concessions which Barak supposedly offered and which the Palestinians rejected.
But a process of sobering up has began. (According to a poll published in
Ha’aretz, July 4, 2001, 40% of the Israelis support the evacuation of ALL
settlements; 52% support forceful evacuation of part of the settlements in a
unilateral withdrawal.) Many other will join when they realize that the
alternative is, at best, a return to the pre-Oslo days: two months of reserve
service every year and horrible terror attacks.
Despite the wide
support, implementation of this sensible plan seems further away every year.
Since Oslo, the dream of peace was replaced by the myth of negotiations. We are
facing difficult and complex problems – so the Oslo myth has been going – which
require years, maybe generations, of negotiations. And until the whole deal is
agreed upon, it is impossible to evacuate even one tiny settlement. Shortly
after Oslo, Labor MP Haggai Merom tried to organize evacuation with compensation
for the settlers who were willing to evacuate. Thousands enrolled in the office
he opened. But prime minister Rabin announced: not now! Since then, the number
of settlers doubled from 100.000 to almost 200.000, and the negotiations only
became more and more entangled and complicated.
This route has failed.
Even if Arafat will agree to resume the road of eternal ‘negotiations’ (as some
of the Israeli doves are urging him to do), we have lost the faith of the
Palestinian people, who are not willing anymore to listen to vague promises
about a future which never materializes, while they watch more and more of their
lands being taken by the settlers. The lesson is clear. For true negotiations,
we must first withdraw – as we did in Lebanon. It is astounding how simple it is
to do this. Most of the occupied territories can be evacuated immediately,
within two or three months.
The only clear element
of Barak’s plan in Camp David was the immediate annexation by Israel of about 10
percent of the West Bank land. These include the settlement blocks which are
close to the center of Israel and in which there are already over 150,000
Israeli settlers. But the bigger fraud of Barak’s plan, which has not received
any attention in the public debate, is the fate of the rest of the 90 percent
which were supposedly designated to belong to the "Palestinian state". The
situation in these areas is easily visible today: These lands are cut up by 37
isolated settlements which were purposely built in the midst of the Palestinian
population to enable future Israeli control of these areas. As a result, 2
million Palestinians are crowded in enclaves which consist of about 50 percents
of the West Bank, and the other 40 percents are blocked by the defense array of
some 40,000 settlers. As always, inofficial rumors were spread in the media that
Israel intends to evacuate these areas in some future. But all relevant
government offices clarified repeatedly that no plan is being prepared for the
evacuation of even a single settlement. First, the Palestinians need to prove
that our imposed arrangements work, and then we will of course discuss and
These 40 percent of the
West Bank, at least, can and should be evacuated immediately. Many of the
residents of the isolated settlements are speaking openly in the Israeli media
about their wish to leave. It is only necessary to offer them reasonable
compensation for the property they will be leaving behind. The rest, the hard
core of the land-redemption fanatics, are a negligent minority that will have to
accept the will of the majority, and they can be evacuated forcefully, as done
before in Yamit, at the eve of the peace with Egypt. Immediately after the
evacuation of the settlements, the army will also leave all its bases and
This withdrawal will
leave under debate the large settlement blocks, which cannot be evacuated over
night, as well as the problems of Jerusalem and the interpretation of the right
of return. For these, negotiations will still be needed. However, during the
negotiations the Palestinian society will be able to begin to recover, settle in
the lands which will be evacuated, construct democratic institutions, and
develop its economy based on free contacts with whoever they want. Under these
circumstances, it should be possible to carry the negotiations in mutual
respect, and to reach also the core issue: What is the right way for two peoples
which share the same land to build, jointly, their future.
This isn’t just an
imaginary scenario for the far future, and we don’t even have to wait until this
government falls. The isolated settlers are trapped in the occupied territories
as bargaining chips in the hands of governments which are endangering their
lives. It is necessary to help them leave. The peace organizations can reach
those who want to leave with compensation. It is not necessary to have the
government’s approval for resettling them in Israel – This is just a matter of
money, and it should be possible to collect international donations for this
purpose. It is simple, and it is humane.
Appeared in Hebrew
(slightly shortened) in ‘Yediot Aharonot’ July 8, 2001.