Outposts for Blocs

If Benjamin Netanyahu insists on keeping the illegal outposts, he will be defending a criminal act of settlement as well as harming Israel's interests.

To the attention of Benny Begin: Figures provided by Peace Now show that 80 of the 100 outposts in the West Bank were built wholly or partly on private Palestinian land. Sixteen outposts are located entirely on private land, and more than half of the other outposts are on private land. Seven thousand of the 16,000 dunams occupied by the 100 outposts are privately owned.

You cannot argue with facts. Nor can you argue with basic moral imperatives. Settlements that were lawfully built on public land are subject to ideological, political and security debate. Outposts that were illegally built on private land are robbery. The thousands of Israelis living unlawfully in the territories on lands that do not belong to them are lawbreakers. Israel must address their extensive, methodical law-breaking.

The outpost outrage also has a political aspect. The uncontrolled construction of mini-settlements in the last decade has fundamentally damaged national security. Instead of defining its just borders, Israel has entangled itself in a delusional and criminal settlement act. Consequently, even Israel's greatest friends have lost their patience. The illegal outposts robbing the Palestinians' lands are also robbing Israel of its legitimacy.

Barack Obama's administration has brought these issues to the test. His demand to stop all construction in all the settlements is extreme. On one level, it is not compatible with previous American commitments. On another level, it is causing moderate Palestinians and Arabs to harden their lines and freeze the peace process. But the sweeping American demand shows that after years of Israeli conniving and scheming, Washington has simply had enough.

Thus, to avoid a head-on clash with its ally, Israel must change its ways immediately. It must prove it will no longer make a fool of the world and stop sabotaging itself and start enforcing law in the West Bank.

What we urgently need is a creative American-Israeli understanding. Israel must make a reality-changing move, and America must recognize the complexity of this reality. Israel must provide proof that the withdrawal is really beginning, and America must provide a preliminary commitment to the withdrawal's border. The new American-Israeli deal must be simple - outposts for blocs, i.e. evacuating the illegal outposts in exchange for recognition of the large settlement blocs.

On January 7, 2001, President Clinton gave a historic speech at New York City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Two weeks before leaving the White House, the 42nd president summed up his heroic peace effort before an Israel Policy Forum audience. His wife Hillary was there. And thus spoke William Jefferson Clinton: "There can be no genuine resolution to the conflict without a sovereign, viable, Palestinian state that accommodates Israel's security requirements and the demographic realities. That suggests Palestinian sovereignty over Gaza, the vast majority of the West Bank, the incorporation into Israel of settlement blocs."

Clinton's text is canonical. These are not vague summaries between Dov Weissglas and Elliott Abrams or positions of the obsolete President George W. Bush. This is an unequivocal statement from a Democratic president who made every effort to make peace in the Middle East. Hillary Clinton cannot ignore Bill Clinton's statement. Nor can Obama. And this statement says that recognizing the bloc-principle is the condition for peace. To enable dividing the land, Israel must withdraw from most of the West Bank, and the Palestinians must give up a small part of it.

If Benjamin Netanyahu insists on keeping the illegal outposts, he will be defending a criminal act of settlement as well as harming Israel's interests. If Obama refuses to recognize that settlement blocs attached to the Green Line will remain within Israeli boundaries, he will be destroying Clinton's legacy. But if Obama and Netanyahu formulate an outposts-for-blocs policy, they will be serving their states and administrations' joint interest - a realistic peace process.