US, Egypt and Jordan, and he will meet with European ambassadors as well. Next week, he will go to the US to present it to government officials, top media outlets, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
At press time, he was still trying to obtain a meeting with top officials close to US President Barack Obama. Despite the way Obama has criticized the Sharon and Olmert-led governments Mofaz participated in for not going far enough in the peace process, Mofaz said he does not see Obama as antagonistic to Israel.
Asked what advice he would give Obama's team on Iran, the Teheran-born Mofaz said he would enforce the time limit for negotiations, and if unsuccessful, administer 10 different types of powerful sanctions with full international involvement and air-tight supervision. He said this is what he told the Bush administration when he headed the strategic dialogue with the US on the Iranian issue.
"They cannot allow any centrifuges or enrichment to remain in Iran," Mofaz said, rejecting an offer for Iran to shift a significant portion of its uranium abroad. "2010 must be the year of sanctions. The key to their success is everyone must be a partner to the plan: Russia and China, together with the US and Europe. And there has to be real supervision, not what [International Atomic Energy Association head Mohamed] ElBaradei has done in letting Iran get away with everything."
Regarding the military option, Mofaz said: "That is the last option. I hope that the diplomatic or economic approach will work for the US. Can sanctions work if done effectively? Yes. Will they be? It depends. If all 10 sanctions are applied, it will be hard for Iran to function. Sanctions could at least delay Iran from building a bomb for two years, and meanwhile the rioting will continue and the regime can fall."
Mofaz sounded sorry to be on the sidelines on the Iranian issue for the first time in a decade. To change that, he hopes to force the advancement of Kadima's primary, which is currently set for just two months before the next general election.
He said Kadima could not campaign for changes in the political system while itself being undemocratic. He said he believes a third of the Knesset needed to be elected in direct, regional elections, and he would have implemented that change had he won the Kadima primary and become prime minister.
And that's exactly what he intends to be. Although he repeatedly stressed in his press conference that his diplomatic plan was not intended to be political, at one point he blurted out a line that contradicted that.
"As a candidate to lead the country, I felt I had to present a plan," he said. "I don't have a political objective with the plan. But if Netanyahu doesn't implement my plan, I will implement it as prime minister."