The Peretz peace plan

Eyeing the comeback trail, former Labor leader Amir Peretz devises a strategy for resolving the Israel-Palestine impasse

Amir Peretz
FOR YEARS, former Labor leader Amir Peretz suffered from the image of the bumbling defense minister forced to resign in the wake of the ineptly handled 2006 Lebanon War. An iconic front page picture of him on the Lebanese border peering blindly through a pair of binoculars with the caps still on reinforced the public perception of a somewhat ridiculous figure hopelessly out of his depth. It was taken in February 2007, at the height of domestic infighting and recrimination over the war.
Four months later the much maligned Peretz had lost both his high-powered jobs, Labor leader and defense minister, to former prime minister Ehud Barak on the comeback trail. His political career seemed over.
Fast forward to November 2012 and Operation Pillar of Defense. In seven days of fighting between the IDF and Hamas in Gaza, Israel came under heavy rocket and missile attack, but thanks to the Iron Dome anti-missile system – which shot down over 80 percent of the incoming projectiles – there were relatively few casualties.
Peretz was hailed as the man who as defense minister overruled the military and most of the experts and insisted on developing Iron Dome as a top national priority.
Two years later, in the summer of 2014, in far more sustained fighting over 49 days, Iron Dome again proved its worth. Almost 3,000 rockets and missiles were fired at Israeli civilian concentrations – causing only seven civilian deaths. Wherever he went across the country, Peretz received a hero’s welcome. His public rehabilitation was complete. So much so, that the once seemingly down-and-out lawmaker with the thick trade-mark moustache again harbors serious prime ministerial ambitions.
The first step is set to be a return to the Labor party in January, after three years in former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s smaller Hatnua, which together with Labor forms the Zionist Union. Then, depending on political conditions down the road, Peretz will consider mounting a challenge for the party leadership. He will present himself as an antithesis to the incumbent Yitzhak Herzog and his bland leadership style – proletarian Mizrahi to Herzog’s Ashkenazi elite; passionate streetfighter rather than deferential gentleman; and as someone who could get through to working class Likudniks Labor wouldn’t normally be able to reach.
Peretz’s long shot could change the trajectory of Israel’s future THE JERUSALEM REPORT DECEMBER 28, 2015 11 He will promote himself as a fiery ex-Histadrut Trade Union leader with security credentials capable of shaping conditions for greater social justice, handling national defense issues and paving a path to peace with the Palestinians.
As part of a bid to project an aura of leadership gravitas and to present himself as a real alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Peretz has developed a detailed peace plan, something Herzog has been loath to do. At its heart is a territorial deal that would have Israel annex a minimal amount of the West Bank and keep a maximal number of Jewish settlers on the Israeli side of the border.
Peretz maintains that there are 570,000 Israelis living across the 1967 Green Line, 200,000 in Jerusalem, 290,000 in the large settlement blocs and 80,000 in the isolated settlements beyond. Under his plan, 490,000 would be included within the new Israeli borders and of the remaining 80,000, half would agree to voluntary evacuation if offered a reasonable relocation package. This in Peretz’s view is eminently doable, and could work for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The plan has three phases: Phase 1: Confidence building measures to create conditions for serious new peace talks. These would include: • Joint Israeli-Palestinian moves against terror • The Palestinian Authority stopping incitement and suspending international moves against Israel; Israel freezing building in the settlements • Israel declaring its readiness for territorial negotiations based on the 1967 borders with land swaps; the Palestinians declaring that the aim of the negotiations is a full-fledged peace treaty, signifying the end of the conflict and the finality of claims.
Phase 2: Negotiations on all the core issues, borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees, with the aim of reaching a fullfledged peace treaty within a year. Peretz’s proposals on security, Jerusalem and refugees are not new: the Palestinian state would be demilitarized, in Jerusalem, Jewish neighborhoods would go to Israel, Arab neighborhoods and surrounding villages to Palestine; the Holy Basin would be under Israeli sovereignty, with a joint administrative body to guarantee freedom of worship and access to the Holy places; and refugees would be able to choose resettlement in Palestine or compensation.
What is new in Peretz’s plan is the impressive degree of detail in the territorial proposal and his burning conviction that it could work.
Phase 3: Israel would annex five percent of the West Bank in return for an equal amount of land in Israel proper, constituting one percent of Israeli territory. (Israel is five times the size of the West Bank.) YONATAN SINDEL / FLASH 90 Peace planners: Zionist Union MKs Hilik Bar, left, Omer Bar-Lev and Amir Peretz electioneering in Jerusalem, in March 12 THE JERUSALEM REPORT DECEMBER 28, 2015 Three swaths of West Bank territory would be annexed: Land close to the Green Line, encompassing settlements like Alfei Menashe, Modi’in Elit and Beitar Elit, including 160,000 Israelis and constituting 1.75 percent of the West Bank; Greater Jerusalem, including Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Zeev and the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, containing 280,000 Israelis and constituting another 1.75 percent of the West Bank; Kedumim and the Ariel panhandle, containing 50,000 Israelis and constituting 1.5 percent of the West Bank.
