Understandings before a clash
Engaging the Americans in "arm-wrestling" will not help. Ultimately, Israel is a democratic country where the Knesset makes the decisions.
Glimmers of concern have recently crept into conversations with various American officials about a possible clash between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. On the one hand, the U.S. president has reiterated his intention to implement an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on the existence of two independent states. On the other hand, official voices in the Israeli government are heralding an attempt to evade, thwart or at least delay such a move.
Engaging the Americans in "arm-wrestling" will not help. Ultimately, Israel is a democratic country where the Knesset makes the decisions. The agreement that Obama speaks of contains unavoidable components: withdrawal from 96 percent of the West Bank, the transfer of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to Palestinian rule, a special arrangement for the holy places. It is very doubtful whether a majority will be found in the present Knesset to approve such an accord. Harsh outside pressure might lead to new elections, which under the circumstances will not result in a definite change in the parliament's balance of power. And above all, there is the Iranian issue: Addressing it requires coordination and full understanding between Israel and the United States - not tension and conflict.
This entanglement may be unraveled by means of a "package of understandings" between Israel and the United States, which will ensure tangible progress toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, and will serve the shared interests of both America and Israel in the face of an Iran heading toward nuclear power.
In the framework of this package, Israel would undertake five pledges: to institute a total, monitored freeze on construction in settlements and of roads connecting them; to allow expansion of activities aimed at developing Palestinian security services and deploying them in all cities in the West Bank; to remove obstacles to economic development in the West Bank, so as to make possible establishment of industrial zones and export of products; to refrain from making further restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement in the West Bank (that is, rejecting pressure by settlers to restore checkpoints removed during the tenure of the previous government); and to allow Palestinian Authority rule to return to the Gaza Strip and the border crossings if and when Hamas' rule ends.
The United States, for its part, would pledge to limit its dialogue with Iran to a reasonable period of time, and not to include acceptance of Tehran's demand to recognize it as a hegemonic player in the Middle East. If this dialogue does not bring about an end to the manufacture of nuclear weapons and support for terror, the U.S. would lead a move toward serious economic sanctions: an embargo on the sale of distillates, a ban on the entire Iranian financial system, and punishment of companies that invest in the Iranian energy industry and provide it with replacement parts.
Moreover, the United States would take part in the development of Israeli anti-missile and rocket programs without any connection to America's annual military assistance, and in a form and to an extent that would accelerate completion of - and allow Israel to incorporate its own technology and weaponry in - the new F-35 aircraft.
The package of understandings would defuse the danger of an Israeli-American clash. On the one hand, it would ensure the economic and security infrastructure of the Palestinian state. On the other, tangible economic sanctions would undermine the regime of the ayatollahs, and Israel would not find itself facing the Iranian threat alone, and would therefore not be forced by lack of choice to act alone. In any case, Israel's ability to protect its civilian population from the threat of heavy rockets and ballistic missiles would be improved, and effective defense is also a necessary condition for offensive action.
The writer is a former health minister, transportation minister and deputy defense minister.