Politics: Two-state alternatives
A Knesset conference examined five different solutions for handling the conflict.
Standing only 1.64 meters in her trademark long skirt, 31-year-old freshman Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely does not look like a rebel, and she doesn't intend to become one either.
That's why she emphasized at the start of Tuesday's diplomatic conference she organized at the Knesset that it was intended to boost Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and not undermine him. She hopes Netanyahu will toe the party line and resist pressure from Washington to take steps toward creating a Palestinian state.
"This is not a conference of mordim or hishukaim [rebels] but of strengtheners," Hotovely said in her introductory remarks, recalling the groups of right-wing Likud MKs who pressured Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Shamir in the past. "This is intended to strengthen the prime minister, who stood up for his principles in Washington."
Entitled "Alternatives to the Two-State Outlook," the three-hour conference gave a forum to several politicians and thinkers who believe that the Right must have its own diplomatic plan to enable a Likud prime minister to defy world leaders who are insistent on creating a Palestinian state.
The event was purposely timed to coincide with the aftermath of the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, and the speculation ahead of US President Barack Obama's key speeches to the Muslim world and the Quartet next month. But the timing proved to be even more significant, when Netanyahu showed his first signs of giving in to US pressure the day before.
AT a meeting of the Likud faction, Netanyahu appeared to accept Obama's linkage of West Bank-building to the Iranian threat, when he said that removing unauthorized outposts was necessary to persuade America to stop Iran. While Netanyahu has not given in to Obama's requests to stop the construction in settlements needed for natural growth, he did surrender the outposts in hopes of appeasing Obama.
"We are not in regular times," Netanyahu said. "The danger is approaching, and the most dangerous thing for a live organism is to not recognize the danger on the way. My job is to ensure Israel's future, and that comes before anything else. Our relations with the US are important. We need to put our real national needs atop our priorities."
Netanyahu's statement surprised Likud MKs who said they felt dÃ©jÃ vu, especially when he used Sharon's line about leaders having to make difficult decisions. They expressed concern that the prime minister was advancing on the slippery slope of concessions to the US - a process that history has proven hard to stop.
HAD NETANYAHU or Obama attended the conference, they would have heard about four possible alternatives to the creation of a Palestinian state, which all the speakers at the event agreed would guarantee Israel's destruction. The options discussed included a Palestinian confederation with Jordan, maintaining the current situation in the West Bank, annexing all of Judea and Samaria and delaying dealing with the problem until better circumstances arise.
Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon gave practical reasons why a Palestinian state could not sustain itself, and could not be prevented from attacking Israel. He suggested that, rather than attempting to solve the conflict via Israeli concessions and throwing money at Palestinian leaders, the world instead should try to manage the conflict.
He outlined educational, economic, political, police and military reforms for the Palestinian Authority, and lamented that the only reforms taking place were the military ones under the auspices of American Gen. Keith Dayton. Ya'alon said that all five reforms had to take place first for the PA to become a partner.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai outlined a plan for reporters outside the conference, calling for five years of cooperation with the PA on a municipal and economic level as a prerequisite for diplomatic talks on a Palestinian entity.
Israel Beiteinu MK Robert Ilatov explained his party's plan for exchanging territory and populations with the PA.
Many speakers pushed the idea of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, on a day in which Jordan protested the advancement of National Union MK Arye Eldad's bill that calls for the solution to the Palestinian problem to take place in Jordan and not Israel.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, who headed the National Security Council under Sharon, said the idea had started to be raised seriously among the Jordanians and Palestinians since Hamas took over Gaza. He said he believed both the Jordanians and Palestinians would eventually agree to it, if it became clear that the only other alternative was a Hamas state in the West Bank.
Eiland also called for expanding the Gaza Strip into the Egyptian-controlled Sinai, to allow cities and a port to be built for the Palestinian people. He said that Israel could compensate Egypt for the loss of territory with land in the Negev.
Adi Mintz, a former chairman of the Council of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, outlined his "Shalom Ba'aretz" [peace in Israel] plan, which takes Eiland's ideas further. Mintz's plan calls for first defeating terror, and establishing a separate system of streets and bridges, so Palestinians can go from one town to another without checkpoints.
Mintz would annex some 62 percent of the West Bank, including expanded settlement blocs, the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert. He said this would only add some 300,000 Arabs to the Israeli population. In the plan's final stage, some 1 million people living in the remaining 38% of the West Bank would become Jordanian citizens and Israeli residents, and would administer themselves.
By contrast, former National Union leader Benny Elon's Israel Initiative, which was also outlined at the conference, would not divide the West Bank at all. But the Arabs living there would come under Jordanian civil control, while remaining under Israeli military control.
Former defense minister Moshe Arens criticized all the plans involving Jordan, calling them unrealistic.
THE MOST surprising speaker at the conference was Netanyahu's former bureau chief, Uri Elitzur, who said that the best possible option was the annexation of the entire West Bank, making all the Palestinians living there Israeli citizens. He said he recognized the danger of Israel's eventually becoming a binational state, but it was preferable to withdrawing from Judea and Samaria, or continuing the current situation.
But after the conference ended, the participants agreed that the most likely scenario still remained that Obama would pursue the creation of a Palestinian state with full force, while adding the prospect of Arab countries recognizing the Jewish state in an attempt to make it easier to swallow. Netanyahu will try to improve the plan via his talks with the Obama administration, rather than give a firm no and attempt to stop it completely.
They predicted that, as has happened every time a president decided he could solve the Middle East conflict, the Arabs would prevent the plan from being implemented by refusing to compromise. They noted that the election of Hamas at the beginning of next year could also derail Obama's efforts.
Faced with that prospect, the conference's organizers said the ideas raised there would be waiting for Netanyahu and Obama after yet another Middle East peace process proved unsuccessful.