In contrast to the spirit of blood and revenge which is now dominating the Israeli public discourse, there has been for years a wide consensus in the Israeli society that peace with the Palestinians requires withdrawal from the occupied territories and evacuation of settlements. Many of the withdrawal supporters got indeed confused and paralyzed by the massive propaganda about the far reaching concessions which Barak supposedly offered and which the Palestinians rejected. But a process of sobering up has began. (According to a poll published in Ha’aretz, July 4, 2001, 40% of the Israelis support the evacuation of ALL settlements; 52% support forceful evacuation of part of the settlements in a unilateral withdrawal.) Many other will join when they realize that the alternative is, at best, a return to the pre-Oslo days: two months of reserve service every year and horrible terror attacks.
Despite the wide support, implementation of this sensible plan seems further away every year. Since Oslo, the dream of peace was replaced by the myth of negotiations. We are facing difficult and complex problems – so the Oslo myth has been going – which require years, maybe generations, of negotiations. And until the whole deal is agreed upon, it is impossible to evacuate even one tiny settlement. Shortly after Oslo, Labor MP Haggai Merom tried to organize evacuation with compensation for the settlers who were willing to evacuate. Thousands enrolled in the office he opened. But prime minister Rabin announced: not now! Since then, the number of settlers doubled from 100.000 to almost 200.000, and the negotiations only became more and more entangled and complicated.
This route has failed. Even if Arafat will agree to resume the road of eternal ‘negotiations’ (as some of the Israeli doves are urging him to do), we have lost the faith of the Palestinian people, who are not willing anymore to listen to vague promises about a future which never materializes, while they watch more and more of their lands being taken by the settlers. The lesson is clear. For true negotiations, we must first withdraw – as we did in Lebanon. It is astounding how simple it is to do this. Most of the occupied territories can be evacuated immediately, within two or three months.
The only clear element of Barak’s plan in Camp David was the immediate annexation by Israel of about 10 percent of the West Bank land. These include the settlement blocks which are close to the center of Israel and in which there are already over 150,000 Israeli settlers. But the bigger fraud of Barak’s plan, which has not received any attention in the public debate, is the fate of the rest of the 90 percent which were supposedly designated to belong to the “Palestinian state”. The situation in these areas is easily visible today: These lands are cut up by 37 isolated settlements which were purposely build in the midst of the Palestinian population to enable future Israeli control also of these areas. As a result, 2 million Palestinians are crowded in enclaves which consist of about 50 percents of the West Bank, and the other 40 percents are blocked by the defense array of some 40,000 settlers. As always, inofficial rumors were spread in the media that Israel intends to evacuate these areas in some future. But all relevant government offices clarified repeatedly that no plan is being prepared for the evacuation of even a single settlement. First, the Palestinians need to prove that our imposed arrangements work, and then we will of course discuss and consider.
These 40 percent of the West Bank, at least, can and should be evacuated immediately. Many of the residents of the isolated settlements are speaking openly in the Israeli media about their wish to leave. It is only necessary to offer them reasonable compensation for the property they will be leaving behind. The rest, the hard core of the land-redemption fanatics, are a negligent minority that will have to accept the will of the majority, and they can be evacuated forcefully, as done before in Yamit, at the eve of the peace with Egypt. Immediately after the evacuation of the settlements, the army will also leave all its bases and outposts.
This withdrawal will leave under debate the large settlement blocks, which cannot be evacuated over night, as well as the problems of Jerusalem and the interpretation of the right of return. For these, negotiations will still be needed. However, during the negotiations the Palestinian society will be able to begin to recover, settle in the lands which will be evacuated, construct democratic institutions, and develop its economy based on free contacts with whoever they want. Under these circumstances, it should be possible to carry the negotiations in mutual respect, and to reach also the core issue: What is the right way for two peoples which share the same land to build, jointly, their future.
This isn’t just an imaginary scenario for the far future, and we don’t even have to wait until this government falls. The isolated settlers are trapped in the occupied territories as bargaining chips in the hands of governments which are endangering their lives. It is necessary to help them leave. The peace organizations can reach those who want to leave with compensation. It is not necessary to have the government’s approval for resettling them in Israel – This is just a matter of money, and it should be possible to collect international donations for this purpose. It is simple, and it is humane.
Tanya Reinhart is a professor in Tel Aviv University.