A few days ago a dramatic report by Barak Ravid appeared in this newspaper about a secret summit meeting, held about a year ago in Aqaba by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, King Abdullah of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
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It was on the basis of this meeting, whose occurrence the prime minister has confirmed, together with other steps taken at the same time, that I was prepared to examine with Netanyahu a national unity government in the period March-May 2016.
The information published in Haaretz on February 19 exposed a small part of the great opportunity Israel had to change the face of the entire Middle East, and which could have brought great hope to our people and to the nations of the region. The historic move, which for obvious reasons was covert, was intended to prevent more rounds of violence and bloodshed.
At the time I repeatedly maintained that Israel had a historic chance to make a promising, dramatic strategic move, which required courageous political decisions. My readiness to take a step that was seen as political suicide – after I said in the election campaign “It’s us or him” – stemmed from my uncompromising commitment to save Israel from the one-state disaster and prevent unnecessary additional fatalities on both sides. I felt it was my duty not to turn my back on the specter I saw before me.
Throughout my political life I have been committed to seek peace, so I decided to take the opportunity with an open mind, after receiving explicit requests from the major leaders in our region and in world politics. These leaders saw the Zionist Union’s joining the government as proof that Israel was serious. They even confirmed to me that Netanyahu had explicitly expressed his commitment to advance the move, in which he himself played a major role.
Regrettably, at the crucial moment Netanyahu blinked first and caved in to his rightist allies and to the sum of all his fears. He renounced his obligations and liquidated a real chance for a regional arrangement and for changing the Middle East. For my part, I was ready to bear the brunt of my political allies’ and rivals’ abuse and insults to spare my people and homeland another round of bloodshed, the kind our ministers have been promising us with characteristic arrogance in recent weeks.
President Sissi and King Abdullah made it clear again this week that the basic conditions for a regional arrangement lay in the realization of the two-state vision. Not Jordan as Tzipi Hotovely’s Palestinian state, and not the Sinai Peninsula as Ayoub Kara’s Palestinian state. We, the responsible leaders, must continue to strive for peace and for the two-state solution, because it’s the only possible way.
At this moment, in view of the Netanyahu-Trump meeting, it’s clearer than ever that today, 50 years after the Six-Day War, Israel is at a crucial intersection. At this moment hard, penetrating truths must be voiced.
One truth pertains to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, whose dimensions now endanger Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. The rampant construction in all the settlements all the time will lead to replacing the Jewish majority state with an Arab majority state. The land confiscation law, the voices calling for annexation, including the annexation of Area C (which includes 60 percent of the West Bank), are the most tangible reflection of this threat. The large settlement blocs are part of the solution. Sweeping decisions about the continued construction in the West Bank are part of the problem.
Another truth pertains to the ongoing rule over another nation. This has reached the danger point that today threatens Israel’s moral character and democracy.
A third truth involves the need to recognize that the attempt to reach a viable peace in one move, in one conference or with a process consisting of agreed formulas and parameters for a permanent agreement, has failed. It has failed again and again – with Ehud Barak who tried it at Camp David, with Ehud Olmert who tried it at Annapolis, and with Benjamin Netanyahu who tried it with Kerry’s outline some years ago.
All those moves ended with disappointment and some even led to increased violence, hostility and suspicion among the leaders and nations.
We cannot accept the status quo, but we must also not repeat past mistakes. We must not jeopardize security, but nor can we go with open eyes toward national suicide.
Confiscation and annexing 2 million Palestinians who will demand full civil rights is not the answer. Only the two-state solution can end the prolonged, bloody conflict. The infrastructure for this existed a year ago and exists today more than ever before.
It exists in the form of a regional desire to take part in a strategic move, due to the presence of serious, strong regional allies and the common interest of Israel and our neighbors to defeat ISIS, block Iran and reach an agreement with the Palestinians. It exists thanks to the Arab peace initiative, whose principles are still valid and must be part of the agreement to separate us from the Palestinians, with the Trump administration’s backing.
