Pull out the IDF and tell the settlers that if they insist on staying, that's their choice.
By LARRY DERFNER
Chances are the Obama administration is not going to let the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks go on treading water for another four (or eight) years like they have for the last eight. At some point in the not-too-distant future, things are going to get serious again. All those old, old issues - borders, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees - are going to stop being abstractions like they've been since the intifada ended the Oslo peace process and become urgent, tangible matters again.
I'm not saying Israel and the Palestinians are necessarily going to make peace the next time around, but there is going to be a next time around. I'd say within the next couple of years at the most. A right-wing Republican administration like the outgoing one may have been content to let the Israeli occupation go on festering, but that was an anomaly. The US and the West want more or less the same land-for-peace deal over here that they've wanted since 1967, and once Obama's team takes over next month, it's going to be only a matter of time until the peace process comes back to life.
We and the Palestinians are much further apart today than we were when the talks effectively broke off in September 2000. At that time, there was at least a reasonable hope that the Palestinians would deliver peace - stop terrorism - and that Israel would deliver land - withdraw from nearly all of the West Bank. But today the moderate West Bank leadership seems much too weak to stop terrorism on its own, while Israel has become so right-wing that no one can even imagine the uprooting of 75,000 or so settlers from the West Bank's interior, which would be necessary to make room for a Palestinian state.
I'm not going to go into the problem of terrorism now, because I don't have an answer to it. But I don't think it's insoluble, either, and there are ideas out there that are going to be examined, such as putting NATO forces into the West Bank, which has been proposed by James Jones, the incoming US national security adviser.
INSTEAD, I want to offer a suggestion on how to solve the Israeli half of the puzzle - how to get those roughly 75,000 settlers out of the heart of the West Bank. I think there's only one way to do it: by pulling the IDF out of there and telling the settlers that if they insist on staying, that's their choice.
The scenes last week in Hebron reinforced what everybody already knows - that there's no way to physically evict tens of thousands of radical religious nationalists out of places like Hebron, Kiryat Arba, Yitzhar, Bracha, Beit El, Ofra and all the other settlements where they've been living for 20, 30 or 40 years. Imagine the "House of Contention" riots in Hebron, only a few thousand times worse.
And yet, most Israelis, I'm convinced, would like to see an end to all those radical settlements on the far side of the security barrier - and the riots in Hebron reinforced that attitude as well. I believe that if the time comes - if a peace treaty with good security provisions becomes a genuine possibility - the Israeli public would support an IDF pullout to the security barrier, with or without the settlers.
The fear, of course, is that there would be a bloodbath, that the Palestinians would wreak vengeance on settler families, which is what happened to some pockets of European settlers in Africa during de-colonialization.
First of all, I don't think there would be a wholesale slaughter of settlers in a newly independent Palestine, because I don't think any Palestinian leadership that made peace with Israel would want to enter the international community with such a thing on its head. But I do think there would be individual acts of revenge against settlers. And, of course, massive land confiscations. Even if Palestine were run by a Palestinian Nelson Mandela, the settlers could not expect to be treated any better there than Arab citizens are treated in Israel - and I don't think they would like that. I don't think that would be good enough for them. Instead, I'm convinced they would voluntarily leave the West Bank ahead of the IDF.
And if a few nut cases, a few modern-day Masada types, want to die sanctifying God's name or something, I'm sorry - let them. A few dozen, or a few hundred, or even a few thousand wackos should not be allowed to doom all Israelis and Palestinians to an eternity of occupation, terrorism and war. Besides, the dead-enders would probably be deported to Israel by the new Palestinian regime; at any rate, they shouldn't be allowed to hold the future of two entire nations hostage.
IN THE government's place, I would give the settlers plenty of notice before an army pullout - a year. And I'd offer them very, very generous compensation - let's say $100,000 for every man, woman and child, which would allow all the families to buy very nice housing in Israel proper, plus very generous compensation for lost businesses, plus affirmative action and every other kind of assistance to those who'd lost their jobs.
But most importantly, I would get them the money and let them to rebuild their lives in Israel a whole lot quicker and easier than the Gush Katif settlers were allowed to do. I'd give the West Bank settlers their money with virtually no questions asked; I'd have the government basically just write out checks - without the despicable bureaucratic gauntlet the Gush Katif evacuees were forced to run, and which many are still running to this day.
The other way I'd save a tremendous amount of time and misery is to forget about "collective solutions" - if the West Bank settlers want to stay together in Israel, fine, let them pool their money and buy land and build new neighborhoods. But no more of this searching all over the country for vast stretches of available land and trying to negotiate deals that are acceptable to everyone concerned, as was done with the Gush Katif evacuees. No, the government should pay off each individual West Bank settler family and they can do what they want with the money - buy new homes on their own or go in together with their neighbors.
At $100,000 in housing compensation for each of 75,000 men, women and children, the cost would come to $7.5 billion. Adding in business compensation and miscellaneous expenses, let's say you double it - that's $15 billion. Then, just to be extra safe, double it again - that's $30 billion. Coincidentally, $30 billion is how much the US has pledged to give us over the next 10 years; $30 billion in free money.
In short, we can afford to get out of the West Bank.
By saying we were pulling the army out and inviting, but not forcing, the settlers back to Israel, it would be a whole different ball game with the settler protests than it was in Gush Katif or Amona or last week in Hebron. It's one thing for the settlers to try to resist the IDF and police coming to evict them - it's another thing for them to try to stop the IDF from redeploying. Physically, tactically and politically, that's a much harder thing to pull off. I don't think they'd get much public sympathy at all.
If it's impossible and unthinkable to evacuate 75,000 radical West Bank settlers, it's just as impossible and unthinkable for them and their supporters to stop the IDF from pulling out.
So I think there is a way to fulfill at least one side of the land-for-peace deal. How to fulfill the other side - we'll see. But when the Obama administration tries to make peace in the Middle East, it should not let what will probably be a right-wing Israeli government use the danger of settler violence, of civil war, as an excuse to keep the peace process frozen.
We can deliver on our end the bargain. If there's a way, maybe with NATO, maybe some other way, of giving the Abbas-Fayad government the power to stop terrorism, I think the peace can be made. The issues of Jerusalem and refugees don't require any military force or removing anyone from his home; they're not as hard to solve. Israeli settlements and Palestinian terror are the crux of the conflict.
I think a majority of Israelis are ready to give up the land if they're convinced the Palestinians will deliver the peace, and I think a majority of Palestinians are ready to deliver the peace if they're convinced Israel will give up the land. It's the convincing that needs work. Sometime after January 20, there will be a new start on that work. A fresh start.
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