Has Israel given up on reciprocity?

If evacuating settlers is presented to the Palestinians, why should they want to negotiate concessions?

zalman shoval 88 (photo credit: )
zalman shoval 88
(photo credit: )
'The separation fence won't be a political border," declared prime minister Ariel Sharon in his 2004 Herzliya speech. Ehud Olmert has repeated this more than once. Recently, however, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has proposed not only treating the security barrier as a de-facto border, but also offering money to evacuate the Jews living on the eastern side of the fence. Barak's spiel is obvious: He aims to convince part of the public that he is a hawk, and the other part that he is the bona fide standard-bearer of the peace camp. And it isn't only Barak. Vice Premier Haim Ramon, the prime minister's "man for some seasons," has begun to test the waters in order to gauge Knesset support for broad-based legislation in this matter. The idea of "evacuation compensation" was first peddled by the Bayit Ehad (One Home) political movement founded by MKs Colette Avital (Labor) and Avshalom Vilan (Meretz), former Israeli consul-general to New York Alon Pinkas, Maj.-Gen. Alik Ron (ret.), and former defense minister Dalia Rabin, with the twist that the evacuees would be offered the market value of their homes. According to Bayit Ehad, this would include between 70,000-80,000 settlers living outside the security barrier and the large settlement blocs. SHARON considered President George W. Bush's recognition of the settlement blocs to be ironclad. But in view of the Annapolis conference and Bush's failure to even mention his famous letter affirming the settlement blocs to Sharon in his speech - plus the fact that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is raising objections to any building in those locations, as well as in Jerusalem - questions arise regarding the firmness of that commitment. The proponents of the idea of evacuation in return for money claim, somewhat sanctimoniously, that they are acting out of concern for the welfare of the settlers, since they would be exposed to Palestinian terror. It seems, then, that despite what occurred after the evacuation of the Gaza Strip, there are those who have still not understood that Israeli withdrawals do not reduce terror - rather the opposite. And if ideal peace is supposedly in the offing as a result of Annapolis - why worry about terror? THE HISTORY of practical Zionism has been buying land for Jewish settlers - not buying off Jewish settlers to make them abandon their land. Yet even without necessarily being an adherent of the Greater Israel vision or wanting to get into a debate about the ideological or ethical aspects of the "compensation for evacuation" scheme, anyone examining it pragmatically must arrive at the conclusion that it should be laid to rest. At least some of the settlements that "One Home" wants to hand over lock, stock and barrel to the Palestinians serve definite and important security functions - especially the settlements that form a crucial territorial barrier against bringing the eastern front to the outskirts of Tel Aviv - and the rest of the country. Following the security concepts articulated by Yigal Alon, Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon, these settlements include, among others, the Jordan Valley communities. If, after the elimination of Saddam Hussein, there was hope that the danger from that eastern front had passed, current events in Iraq, and the possibility that an extremist Shi'ite fundamentalist state tied to Iran might take shape there, have made the threat from that front even more concrete. FURTHERMORE, those making the evacuation proposal have not grasped that the only reason for the relatively lower level of terrorist activity in and emanating from Judea and Samaria is the presence of the IDF and other Israeli security forces (in contrast to Gaza, which the Israeli withdrawal has turned into Hamastan). Do they really think that a full Israeli withdrawal from the "West Bank" will put an end to the threat of terror? Israel's number one soldier-statesman, Moshe Dayan, made the case for settlements - provided they were not to be built on private Arab land - in his usual pragmatic way: In order to defend itself against aggression, Israel must maintain for all time certain strategic military positions in Judea and Samaria. But just keeping an army there would not be tenable in the long run. Thus there must be a civilian infrastructure, settlements, as well - "specified security locations" - as referred to in the Camp David agreement. AS FOR the political and diplomatic downside of the Barak-Avital-Vilan-Ramon (Olmert?) proposal, its clear connotation is that Israel has given up on genuine peace negotiations based on reciprocity. Even accepting the premise of most previous Israeli governments - namely, that for genuine peace, unlike the present virtual exercise hatched at Annapolis, Israel would have to make "painful" compromises, this would have to be on the basis of give and take. And if there was any lingering doubt about this principle, the letdown after the Gaza disengagement should tell us that once is enough. But that is exactly what the "evacuation compensation" proposal is: unilateral withdrawal. In other words, if evacuation is presented to the Palestinians as a given, not even to be negotiated - why should they want to make concessions to Israel? The inevitable result would be a demand for additional concessions west of the security fence, including in the supposedly immune - and even for this government, non-negotiable - settlement blocs. The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the US.