Could 'Framework' Offer Elusive Breakthrough as Peace Talks Sputter?

Ami Ayalon Sees Kerry Plan as Game-Changer

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By J.J. Goldberg

Published March 20, 2014, issue of March 28, 2014.
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In 2006 he entered the Knesset with the Labor Party, narrowly lost a leadership bid to Ehud Barak, briefly served as a minister and left politics in 2009. Since then he’s been working with an organization he created with several partners, Blue White Future, to promote constructive unilateralism.

An example of a constructive unilateral step, he suggests, would be “for Palestine to become a member of the U.N. — on condition that it be committed to negotiate a final settlement based on the framework.”

Up to now Israel has opposed Palestinian U.N. membership “because it was not a result of direct negotiations.” With a framework in place, Palestine would have its international responsibilities defined for it. And Israel would have a real partner to negotiate remaining issues, from borders to water rights.

“Statehood would dramatically change relations between Fatah and Hamas,” Ayalon said. “It would give legitimacy to the Palestinian leader. And it would make it much more difficult for him to demand the return of his people to my state.”

On the Israeli side, once the framework defines the basic outline of the border, “the prime minister can declare that we will not build on the east side of the security fence, but we will continue to build on the west side.”

Ayalon is currently pressing the Knesset to enact a voluntary relocation law that offers a package of compensation, housing, job training and counseling to Israelis living east of the fence — the 100,000 or so settlers whose homes would likely end up in the Palestinian state — who choose to move back to Israel proper right now.

The plan is not another failed Gaza-style withdrawal. Evacuation would be entirely voluntary. Those who want to wait and see can stay put. Israeli troops would remain in place until a peace agreement is signed.

But by passing the law, Ayalon would be sending several messages. “First, to the settlers: We sent you. Now we have an obligation to bring you home with dignity.”

Second, “the Palestinians will be shown for the first time Israeli settlers pulling out not as a result of violence” — most Palestinians, he said, believe the Gaza withdrawal was a response to the Second Intifada — “but as a result of Israeli commitment to a two-state solution. This will empower pragmatism.”

Blue White Future conducted a series of surveys among settlers east of the fence in 2008, 2012 and 2013. The cumulative findings, released March 17, showed that just under 30% would be willing to relocate, even without a peace agreement, if the government offered the resources. The figure rose to 50% if a peace agreement were reached.

If 30,000 settlers were to begin voluntarily returning home to a dignified reception, Ayalon says, it would utterly change the momentum — within the settler community, within Israel, in the region and internationally. It’s not a sure thing, but it’s even money. That’s as good as it gets these days.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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