Throughout the negotiations on an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement over the past decade-and-a-half, Israeli prime ministers strove to ensure that the major settlement blocs adjacent to the Green Line would be incorporated within the future borders of Israel. Both security- and demography-wise, these settlements, where some 80% of the settlers live, were considered by prime ministers Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert as part and parcel of a Jewish-democratic Israel. They understood the imperative to differentiate between the main settlement blocs, Jewish Jerusalem and the settlements in the rest of the West Bank.Unfortunately, the current Israeli government’s attempt to erase the Green Line and to blur the distinction between Israel proper and all the settlements is becoming an international issue, as demonstrated last week by three developments.In the first, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the heads of the municipalities of the West Bank settlements that he has convinced the US administration to “take off the table” the distinction between the settlements blocs and the isolated ones.The second development is the letter sent by the UN Human Rights Commissioner to 150 companies doing business in Israel and the settlements, warning them that they are about to be added to a database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. As a result, some of these companies are reportedly considering withdrawing entirely from doing business in Israel, as they cannot make a distinction between Israel and the settlements.
The third development is the renewal of the discussion over the anti-BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] law in the US Congress, which proposes to outlaw explicit boycotts of Israel, in order to deter the companies from succumbing to the warning of the UN. The bill relates to Israel and “areas under its control,” i.e. the settlements, as a single unit.The common denominator of these three developments is the false assertion that pre-1967 Israel, the main settlement blocs and the remote, isolated settlements are all one. It is appalling that Israel’s enemies on one hand, and its prime minister and his right-wing supporters on the other, agree with this erroneous contention. It and its implications endanger the future of Israel as the secure, democratic home for the Jewish People. Zionism means that Israel should be a Jewish democracy in Eretz Yisrael.Israel cannot be a democracy if it controls 2.5 million Palestinians residing in the West Bank who have no civic rights, unlike their settler neighbors who are Israeli citizens. Therefore the demarcation between Israel and the areas which are populated with millions of Palestinians is of crucial importance.The claim of Israel’s enemies, BDS advocates and others – that Zionism is a colonial aggressive enterprise and that Israel is an apartheid state – gains growing legitimacy if there is no demarcation between Israel within the pre-1967 borders and the territories occupied in 1967. While pre-1967 Israel is considered legitimate by most of the international community, the occupation of the territories and the settlements in these areas is considered illegitimate.Israel should therefore make a finer distinction not only between pre-1967 Israel and all of the territories, but also between the major settlement blocs adjacent to the 1949 armistice lines (the Green Line) and the isolated ones.President George W. Bush made this distinction in his 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon, but this important anchor is now being destroyed by the current government.Since the Zionist enterprise is legitimate only if it allows all the people under its control equal rights, Israel needs to create a reality that implements this principle. As a first step, Israel should announce that it has no sovereignty claims over areas in which Israeli settlers are a small minority, that is, all areas beyond the security fence, outside of the settlement blocs.In addition, it should accept that any future agreement will be based on the 1967 lines with territorial swaps that will apply Israeli sovereignty to the settlement blocs, as well.Third, it should separate the security issue from the settlement issue, so that the IDF will remain deployed as needed in the territories regardless of the settlements, until the security issue is resolved in a permanent agreement. If Israel would carefully demarcate its future borders, providing full, equal rights for all the residents within these borders and also providing sufficient space for creating a Palestinian state for the millions of Palestinian outside its borders, it will enable the companies who are about to cease doing business in Israel to continue with their business uninterrupted. Furthermore, it will help US legislators define an effective anti-BDS bill that will not create an impossible dilemma for US companies.By blurring all distinctions, Prime Minister Netanyahu incredibly accepts the narrative of Israel’s enemies. But everyone who cares about the future of Israel and wishes that it fulfills the Zionist vision of a democratic home for the Jewish People within secure borders should reject that narrative and insist on the clear demarcation between Israel and the areas allotted for the future state of Palestine.Ami Ayalon is a former director of the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency), Gilead Sher was chief of staff to prime minister Ehud Barak and heads the Center for Applied Negotiations at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, and Orni Petruschka is a high-tech entrepreneur in Israel. They are principals of the Israeli non-partisan organization Blue White Future.
Trump tells Israel to "hold back on settlements" during meeting with Netanyahu at White House on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)