To Europe, Re: A Great Deal
To: the European diplomatic corps in Israel Esteemed friends, FORGIVE ME FOR MAKING A DELICATE POLICY proposal in such a rudely public fashion. It would be time-consuming to lunch with each of you separately. So pour yourself some wine, and treat this is as a private whisper. Admit it: Europe would like to seize the starring role in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For three years, the Bush administration has been an absent parent, doing nothing but endorsing Ariel Sharon’s failed policies. The U.S. can’t act as honest broker; it hardly talks to Palestinians. Sharon’s withdrawal plan would leave chaos in the Gaza Strip and ongoing occupation in the West Bank – though public support for it does show that most Israelis are ready for some sort of withdrawal. The conflict is much closer to you than to the U.S. To the extent that it helps radicalize your immigrant Muslim minority, it’s a domestic issue, not just a foreign one. Yet Europe has been unable to step in, fill the diplomatic vacuum, and reap kudos and influence. Here’s a suggestion of how to do it: Offer to buy the settlements. All of them, from Rafiah Yam in the Gaza Strip through Susia in the southern West Bank right up to Ganim near Jenin in the north, and Kiryat Arba, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel in between. The lot. There are about 47,000 homes in the settlements, plus 1,000 or more under construction, according to Dror Etkes of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch. Offer to pay the market value of equivalent homes inside Israel proper at an equivalent commuting distance from Israeli cities. As a first guesstimate, it will run you 6-8 billion euros ($7.4-9.8 billion, or about $150,000-200,000 per housing unit). That’s costly, but you don’t have America’s Bush-made budget deficit, or its defense outlays. Show Bush it pays to pay for peace instead of war. Write the right conditions into the contract – with Israel and the Palestinians – and the expense will be worth it. First, it’s a package deal. No buying individual settlements. Israel’s government would sell the entire enterprise, in return for cash that would provide new homes inside Israel for the settlers, as part of a peace deal leading to a two-state solution. The proposal would accelerate the shift already taking place in Israeli public opinion. As part-time pundit Elia Leibowitz recently noted in Ha’aretz, the referendum on Sharon’s disengagement plan showed that even among dues-paying members of the Likud, 40,000 people – 40 percent – favor waking up from the dream of the Whole Land of Israel. So much for the assumption that attitudes are written in rock. By reassuring Israelis that the country can provide reasonable compensation for settlers and remain solvent, you’d eliminate one fear about withdrawal and speed the change. You would also make more settlers weigh the advantages of moving. To help that process, include a recommendation that communities relocate together: New Efrat next to Beit Shemesh, for instance. Schools and synagogues will move together with the residents into the State of Israel. For many settlers, part of the cost of withdrawal is not just the loss of a place, but of a small, tight-knit community. Lessen the pain, and increase the number of people willing to bear it. You’d actually be offering a further peace dividend, because you’d buy homes retail, but the government would pay for new ones wholesale as it contracted new neighborhoods. Inside land-short Israel, it would build more apartments, fewer houses, for further savings. Stipulate that the profit goes to investments such as a massive boost in the education system. That dangles another incentive in front of the public – and promises a flourishing economy that will keep buying European products. But the biggest benefit to Israelis would be your parallel offer to the Palestinians: They get ready-made towns in return for forfeiting the right for refugees to return to homes inside Israel. About 235,000 Israelis now live in settlements – but the red-tiled buildings on the hilltops could house at least half a million refugees, if not many more. In its early days, Israel divided up the abandoned homes of Jaffa and West Jerusalem’s well-off Arab neighborhoods for Jewish refugees. The oversized suburban homes in settlements can be divvied up the same way. A piece of a house would be a huge step up for a refugee family, especially with the infrastructure that Israel provided free for settlers. To the Palestinian public, Europe would be saying: Choose between fantasy homes in vanished villages and real houses, now, on the soil of historic Palestine. This won’t change everyone’s mind. But it will change some. Palestinians are also capable of waking up from dreams. To add to the deal, stipulate that before importing foreign workers to build replacement homes, Israel must turn to Palestinian workers and contractors – as long as the new Palestinian state takes effective measures to keep violent extremists from infiltrating the work force. That is, make the trade-off tangible: Stopping terror means jobs, lots of jobs, and a flow of cash that will revive the shattered Palestinian economy. Above all, don’t make this offer in diplomatic dinners with Israeli and Palestinian politicians. Neither Ariel Sharon nor Yasser Arafat is going to jump at it. Make it in front of TV cameras, and in ads in the Israeli and Palestinian press. Speak with sad sincerity about what each side will have to give up, and explain how Europe will help. To show you’re serious, starting socking away the cash: Each EU member budgets a fifth of its contribution annually, beginning now, for a fund held in escrow. The potential payoff of concessions will become a part of Israeli and Palestinian public debate, and politicians will adjust. Meanwhile, you’ll have bought the place of mediator at the head of the table – if you are ready to pay.
Copyright c 2004. The Jerusalem Report
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.