The new borders would include around 85 percent of all Jewish settlers; 80,000 would need to be relocated. At various stages in previous negotiations, the Palestinians intimated that they could live with a four percent land swap; Peretz points out that his proposed five percent is not all that far away.
HE INSISTS that reengaging with the Palestinians and moving forward on the basis of his plan would immediately “create a firewall” against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) moves against Israel; that once a conflict-ending Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty is signed, the rest of the Arab world would join follow-up treaties normalizing relations and providing for mutually beneficial economic cooperation; and, most importantly, that a twostate solution would enable Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic.
But despite international pressure and the pressure of Palestinian terror in the streets, Netanyahu is showing no sign of launching any peace moves.
On the contrary, ever since the collapse of American-led peace talks with the Palestinians in the spring of 2014, he has been digging in. This has created a diplomatic vacuum and an opening for peace plans like Peretz’s which offer a clear alternative to the government’s do-nothing approach on the Palestinian issue and the inevitable slide toward a binational disaster.
Peretz is not alone. Labor Secretary General Hilik Bar is promoting a plan under which a Palestinian state is established as a first step toward a peace deal, rather than as the result of one. According to Bar’s plan, Israel would back a UN resolution creating a Palestinian state, the Palestinians would recognize Israel as the Jewish nation state and the two states would then negotiate permanent borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees on an equal state-to-state basis.
In Bar’s vision, Jewish settlers who so wish can remain in Palestine, Israeli and Palestinian citizens would have privileged access to holy places, tourism, trade and academia in each other’s territory. Gaza would revert to the Palestinian Authority, the PA would establish a municipal body in Jerusalem and the status quo on the Temple Mount would remain as is.
Some of the plans focus on ways to get talks restarted; others on a vision of permanent status both sides could live with.
Labor’s Omer Bar-Lev, for example, has a plan for intermediate steps to create conditions for the restoration of trust and reopening negotiations for two states. As a show of good faith, Israel would halt construction outside the large settlement blocs, expand the scope of Palestinian civil control in area B of the West Bank and set up a special fund to transfer settlers in isolated settlements to the large settlement blocs. Bar Lev also suggests pressing the idea of demilitarization of Gaza in return for massive development.
President Reuven Rivlin takes a longer view. His plan is for a final peace arrangement that finesses many of the problems inherent in the two-state model: an Israeli- Palestinian confederation. There would be two states, two constitutions, two parliaments and one army – the IDF. Under this plan, Palestinians would have full citizenship and individual rights, Israel full security. The IDF would not have to withdraw and settlers would not have to be moved. Some Israelis could live in Palestine with Israeli citizenship and some Palestinians in Israel with Palestinian citizenship. Rivlin’s plan has the backing of some leading left-wingers, including former Meretz leader and Oslo architect Yossi Beilin.
Most Israelis and Palestinians are highly skeptical of the chances for success of any diplomatic initiative. A kind of fatalism is setting in that both peoples are destined to confront each other one way or another ad infinitum. Netanyahu’s recent comment that Israelis are destined to live by the sword forever encapsulates the mood.
Peretz, however, is convinced that the deadlock can be broken. That it is only a matter of political will, and the energy and determination to see it through.
Amir (Armand) Peretz was born in Boujad, Morocco, in 1952. He came to Israel at the age of four with his parents who settled in the development town of Sderot on the Gaza border. As a paratroop officer in Sinai in 1974, he was involved in a horrific bone-crushing APC accident from which it took him almost two years to recover.
His subsequent political career was meteoric.
At 31 he was mayor of Sderot, at 36 a Labor Member of the Knesset and at 43 leader of the Histadrut Trade Union. In 1999, he left Labor to found his own party Am Echad, returning to Labor in 2005, where he challenged and sensationally defeated Shimon Peres for the leadership only months later.
Now he seems to be planning a similar move against Herzog. Whether or not he mounts a leadership challenge, Peretz will be part of Labor’s top decision-making echelon. Unlike many in the party who these gloomy-about-peace days tend to highlight socioeconomic issues, Peretz insists that peace is a necessary condition for social justice. He will press for a much stronger peacemaking orientation.
A passionate speaker, Peretz in full flow is almost impossible to stop. Critics dismiss him as a windbag full of hot air.
Supporters see in him a man of substance who could lead the way to a different Israel – more peace-minded, with greater social justice and ethnic harmony.
The question is can the once-failed defense minister become the man of the hour? Will he be able to breathe new life into the struggling Labor party and the ailing peace process? It is a long shot, but one that, if it comes off, could change the trajectory of Israel’s future.