Ari Shavit
Haaretz (Opinion)
March 31, 2011 - 12:00am

The writing is on the wall: 2011 is going to be a diplomatic 1973. In September and October the UN General Assembly will decide whether to establish a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. The international community will recognize a Palestinian state.

At that moment, every Israeli apartment in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood will become illegal. Every military base in the West Bank will be contravening the sovereignty of an independent UN member state. The Palestinians will not be obligated to accept demilitarization and peace and to recognize the occupation.

The gap between the declared situation and the situation on the ground will inevitably create friction. The conflict will quickly become a popular confrontation. The Palestinians will march on Jerusalem, and Israel will be condemned. A diplomatic siege from without and a civil uprising from within will grip Israel in a stranglehold.

Also in 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will become Golda Meir and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will become Moshe Dayan. Both will be remembered as leaders who, even though they saw the iceberg, insisted on sailing straight into it. You don't have to be a diplomatic genius to understand that we need a preemptive diplomatic strike. You don't have to be a strategic genius to understand that Israel must come out with an initiative that will reshuffle the cards in the game it's about to lose.

However, the diplomatic genius Netanyahu and the strategic genius Barak are standing on the deck and keeping silent. They see the iceberg coming closer and they're not doing anything. Netanyahu and Barak are still refusing to understand that what held true in the spring of 1973 holds true now: There is no time. History will have no mercy on anyone who doesn't act now. Israel will not forgive anyone who doesn't steal the thunder. Under these blue skies the paralysis is not just irresponsibility; the paralysis is a crime.

A problem: When the Middle East is boiling over, it's impossible to end the occupation peacefully. Not even Yossi Sarid and Yossi Beilin can do this. However, when the Middle East is boiling over, there is also no possibility of clinging to the status quo. Not even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon can ensure security. However, in face of the Arab Spring of Nations, creative thinking is needed. In face of the Palestinian Spring, a realistic Israeli initiative is needed.

The following is an example of an initiative. Israel at long last distinguishes between the occupation and peace. As a result, Israel declares that, if the Palestinians agree to a complete demilitarization, true mutual recognition, significant border amendments and a total end to the conflict, Israel will end the occupation peacefully. Also, Israel declares that if it emerges that the Palestinians are not accepting these basic conditions, it will have to act unilaterally.

In this case, too, the aim will be decisive: and end to the occupation. But in this case, the way to ending the occupation will be long. In the absence of a Palestinian partner for peace, the Israeli withdrawal will have to be gradual and phased. It will entail getting the approval and backing of the international community.

A realistic Israeli initiative would immediately hand over to the Palestinians sizable chunks of the West Bank while evacuating about 20 isolated settlements. In this way, Israel will prove its seriousness and the Palestinians will be challenged. They will be able to establish a state on 70 percent of the West Bank without ideological concessions they can't yet make. They will be able to advance the process championed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad before they are compelled to make difficult historic decisions.

But this not enough. The Israeli initiative must offer a gradual withdrawal to the separation line in the West Bank in exchange for recognition of that line as an interim border between Israel and Palestine. The separation line must be the border until peace is made. We are allowed to think about other initiatives but we are not allowed to think about the absence of any initiative. The Iron Dome Israel needs is a diplomatic Iron Dome. If Netanyahu and Barak are not capable of giving Israel a diplomatic Iron Dome, they must go. We will not wait again the way we waited on October 6, 1973.


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