Former defense minister Shaul Mofaz took a dramatic turn away from his former Likud roots on Sunday when, at a Tel Aviv press conference, he announced his new diplomatic plan that calls for the immediate formation of a Palestinian state.
Under the plan, Israel would annex settlement blocs while withdrawing from 60 percent of the West Bank, comprising Areas A and B, where 99.2 of the Palestinians live, and additional land 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 at that stage.
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.
"As a candidate to lead the country, I felt I had to present a plan," Mofaz said. "I don't have a political objective with the plan. But if [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu doesn't implement the plan, I will implement it as prime minister."
Mofaz, who is No. 2 in Kadima, made a point of never mentioning his nemesis, party leader Tzipi Livni, at the Beit Sokolow press conference, but he did say his plan was endorsed by President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Mofaz's plan is very different than Livni's Annapolis process, in which Israel would make no concessions to the Palestinians until a final-status deal would be reached on all issues.
Bypassing Livni on the left, Mofaz said he would be willing to negotiate with Hamas under certain conditions to advance the plan.
"If Hamas would be elected and would want to negotiate and accept the quartet's conditions, from that moment, it is no longer Hamas," Mofaz said. "Responsible leadership in Israel would sit with those who changed their agenda."
Former Palestinian Authority foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas responded that it would never accept the Quartet's conditions, which include recognizing Israel, disarming terrorists, and accepting diplomatic deals signed by the PA.
"Hamas will not negotiate with Israel," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. "We do not believe in engaging with the occupation, or in talks that would beautify its face in the eyes of the world."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat of Fatah lamented that Israeli politicians were already planning for the era after the departure of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has announced that he will not run in the January 24 election but is widely expected to change his mind.
Hamas was not mentioned in the draft of the plan Mofaz distributed and he only mentioned the terrorist organization in answering reporters' questions. But Mofaz's opponents in Kadima accused him of harming Abbas by speaking about Hamas.
"Kadima has a platform that we must stick to," a Kadima MK close to Livni said. "What he said about Hamas was the wrong thing to say and certainly the wrong time. It legitimizes Hamas ahead of the Palestinian election and weakens Abu Mazen [Abbas] and the moderates. I am sure Mofaz will star in Hamas's political campaign."
Another Kadima MK called Mofaz "confused" and complained that he "went so far leftward that he broke the wall."
But MK Yohanan Plesner, who is close to Livni, called the diplomatic plan "interesting and important" and said Kadima should consider adopting it.
"It is important that we have a plan and we don't wait to finalize what will happen in the territories," Plesner said. "This plan connects to the ethos of Kadima as a centrist party that wants to take our fate in our hands and not be dependent on others to decide our borders."