Ayalon: Making conflict 'regional' would help solve it

Labor MK and party leadership contender Ami Ayalon on Tuesday called for a "regionalization" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to make the conflict manageable. "Israel must change the diplomatic pattern of agreeing to conduct conversations [with Arab states] only on a one-on-one basis," Ayalon told an architecture and engineering conference in Tel Aviv. Rather, Israel should seek to form a coalition with "moderate Sunni Arab states" based on "a shared analysis of the threat of Iran and its nuclear program and radical Islamist elements," he said, even suggesting that these threats should be analyzed in "an international conference of regional players." "The pragmatic Sunni world has understood what we've been saying for years," Ayalon, a former commander of the navy and head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), told the audience. "We're not the central problem for stability in the Middle East, but rather Iran and its nuclear weapons and the spread of radical Islam. Everyone who accepts the State of Israel as a Jewish state is a party to the conversation," he said. This change in the Sunni Arabs's perception of the threat to their safety has created "a situation in which there is a real coalition of interests" between moderate Arab states and Israel, Ayalon explained, adding that he believed this created an opportunity to move forward in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "[Palestinian Authority President] Abu Mazen is moderate but weak, but as part of a moderate Arab world he has the ability to conduct painful negotiations," he said, "and creating an inter-state reality would shift the conflict from one between two societies and religions to one between two states who disagree about a border." To that end, he insisted, a Palestinian state must exist. While he did not specify a timetable, he seemed to indicate that its founding should come ahead of final agreement over borders: "Until they [the Palestinians] have a state, they will continue acting like they have nothing to lose. The policy of deterrence is based on the idea that they have something to lose. While we know and can describe how much they could lose, they don't believe in it, and that's what's important." While "we have learned in Lebanon and Gaza that unilateralism as a strategy doesn't work," and that it should not be the policy in the West Bank, Ayalon advocated legislating a "reparations" bill that would offer "legitimacy and financial help" for those Israelis living in settlements beyond the security fence who want to relocate within it. "The international community will then recognize de facto that the fence is an international border," he said, emphasizing that "internationally recognized borders are a crucial diplomatic, but also defensive, operational asset. The fact that Hizbullah violated Israeli sovereignty was the cause of the international support we enjoyed [at the beginning of the summer's war]," he noted.