Yedioth Ahronoth (p. B3) by Nahum Barnea

I met four concerned Israelis this week in a Tel Aviv café: Maj. Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef was commander of the armored divisions and commander of the 14th Brigade in the Yom Kippur War; Maj. Gen. (res.) Danny Rothschild was director of the IDF Intelligence Research Department and coordinator of government activities in the territories; Aryeh Felman was the deputy director of the GSS; and Roland Giron was a senior Mossad official (Giron let his friends speak on his behalf).  The four of them are members of a movement called Commanders for Israel’s Security, which is due to issue a new political-security plan to the public on Monday.  The plan is entitled “Security First.”

They are not alone.  While we are preoccupied with the Netanyahu family’s airline tickets, many parties, both around the world and in Israel, are searching for a plan to break the stalemate.  “Winter is coming,” the protagonists of the series Game of Thrones warn repeatedly.  The diplomatic winter is expected to begin in November, on the day after the US presidential elections, with a last initiative of the Obama administration; the next stage will come with a Security Council resolution, perhaps also a regional initiative.  The world will discover with astonishment that it is the 50th anniversary of the occupation.  People are concerned, both in Jerusalem and in Ramallah.

My four interlocutors are close to their eighties or their seventies.  They are orderly people, who retired years ago, made a second career in the business world and discovered that they still harbor the public service bug.  The old elite, Twitter users will say mockingly.  Old soldiers never die, they come back with futile plans for promoting peace in the Middle East.

The plan does not talk about an agreement.  It proposes a series of proactive security, diplomatic and economic measures, which in the opinion of the plan’s sponsors will improve our situation vis-à-vis the West Bank and Gaza.  In terms of security, the construction of the security fence will be completed, in such a way that will turn it into a border for all intents and purposes; the IDF will continue to control the West Bank; law and order will be enforced in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

In diplomatic terms, Israel will announce that it accepts the Arab peace initiative as a basis for negotiations; it is willing to hand over the Palestinian neighborhoods and villages annexed to Jerusalem to the future Palestinian state, and it has no claims of sovereignty in the territories east of the fence; construction in the settlements east of the fence will be frozen.  A law for voluntary eviction and compensation will be offered to the settlers.

Israel will take steps to strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s economy and the wellbeing of its residents; it will assist in the rehabilitation of Gaza; a separate umbrella administration will be set up for the Palestinian neighborhoods and villages that were annexed to Jerusalem.

The plan is impressive in its level of attention to details.  It reaches the point of drawing improved lines for closing the gaps in the fence in the Etzion Bloc, in Maale Adumim, in the Hebron hills and in Jerusalem, which Arab villages the fence should surround and where.  Its advantage lies in its connection to the terrain, in its practical approach.  These are the terms in which an officer thinks when poring over a topographical map of 1:20,000 scale lit by a flashlight.  This is also its disadvantage: The current political leadership does not think in these terms, and more importantly, most Israelis do not think in these terms.  Not at the present time.

“Two arguments arise to contradict any new idea,” Aryeh Felman said.  “The first is that there is no partner; the second is that anything you do will create a security problem for us.  Our plan responds to both these arguments.

“The government says that it supports the two-state solution, but there is no one in the world who believes it.  We say: We have to put an end to the ambiguity, we have to announce that we have no territorial claims east of the fence.  That leaves eight percent of the territory open for negotiation.

“The source of terrorism is the West Bank.  As soon as we maintain a border regime on the fence like in Gaza, Lebanon and the Golan Heights, we will secure the Israelis—including those living in the settlement blocs—outside of the circle of terrorism.

“The second component is Jerusalem.  Until 2012, the Palestinians living in Jerusalem were outside of the circle of terrorism.  There were terror attacks in Jerusalem, but the terrorists came from outside.  In the current Intifada the Jerusalemites are the majority.

“They are in a pressure cooker.  On one hand, they have been sealed off in the direction of the West Bank; on the other hand, they have been criminally neglected.  We are talking about 320,000 people, who at the end of the day belong in the West Bank.  We propose to form a separate municipal authority for them and to invest in development plans.”

There is no removal of settlements in your plan, I said.

“You can’t evict 570,000 people,” Felman said.  “To those who live on the central mountain ridge, we offer a way to leave voluntarily.”

Peace later

When an historian tries to sum up these 50 years, I asked, what do you think he will say?

“He will say that Israel’s greatest enemy was Egypt,” said Maj. Gen. (res.) Reshef.  “We paid with the lives of close to 3,000 combatants to reach peace.  How many thousands of victims will fall in order for us to reach an arrangement with the Palestinians?  Come on, it’s time to look ahead.”

Perhaps the time is not ripe for a solution, I said.

“We aren’t proposing a solution,” Rothschild said.  “We are searching for a process, an outline, that will prevent the deterioration into one state.  We say, security first—peace later.”

Otherwise?  I asked.

“Otherwise, a police state will be created here with daily terrorism,” Felman said.  “I look at two other possible courses of action.  Let’s presume that we are fated to live without an agreement.  Our plan makes it possible to live with this for years; let’s presume that the PA collapses on our doorstep.  Our plan relieves us of the need to finance 2.5 million Arabs.”

“We are a group of over 200 people that have collectively accumulated thousands of years of experience,” Reshef said.  “We are concerned for the fate of the next generations.”