Freedom for Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel and Palestine

In view of Israel's hawkish governing coalition and the Palestinian leadership's long crisis in the territories, it's hard to believe that next year we'll be free people in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and Palestine.

On the first night of Passover, the festival of freedom, the song "We were slaves but now we are free" will waft from homes throughout the country as Jews sit down to celebrate the seder. But every year, these words lose some of their luster. Every year, more Israelis go from being free men to slaves.

They're slaves to the urge for power and the instinct of fear, slaves to the land, slaves who rule another people. A nation that after thousands of years in exile won its political freedom has become the slave of Jewish zealots, the slave of gravediggers who have made a blood pact with Muslim zealots. The slave of a government that has turned the words of the Hagaddah - "In every generation they rise up against us to annihilate us" - into foreign policy and domestic propaganda.

For a short period, too short a period, we smelled the blossoms of true freedom. This was from 1966, when Israel abolished its military government in Arab areas, until the establishment of the military government in the occupied territories a year later. It was a period of freedom from official discrimination against the Palestinian minority at our mercy. Freedom from the fear of a neighbor and the terror of the demographic demon.

Levi Eshkol, the prime minister who was considered a vacillator if not a coward, understood then that there could be no democracy with first-class citizens who enjoyed full freedom and second-class citizens whose freedom was restricted. Eshkol wasn't a leftist. Nor was legendary Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir, who warned that if we continued to hold the territories we had occupied in 1967, they would soon hold us.

In view of Israel's hawkish governing coalition and the Palestinian leadership's long crisis in the territories, it's hard to believe that next year we'll be free people in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and Palestine. The "diplomatic process" has become the code name for a process of enlarging the settlements and building outposts.

Senior security officials predict that the lack of hope for a solution to the conflict will produce a new round of violence in the territories. Diplomats predict a decline in Israel's international status. The common excuse of "there is no partner" has turned into an alibi for the policy of sit and do nothing; it has become a surefire recipe for perpetuating the situation of masters and servants in the territories. The more negotiations on a solution recede , the closer we are to the day when the number of servants exceeds the number of masters. How do we get out of this mess?

The movement Atid Kahol-Lavan (A Blue and White Future ) is led by Ami Ayalon, a former cabinet minister, head of the Shin Bet security service and commander of the Israel Navy; businessman Orni Petrushka; and attorney Gilead Sher, who headed the talks with the Palestinians for Ehud Barak. They have created a paradigm for a diplomatic solution. Their blueprint is not conditional on renewing negotiations. They propose "constructive unilateral steps" to reach a solution to the conflict. In other words, moves that promote a gradual reality of two states.

The main points of the plan:

b A declaration by Israel's government that it is not demanding sovereignty over the territories east of the separation fence, and a willingness to bring back the settlers who live in those areas or outside the big settlement blocs;

b A construction freeze east of the fence and in Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods;

b Continued construction inside the settlement blocs as an incentive to renew talks, without which the fence will become the permanent border;

b Implementation of a law for evacuation by choice and compensation to residents of isolated settlements, with no link to a final-status solution;

b Preparation of a national plan to absorb settlers who return to Israel proper, with or without an agreement.

The movement's leaders assume that the dynamic will stir hope and encourage the sides to open serious negotiations based on the 1967 borders and land swaps. They are striving to carry out the plan through a dialogue with the settlers, whose ideological leaders they are in close contact with. Economists working for them have learned the lessons of the evacuation from Gaza and have spotted housing solutions and employment opportunities in the center of the country (other than Tel Aviv ) for residents of the isolated settlements.

The blueprint proposed by Atid Kahol-Lavan isn't perfect. But in view of the suspicions and gaps between the sides, it seems to be the only alternative to the stalemate and/or apartheid and/or futile negotiations leading to violence. Perhaps at the next festival of freedom we'll complete the story of the Exodus from Egypt for our children with news of the exodus from the settlement of Yitzhar. If you will it, it is no Passover dream.

Read this article in Hebrew.