On the same day that I first learned about the new peace plan of Knesset Member Amir Peretz (Sunday, Dec. 6), I attended a J Street event in Brooklyn (co-sponsored by Ameinu, among others) featuring a conversation between retired IDF brigadier general Udi Dekel and Forward Columnist JJ Goldberg. They are worth discussing in tandem, as both spotlight the thinking of mainstream Israelis.
Amir Peretz has served as mayor of Sderot, head of the Histadrut trade union confederation, and was the Labor party’s leader and standard bearer in the 2006 elections. More recently, having returned to the Knesset on Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah list, he is now a leading MK in Hatnuah’s alliance with the Labor party known in English as the Zionist Union. I will return to the Peretz peace plan after discussing the event with Gen. Dekel.
Udi Dekel has had a distinguished career in the Israel Defense Forces, beginning in the air force. He rose to head the IDF’s Planning Directorate and is currently deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies, an academic think-tank. Before he retired from the military, he worked closely with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s negotiating team during the Annapolis round of negotiations with Palestinian Pres. Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007 -08, which included “300” high-level discussions.
While not a peace activist, Gen. Dekel does exemplify the moderately dovish majority of Israel’s security-defense establishment which sees the vital need for Israel to forge a two-state agreement with the Palestinians. JJ Goldberg has frequently noted in his writings and public appearances the widening gap between Israel’s security professionals and the Netanyahu government’s policies.
Still, speaking from a mainstream Israeli perspective, Dekel expressed some frustration that Abbas has not been more flexible in negotiations, saying neither “yes or no” to Olmert’s proposal in 2008 and to John Kerry’s effort to engineer at least an interim agreement in 2014. Dekel states that Olmert was offering 97% of the West Bank, including a territorial exchange, while the Palestinians were insisting on 100%. (JJ pointed out that the Palestinians feel justified in this position by the fact that they have already conceded 78% of the British Mandate territory, and are striving to establish their state on only 22% — the part that the Israelis want to further erode.)
But Dekel did acknowledge a certain conundrum in that the Palestinians fear that what is created as an interim agreement will become permanent, while the Israelis fear that a so-called permanent agreement will become interim. Hence, the parties become bogged down under the challenging proposition that “nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed.”
Dekel also mentioned his effort to persuade Abbas to acknowledge Israel as a “Jewish state” under the principle of “two states for two peoples.” According to Dekel, Abbas replied that if he endorsed this formula, he’d be giving up on any claim to a right of return for displaced Palestinians. Nonetheless, Abbas was willing to compromise on this right in his negotiations with Olmert, with its implementation being restricted to “80,000” Palestinians allowed to “return” to sovereign Israel. (Olmert reportedly was offering a token admission to a much lower number, perhaps 5,000.)
As for now, Dekel advocates that Israel withdraw from 80% of the West Bank, basically to the large settlement blocs closest to Green Line Israel, and that there be a freeze on construction for all settlements beyond those lines. At the same time, he sees a need for Israel to retain a security presence along the Jordan River Valley (although “not forever”), and understands that some in Israel’s security establishment believe that security can be adequately maintained along this eastern boundary by technological means. And he invokes the need for moderate Arab states in the region to apply friendly pressure to both sides toward a reasonable compromise agreement.
Amir Peretz’s plan also involves a settlement freeze in all of the West Bank beyond the settlement blocs, and he advocates that Israel seek to annex these blocs in ensuing negotiations. But in most ways, this is not an advance for the Palestinians over Olmert’s proposals, which they neither approved nor entirely rejected.
My understanding is that the Palestinians were unhappy with Olmert’s plan to annex both the Ariel bloc and Maaleh Adumim, but might have been okay with Israel withdrawing from Ariel and allowing a tunnel under E-1 (the highway to Maaleh Adumim) to facilitate Palestinian access north and south of Maaleh Adumim.
Olmert was more generous than Peretz in Jerusalem, where I believe that Olmert did not insist on Israeli sovereignty over the Holy Basin. And, unlike Peretz, Olmert did not rule out any “return” of Palestinians to sovereign Israel. Although still wide apart on a final number, Olmert and Abbas seemed to be working toward a compromise figure.
Before totally sniping away at the Peretz plan, however, it needs to be evaluated as a beginning position, and not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition; and it is a distinct advance over where the Palestinians are at this moment. If the Zionist Union adopts this in some way, perhaps in combination with MK Hilik Bar’s recent initiative, the opposition would finally offer the Israeli people an alternative to the government’s current stance of creeping annexationism in the guise of “managing the conflict.”