Labor must wave the flag of peace and negotiations in the next election campaign, the party’s secretary-general, MK Hilik Bar (Zionist Union), said on Sunday.
“Over my dead body will we not have a peace plan in time for the next election,” Bar told The Jerusalem Post.
The lawmaker bemoaned the lack of an emphasis on peace and diplomacy in his party’s last two election campaigns, under MK Shelly Yacimovich and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
“It is unacceptable that the party of [former prime minister] Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered trying to bring peace, hid the flag of peace for the last two elections. I will not allow this to happen,” he said.
Bar has been shopping his peace plan, which he presented to the Knesset Caucus to Resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict in July, to officials around the world, catching the attention of UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, who invited him to meet and discuss the plan. The two talked for nearly two hours on Friday at Mladenov’s office in Jerusalem.
One of the questions Mladenov asked Bar was about the likelihood of the Zionist Union officially adopting the plan.
Bar said that he is working hard to make sure it does, or at the very least that Labor has a peace platform for the next election.
According to Bar, many MKs in the faction think that matters of peace, security and diplomatic are less important than socioeconomic ones.
“Most of our problems, including socioeconomic ones, are because our routine is the conflict,” he said. “Too few people are interested in diplomacy... that’s why I am leading this cause in the party. Even though social issues are very important, we don’t need to have one instead of the other. It can be one along with the other.”
“The party of David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin always put social issues alongside security and diplomacy, and that is what we have to do now, before the next election,” Bar added.
Also in the meeting, Mladenov commended Bar for making public his support for a two-state solution.
Bar said Mladenov lamented that few Israeli officials speak out in support of a two-state solution, and that they are more likely to say it is irrelevant and there is no partner for peace.
The two men met for close to two hours to discuss Bar’s peace plan, a meeting that Mladenov initiated, and the UN official asked many questions, delving into the plan’s details and praising the initiative.
Mladenov took a special interest in the part of Bar’s plan in which Israel would recognize a Palestinian state in the UN.
“Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state in the UN is good for Israel,” Bar posited. “I call for Israel to recognize a Palestinian state, as long as they keep conditions listed in my plan.”
Bar’s plan first calls for Israel to recognize a Palestinian state in the UN, but says that borders, the refugee issue, Jerusalem, security arrangements, etc. must be negotiated between the two sides. The recognition and approval of “Palestine” joining UN institutions will be conditioned on it not undermining the need to negotiate. In addition, the Palestinians would recognize two nation states.
“I think there’s an advantage in Israel recognizing a Palestinian state in the UN so that we’re not dragged after proposals by France and Scandinavia. If we don’t recognize, a reality we don’t want will be forced on us... The world is forcing conditions on us that will make it difficult for all Israeli governments to negotiate, whether Left, Right or Center. Israel has to lead and be on the right side of history,” Bar said.
Bar said Mladenov was also interested in his plan calling for the peace process to not be an “Israeli-Palestinian tango” and include the Arab world as well.
“He understood that the Palestinians don’t really have the ability, even if they were to have the goodwill, to make crucial decisions about Jerusalem and refugees. They need Egypt, Jordan – especially because of the Wakf [Islamic trust] on the Temple Mount – and the Saudis. It’s not just a tango for two. This isn’t just a good diplomatic idea; it’s also a necessity at some level,” the MK explained.
Bar also called for Israel to respond to the Arab Peace Initiative, not by giving a full “yes,” but to at least give a response, saying that Israel’s decision to ignore it was one of its biggest diplomatic mistakes.
Bar’s plan also provides that, when there is a Palestinian state, Jews may securely live in it as residents or citizens, thus creating an option for Israelis not to be expelled from their homes.
In addition, Palestinian citizens would have “privileged access” to places of worship, tourism, academia and trade in Israel, and vice-versa.
The outline also calls to improve quality of life in Gaza, which Bar posits would return the Palestinian Authority to the Strip to replace Hamas, form a municipal body to represent residents of east Jerusalem, and to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Bar called for better integration of Israeli Arabs into society, including teaching young Israelis peace and coexistence, opening a bilingual university, and requiring Israeli Arabs to perform civilian or IDF service after a permanent peace treaty is signed.
The outline also deals with Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry. It says the government should give world Jewry an “advisory status on issues of national importance and matters of foreign policy,” and educate them in Hebrew, Jewish history and Zionism.
The goal would be to strengthen their Jewish identity, while promoting the Zionist idea of “the negation of the Diaspora” and encouraging them to move to Israel.
In that vein, Bar will meet with Jewish community leaders in the US in the coming weeks.
He will present his peace plan to the Herbert C. Kelman Institute for Interactive Conflict Transformation at Harvard University on Thursday, and will speak to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank, as well as to officials from the US State Department and the White House. He was also invited to speak in the European Parliament.
Still, Bar emphasized that just as important as traveling around the world with his plan is making sure Israelis are aware of it.
“People need to understand the danger in a diplomatic freeze that the Right has brought to Israel; it will lead us to a bi-national state,” he said.