Ami Ayalon
The Jerusalem Post
August 9, 2010 - 12:00am

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is impossible to defer any longer. Most importantly, we will soon be facing the end of the construction freeze imposed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last year, the convening of the Knesset’s winter session, the recent Arab League resolutions and the elections for the two houses of Congress in the United States. This quadrangle of political influence is a signal that we must act now.

The majority of Israeli society wants to see Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of its Declaration of Independence, and is ready to pay the price of an accord predicated on two states for two peoples. The dispute is over how to achieve this.

Parts of the public, from both ends of the political spectrum, believe that a withdrawal to clearly defined borders must take place only within the framework of a final-status agreement. They thus unwittingly become hostages of the Palestinian side, which can block an accord by being unaccommodating.

Despite the grave possible consequences, other sectors of the public believe that time is running out and that unilateral withdrawal is in order. They are willing to accept that such a maneuver would convey the message that Palestinian resistance has prevailed.

This portion of society also believes that although settlers would see their forcible return to the State of Israel as an unwarranted deportation, it would be worthwhile. A law arranging for the voluntary return of settlers currently living east of the security barrier would be the beginning of a third way, a diplomatic middle road of autonomous separation.

Going down this path would not depend on the Palestinians, nor would it compromise the possibility of real negotiations with them. Indeed, it would bolster the prospect that talks could result in an agreement based on principles clearly set out and acceptable to most Israelis.

A majority of them are most concerned with seeing a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel, with borders based on the 1967 Green Line, territorial exchanges to ensure that most settlers and all Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem come under Israeli sovereignty, and the return of Palestinian refugees to a Palestinian state only.

A “VOLUNTARY Settler Return Law” for settlers coming back of their own volition presents the beginning of a process, an independent Israeli initiative.

This process, which will create a reality of two states without raising security risks, would be supported by most of the Israeli public and will enjoy the assistance of the international community.

The proposed law would include generous cash compensation for families to allow their return to the State of Israel as national emissaries who were sent out on a mission, now complete.

The law would also ensure that those returning today would not suffer economic harm, and would in the future receive any additional payment required to bring them in line with compensation provided to settlers evacuated under a future government decision.

The law could provide incentives for former settlers to take up new residence in national-priority areas such as the Negev and the Galilee.

The law would stipulate that any settlers who take up residence east of the barrier after the law’s ratification would not be eligible for any government compensation in the future should they be evacuated. It would further require that any evacuated homes be barred from housing new residents; should there be squatters, they would not be eligible for compensation upon eviction. In this envisaged form, the law would appeal to three audiences.

The first audience is the settlers of Judea and Samaria, to whom it would signal the following: 1) Israel will not have sovereignty east of the security barrier.

2) “We are calling you home. Your mission is over.”

3) “You are not hostages of extremists who want to head into a future where there is one state for Israelis and Palestinians.”

4) “We have learned from past mistakes. We are not forcing an evacuation without a peace accord, and we are not imposing a six-month schedule for the family’s evacuation.”

5) “We recognize the importance of your historical task. Thanks to you, Arab states have acknowledged Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and now, with your mission complete, the State of Israel is rolling out the red carpet for your return home.”

The second audience would be the international community and moderate Arab states. The law would make clear that Israel is taking responsibility for its future and creating a reality, on the ground, of two states for two peoples in accordance with UN resolutions. No longer speaking out of sync with our intentions, we would be passing a message that our diplomatic statements – doubted by so many – are sincere.

The third audience would be the Palestinian public.

We would be signaling our integrity and readiness to talk, alongside a clear declaration that the one-state solution is not an option.

For the first time since 1967, Israel would be bringing settlers back from Judea and Samaria, rather than dispatching them eastward. This message has been absent from our diplomatic posture so far, even during the period of the Oslo Accords.

We would, furthermore, be calling on the Palestinians to negotiate, without making this a condition of our conduct and without compromising our control over our destiny. We would, in essence, be saying, “If you come and talk, the border will shift to agreed lines; if not, then in 40 years you will see the world accept the security fence as Israel’s eastern border, just as it went from the 1947 partition plan to recognizing the 1967 lines.”

In parallel to the legislation, a peace process predicated on this Voluntary Settler Return Law would allow Israel to decide that construction will continue in areas west of the fence slated for annexation.

By contrast, the construction freeze would still apply to areas subject to negotiation. There would be building in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, but it would be halted completely in Arab neighborhoods.

It is incumbent on the government to lead us toward a future in which the Jewish national home can survive and thrive. A law as described above would offer the right, independent first-step. It is our civic duty as Israelis, and our moral duty as Jews, to demand that our representatives in the Knesset legislate this in the coming winter session.


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