All signals indicate that within weeks, the United States will present a political initiative that may, for the first time in many years, include a plan for a Palestinian-Israeli agreement - or at least some American mediation proposals on the conflict's core issues. A responsible government must prepare well for this development. It could turn out to be an important opportunity for Israel, but it could also contain many serious risks.
Israeli governments have always recognized the supreme importance of coordinating positions with the United States. After Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem, Menachem Begin dictated an autonomy plan to his secretary, but before presenting it to the government or the public he flew to Washington and showed it to then-president Jimmy Carter. Begin's plan, which he coordinated with Carter, was the basis for the Camp David Accords.
The presentation of an American plan, even an outline, that has not been coordinated with Israel and does not correspond to its vital interests would be catastrophic. Such a plan would quickly become a UN Security Council resolution that would pass unanimously and put Israel in an intolerable position. It's true that such a scenario is not without a precedent, but 2009 is not 1969 (the Rogers Plan) or 1982 (the Reagan Plan). If no other choice is left, Israel would fight a plan it could not live with, but everything must be done to avoid getting into such a situation in the first place.
Coordinating positions with the United States is the most urgent task for the government and the prime minister. This can be achieved if the government presents realistic and reasonable positions that can be defended. The most vital issue at this point is that of borders, which includes the settlement issue as well. It's hard to believe that it would be possible to achieve an agreement on Jerusalem or the Palestinian refugees at the earliest stage. Some observers talk about a Palestinian state with temporary borders. Israel's interest lies in a Palestinian state with temporary characteristics of sovereignty, but with permanent borders. Agreeing to permanent borders will force the Palestinians to cross the psychological Rubicon once and for all, and would give Israel borders recognized and accepted by the entire world. Such an agreement would end talk of occupation and attempts to delegitimize Israel.
The greatest question is, of course, which borders those would be. Israel must adopt former prime minister's Ehud Olmert's map, which stipulates that 6.5 percent of Judea and Samaria will be annexed to Israel. According to this map, all the main settlement blocs, home to 200,000 settlers, will become part of the State of Israel. Anyone talking about a Palestinian state covering 40 to 50 percent of the West Bank is no less delusional than delegates at the Fatah convention accusing Israel of murdering Yasser Arafat. The only alternative to Olmert's map is that of the Geneva Initiative - a poor map that Israel must not accept.
The Olmert map is not far from Bill Clinton's plan. It's certainly not what we had hoped for, but Israel can live with it and there's a good chance an agreement can be reached on it with the United States, an agreement that is priceless to Israel. With all the pain involved, we must remember that anyone who wants to have everything, or nearly everything, risks ending up with nothing.
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