Jerusalem First: The Plan to Forge Peace With the Palestinians

Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog’s ideas about separation in the capital reflect rare political courage.

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Section of Israeli separation barrier close to Jewish settlement near Jerusalem Credit: Reuters

For the first time in 14 years the Labor Party, now part of Zionist Union, has come out with a plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s based on the two-state solution crafted by Labor MK Hilik Bar, but the courageous innovation is opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s plan for separation in Jerusalem.

Herzog calls for most Jewish neighborhoods to be separated from Arab neighborhoods by a fence. This step would no doubt have wide ramifications that not everyone understands.

After all, one can’t close off a quarter million Palestinians in a pen between the new fence and the wall built after the second intifada, so the wall would have to be opened for Palestinian passage into the West Bank. Residents of those neighborhoods would be cut off from Jewish Jerusalem but would be linked once again to the West Bank economy, which they were cut off from by the separation barrier.

There would no longer be justification for these Palestinians to hold blue Israeli ID cards of the city from which they were separated. With or without coordination with the Palestinian Authority, the PA’s powers would gradually extend to the neighborhoods that have been connected to the West Bank.

Separation between the Palestinians of East Jerusalem and the Jewish inhabitants of the capital – a security necessity – would put an end to the unrealistic slogan “Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty.” Jewish Jerusalem would not be divided, but East Jerusalem would be separated de facto.

Any future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would begin from this point. If the Palestinians are wise, they will demand that talks be launched immediately.

For all intents and purposes, the new reality would be the implementation of a principle of U.S. President Bill Clinton’s plan in the ‘90s: “Jewish neighborhoods to Israel, Arab neighborhoods to Palestine.” If we recall that Yasser Arafat agreed at the time to Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall, negotiations on Jerusalem would begin from a more convenient point for everyone.

Opposition leader and Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, February 7, 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod

In the ‘90s, when we were talking to the Palestinians about an agreement, we created the phrase “Gaza and Jericho first.” Back then we believed it would be easier to start with remote places; we figured we’d leave the loaded question of Jerusalem for the end. But sometimes a wall breaks down not where resistance is least, but where it’s strongest.

Since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, the peace process has been stuck mainly because of a lack of political courage.

The main opposition party’s new plan says Jerusalem first. The political courage behind this is praiseworthy. If the plan is carried out – and most Israelis agree with such a separation – we can move on to the solution that is indispensable – the two-state solution.

The international community, the countries that are committed to the Arab peace initiative, must support this separation plan for Jerusalem. At the moment, no other plan can stop the deterioration that is bringing disaster to both peoples.