Council for the National Interest

Israeli PM would let all illegal settlers remain in West Bank, official says

Jan 26 2014 / 8:54 pm

John Whitbeck’s commentary:

Transmitted below is a link to an article in the TIMES OF ISRAEL on a clarification of Bibi Netanyahu’s vision for Israeli-Palestinian “peace” which should have attracted more attention in the Western media than it has so far.

Perhaps the prime minister is worried that his two carefully carefully crafted poison pills (the “Jewish State” gambit and the demand for a permanent Israeli military presence in the Palestinian Jordan Valley) will not, in fact, be sufficient to ensure the failure of the current round of “negotiations” and the blame for this failure’s being successfully placed on Palestine … and has therefore decided to definitively ensure failure by dropping the Big One.

Of course, poviding that all settlements and settlers be permitted to remain in the State of Palestine in an end-of-claims “peace” deal would make a mockery of the concept of ending the occupation by achieving any conventionally conceived “two-state solution”. On the other hand, it would be fully consistent with a “one-state solution”, whether of a democratic nature or of an apartheid nature, which is where the current Israel government appears to be heading.

It would also be consistent with my own venerable “Two States, One Holy Land” hybrid solution (first published, by the Los Angeles Times, 26 years ago this month) of a confederation of two sovereign states with shared sovereignty in Jerusalem, with open borders, with the free, non-discriminatory movement of people and products, with the free choice of citizenship for all Israelis and Palestinians and with no one compelled to move from his present home.

My framework for peace, conceived and launched when the first intifada was one month old and the settler population in the occupied State of Palestine was only one-third as large as it is today, contained a carefully crafted poison pill for the settler movement: “To ease Israeli security concerns, the Palestinian state could be fully demilitarized, with only Palestinian police allowed to bear arms within its territory.” That would mean no right for settlers to bear arms and no Israeli military forces to protect them if they chose to remain in the State of Palestine.

If the Israeli government is understandably queasy, post-Yamit and post-Gaza, at the thought of dragging scores of thousands of fanatical settlers kicking and screaming from their West Bank homes, such an arrangement would not require any expulsions at all. The overwhelming majority of settlers left behind within any mutually agreed, post-land-swap borders of the State of Palestine would be certain to leave voluntarily, while those who chose to stay, unarmed, could only be enlightened individuals prepared to live with their Palestinian neighbors as equals. Furthermore, if departing settlers could sell their homes (even at knock-down prices), they could be expected to leave behind high-quality housing for large numbers of Palestinian refugees returning to their homeland. Such a scenario should appeal to both rational Israelis and rational Palestinians, both in and out of government.

Perhaps, rather than simply complaining (again) that Netanyahu is trying to kill the “peace process” and the “two-state solution” (though true), the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah should stun the world by publicly announcing that it would be willing to accept both (i) the full demilitarization of the State of Palestine and (ii) the right of current Israeli settlers to stay in their homes in the State of Palestine (as either Israeli or Palestinian citizens, as they may prefer) provided only that Israel agrees that only Palestinian police will be allowed to bear arms in the post-occupation State of Palestine.

Tactically, even Israel’s well-honed hasbara industry would have trouble portraying such a proposal as hostile, delegitimizing, an example of incitement or in any way unreasonable.

Strategically, such a proposal could stimulate new and better ways of imagining the possibilities for a new Holy Land society of peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and human dignity.

My “Two States, One Holy Land” framework for peace concluded: “Israelis, Palestinians and the true friends of both must now raise their sights … and pursue a compelling vision of a society so much better than the status quo that both Israelis and Palestinians are inspired to accept in their hearts and minds that peace is both desirable and attainable, that the Holy Land can be shared, that a winner-take-all approach produces only losers, that both Israelis and Palestinians must be winners or both will continue to be losers and that there is a common destination at which both peoples would be satisfied to arrive and to live together. Peace is unimaginable on any other basis.”

While the chances are slim, I still believe that.

PM would let all settlers remain in West Bank, official says

The Times of Israel – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not intend to uproot Jewish settlements anywhere in the West Bank, and will not force any settlers to leave, even under a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians, a well-placed official in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel on Sunday. Rather, the prime minister will insist that settlers be given the free choice of remaining in place and living under Palestinian rule, or relocating to areas under Israeli sovereign rule, the official said.

That requirement seems certain to constitute a significant obstacle in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, since Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has categorically rejected the idea of any Israeli — soldier or civilian — remaining in a Palestinian state.

The official was explaining and elaborating on comments made Friday by Netanyahu during a press conference in Davos, Switzerland. “I have said in the past, and I repeat today: I do not intend to remove a single settlement, [and] I do not intend to displace a single Israeli,” Netanyahu said.

The prime minister was answering a question relating to the Jordan Valley, and it was not entirely clear from his remarks whether he was relating solely to the Jordan Valley or the entire West Bank, and whether he was speaking about his stance in the short-term or his permanent position. Sunday’s comments to The Times of Israel by the official in his office resolved those questions: The prime minister was referring to the entire West Bank, the official made clear, and his refusal to require any settlers to leave applies in the long-term, even after the establishment of a Palestinian state.

While the official said Sunday that Netanyahu’s stance on the issue was “longstanding,” Friday’s press conference marked the first time since peace talks began in August that the prime minister had explicitly articulated this position in public.

“His consistent position has been that those settlements that will be on the Palestinian side of the border should not be uprooted,” the official told The Times of Israel. “Just as Israel has an Arab minority, the prime minister doesn’t see why Palestine can’t have a Jewish minority. The Jews living on their side should have a choice whether they want to stay or not.”

Netanyahu first hinted at this position in his May 2011 speech to the US Congress in Washington, the official noted. “The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations,” Netanyahu said at the time. “In any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.” During that speech, he did not make explicit that settlers located east of the border must be given the option to stay, but he has said so in several meetings in recent weeks, the official said.

While in Davos, Netanyahu meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry three times to discuss the current peace talks. Kerry said he would soon present a position paper that would “achieve a framework for the negotiations that will define the endgame and all the core issues, and provide guidelines for the negotiators in their efforts to achieve a final-status peace agreement.”

The settlements are one of the core issues that will be addressed by the framework agreement, the Israeli official said. He declined however, to specify what the paper would say about the future of Israeli settlers in parts of the West Bank designated for the future Palestinian state. It is highly unlikely that Washington would adopt Netanyahu’s demand to allow all settlers, notably including those situated outside the main settlement blocs, to remain in their homes. Kerry said in Davos that all IDF soldiers would ultimately have to leave a Palestinian state.

The Palestinians categorically reject the idea of any settlers remaining on the territory of their future state. “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands,” Abbas said in July, just before the current peace talks were launched.

The idea of letting settlers choose whether they want to return to Israel proper or remain living in Palestine was first suggested in 2006 by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. “Each and every one of the settlers who live in territories that stand to be evacuated will need to decide whether to live in a Jewish state, the State of Israel, or in a Palestinian state,” Olmert said, in response to a question about whether he intended to uproot tens of thousands of people from their homes in a future peace deal.

Netanyahu was and remains a fierce critic of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, under which prime minister Ariel Sharon forced the evacuation of all Gaza settlers and the demolition of their settlements..

Posted by on Jan 26 2014 . Filed under Commentary & Analysis, Israeli/Jewish Press, John Whitbeck . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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