These two elements – the regional infrastructure and separation – combined with moves outside the box, could serve as the foundation for a new, updated road map. This would be a realistic, balanced road map that would be the complete antithesis of Naftali Bennett’s plan.
In contrast to the government’s inaction, I suggest an updated road map for a multi-stage process that would include the following 10 steps and components.
1. Renewed ratification by both sides and the international community’s commitment to the final goal of two states, living side by side in peace and security.
2. The sides must set a time frame of up to 10 years, during which the whole area west of Jordan will be declared a place of nonviolence of any kind. They will agree on joint enforcement and uncompromising penalty for any kind of terror or incitement. The UN Security Council will adopt a resolution about it and directly supervise its implementation.
3. The two sides will move during this period toward realizing the two-state vision. Israel will continue to separate from the Palestinians by completing the wall that will protect Jerusalem and the settlement blocs, build a buffer between Jerusalem and the Palestinian villages around the city, and give the Palestinians broader authorities. These authorities will include civil powers in part of Area C, to enable urban development among the Palestinian communities adjacent to the separation fence and the large Palestinian cities. Exactly the opposite of what Bennett is demanding.
4. Israel will suspend construction outside the settlement blocs and avoid all steps to change the reality on the ground in those areas, with the exception of acts required for security, to enable implementing the two-state vision.
5. During this period, Palestinian economic development will be dramatically accelerated, with regional and international help. This will consist of urban development, rehabilitating refugee camps and developing a viable economy and industry.
6. The Palestinians will act to prevent any terror and incitement. They will also formulate a broad national agreement among the Palestinian factions, which would include the West Bank and Gaza Strip under one sovereignty. If they do so, they will be permitted to declare a Palestinian state within temporary borders and it will be clear that this state’s permanent borders will be determined only by agreement. Israel will consider recognizing the Palestinian state favorably and announce that it sees this state as a partner to a permanent status arrangement.
7. The IDF will continue acting throughout the West Bank up to the Jordan River, and around the Gaza Strip. Security coordination with the Palestinian Authority will continue and become even closer.
8. The parties will act to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip and build a port, subject to strict security arrangements, complete demilitarization and destruction of the tunnels.
9. After this period, assuming it passed without violence, the two sides will open direct negotiations, with the backing of the region’s states and the international community. The talks will be held without prior conditions, between two equal partners, seriously and resolutely and lead to a comprehensive, final peace agreement, settling all the controversial issues, setting the permanent borders and resulting in a declared end of the conflict.
10. The region’s states will publicly and forcefully support the moves, as part of a dramatic, broad regional initiative. Israel will advance the setting up of joint Middle Eastern institutions, which will act to develop the region and initiate cooperation in security, economics, water and the passage of goods and workers. Israel will propose to make Jerusalem the center of this regional community.
When a huge storm rages around us and the threat of losing Israel as our nation-state is becoming tangible, a new, realistic process must be started to implement the two-state vision.
An updated process will first of all lead to calm, in which each side will receive its due at every stage. The Palestinians will receive recognition, authority, more territory, and hope for the future. The Israelis will receive security, regional recognition and hope for the future.
It won’t be a wild, reckless stampede toward the unknown at an unknown time. Attitudes will become optimistic and the condition of complete quiet will compel the Palestinians and Israelis to make a supreme effort to prevent violence and terror.
Most importantly, the slide toward annexation – a hell of the kind that seen in Bosnia and now is seen in Syria – will be stopped. The two-state paradigm will be preserved and the peace process between the peoples will become real. The two peoples will separate from each other, the Palestinian economy will advance, the regional infrastructure will develop and the peace initiative’s principles will be implemented.
This is how we’ll save the settlement blocs and keep them under Israel’s sovereignty. It will be Zionism’s real victory. A new reality of security and mutual trust will ultimately forge a peace process and prevent disaster.
MK Herzog is the leader of the opposition, chairman of the Zionist Union and of the Labor Party.