An “Israeli peace initiative” has been unveiled on Wednesday by a group of prominent Israelis, partly inspired by the regional events. They hope that the two-page document, which includes land swaps (map, from bbc.co.uk) and no right of return, will bring their government towards a deal with the Palestinian Authority.
Some 40 people worked on this plan, including former army chief Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former Mossad chief Danny Yatom, Yaakov Perry and Ami Ayalon, both former heads of Shin Bet, and Amram Mitzna, a former leader of the Labour party.
“We looked around at what was happening in neighbouring countries and we said to ourselves, ‘It is about time that the Israeli public raised its voice as well,’“ Mr Yatom told the New York Times.
However few of the group’s proposals are new and several have been rejected in the past by Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The proposals include Israel to withdraw to 1967 borders, with a series of swaps allowing it to annex major Jewish settlements in the West Bank, no right of return for Palestinian refugees, and normalised relations between Israel and Arab states.
“The key principle of all regional peace agreements shall be Israeli withdrawals, guaranteed security, normal relations, and an end to all conflicts,” the proposal states.
The proposal says that Israel would be allowed to permanently annex parts of the West Bank, in exchange for equal amounts of Israeli territory ceded to the Palestinian state.
Although these “land swaps” are not mentioned in the Arab peace initiative issued by the Arab League in 2002 and again in 2007 – the text called for a complete withdrawal to 1967 borders – for years they have been a central feature of negotiations.
During a private meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in 2008 former prime minister Ehud Olmert proposed a 10.6 per cent land swap of the West Bank’s area. The plan would allow seven per cent.
Other proposals seem to be immediate political non-starters for one side or the other.
On the refugee problem, based on UN resolution 194 that enshrines a Palestinian right of return, the Arab peace initiative calls for a “just solution”.
However the Israeli proposal gives no right of return but offers financial compensation to the refugees and the host countries. The plan also says : “the Palestinian refugees wishing to return may do so only to the Palestinian state, with mutually agreed-upon symbolic exceptions who will be allowed to return to Israel.”
Concessions on refugee rights would be highly unpopular in the Arab world.
Concerning Jerusalem, the plan makes it the two capitals of the two states, saying that “Jewish neighborhoods shall be under Israeli sovereignty; the Arab neighborhoods shall be under Palestinian sovereignty; special arrangements shall be implemented in the Old City.”
The proposal also says that the Haram al-Sharif would be under “no sovereignty”, an idea already rejected by Palestinian negotiators during the 2000 Camp David Summit.
About the resolution of the Israeli-Syrian conflict, the plan calls for Israel to return the Golan Heights which it seized from its neighbour at the end of the 1967 war. Although Syria described the return of the Golan as a precondition for talks with Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has promised never to return it, and according to polls a majority of Israelis want to keep the land.
‘Strong basis to negotiate’
No comment came from the Israeli government of Palestinian officials. On Tuesday deputy prime minister Dan Meridor said that he had not seen the document, and prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s office says he has received a copy, but will not comment on the substance of the proposal.
Although they didn’t comment on specifics, Israeli and pro-Israel groups reactions have mostly been positive. The plan was even called a “bold move” by J Street, the US-based pro-Israel lobby.
“[It] sets forth a clear vision for two states and, in conjunction with the Arab peace initiative, provides a strong basis to negotiate a regional, comprehensive peace agreement,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s president.
To the Israeli group Peace Now the proposal was part of a “public battle against the current government”.
“It is clear that as time passes more and more Israelis are realising that we need to immediately return to a real political process, with the Palestinians, and begin to make brave and dramatic steps,” the group said in a statement.
The plan has been release a day after a meeting in Washington between US president Barack Obama and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres.
“With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it’s more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” said president Obama.
But although it spent much of last year trying to organise direct negotiations, the Obama administration still hasn’t presented its own vision for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
Recently Mr Netanyahu, the chief of the right-wing government, hinted at looking for an “interim” agreement, rather than a final deal.
In the meantime Israel keeps on building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. On Monday the Jerusalem planning committee gave initial approval for 942 new homes in the Gilo settlement, in southern Jerusalem.