The difficulties U.S. President Barack Obama has encountered in trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table show how hard it will be to achieve a peace agreement even if the talks resume. Anyone who thinks the Americans, who for 18 months haven't gotten the negotiations to resume, will be able to overcome the differences separating the parties at the talks is feeding dangerous illusions. If it's so hard to overcome the issue of the construction freeze, how will it be possible to achieve an understanding on the core issues - borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees?
Israel should therefore develop an alternative plan and announce that it will be implemented if the negotiations fail. The plan should be based on unilateral steps, not offering the Palestinians gestures, but trying to protect Israeli interests in a deadlock. Such an alternative plan - Plan B - would also present an Israeli initiative for the first time. So far, Israel has only reacted to what has been proposed and has been perceived as rejectionist.
The following are the plan's main elements.
- Israel will lift the siege on the Gaza Strip. The siege did not achieve its goals (toppling the Hamas regime and freeing Gilad Shalit ). It also presents Israel as an aggressive party mistreating a civilian population that is perceived as the victim. Israel should announce that it will allow the free passage of goods, other than weapons, into Gaza, and that it will invite international organizations (the European Union ) to send observers to the crossing points.
- Israel will announce that it will transfer control of Area C to the Palestinians, coordinated with the local Palestinian security forces, and that it will continue to pursue its policy easing conditions at West Bank checkpoints. All this would be subject to continued calm on the ground.
- Israel will permit the supervised passage of goods from the West Bank to Israeli ports.
- Israel will evacuate illegal West Bank settlement outposts, as it has committed to do in the past.
- A generous evacuation-compensation program will be set up for West Bank settlers who wish to return to Israel proper.
- Israel will halt construction in Jewish settlements beyond the security fence.
Since this plan is not conditioned on negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel will not be asking for anything in exchange for its implementation, though steps by the Palestinians such as changes in their rhetoric on the refugees' right of return and changes to Palestinian school curricula that ignore Israel's existence will be welcomed.
Of course, some people will oppose these ideas on the argument that Israel is making concessions to the Palestinians without getting anything in return. Such objections are mistaken. The plan is actually based on what most of the Israeli public views as a basis for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. As strange as it sounds, a rather broad consensus can be created around such a plan, from Meretz to Yisrael Beiteinu. The plan may, perhaps, also encourage the Palestinians to be more flexible in negotiations, and it will be welcomed, if not enthusiastically, in the West as an alternative to failure.
Ehud Barak made a serious mistake as prime minister in 2000 in going to Camp David without an alternative plan. That mistake must not be repeated. The choice is never only between peace and war. There is always a third way and one must be ready to follow it.
One of the great Zionist leaders before the establishment of the state, Arthur Ruppin, who at one stage looked favorably on the Brit Shalom peace movement, ultimately despaired over the possibility of coming to an agreement. He said that "what we can offer the Arabs, they will not accept, and what they will accept, we cannot offer." The time has come to understand that we have to try to shape our destiny ourselves rather than waiting for Godot.