MK moots peace plan that lets settlers stay in Palestinian state

Zionist Union’s Hilik Bar presents proposal to Knesset that would also grant ‘advisory status’ to Diaspora Jewry; Herzog stops short of endorsing it

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas (l) and MK Hilik Bar at the Muqataa in Ramallah, February 16, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Nasser Nasser)
Mahmoud Abbas (l) and MK Hilik Bar at the Muqataa in Ramallah, February 16, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Nasser Nasser)

Jewish settlers will be able to remain in their homes as residents of a Palestinian state, according to a new peace plan presented by a Zionist Union legislator at the Knesset Monday.

According to Hilik Bar’s outline, Israel would immediately recognize the State of Palestine at the United Nations, though without specifying any borders.

Jerusalem would also issue its first official response to the Arab Peace Initiative, without accepting all its provisions.

Bar’s proposal also calls for granting Diaspora Jewry “advisory status” regarding certain aspects of Israel’s foreign policy.

While Bar made plain that Jews who don’t reside in Israel will not be able to vote, “it won’t kill us” to take their concerns into consideration, he said.

Echoing previous peace proposals, Bar’s plan calls for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state, based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps. An undivided city of Jerusalem would serve as capital of the two states.

The key parameters of Bar’s outline closely resemble those of previous efforts. One significant difference is that it would allow Jewish settlers to remain in their homes, even if they are located on the Palestinian side of the border.

“If there can be a Jewish community in London and Berlin, then there can be a Jewish community in Palestine,” said Bar, who heads the Knesset Caucus to Resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Under a final-status accord, settlers who refuse to relocate could become either residents or citizens of the new Palestinian state, with Israel responsible for their security, he explained.

In intra-Palestinian discussions, Ramallah has agreed in principle to the notion of allowing Jews to remain in their houses in a future state of Palestine, Bar said.

Residents of Migron on Tuesday (photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
Residents of the evacuated settlement of Migron in 2012. (photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

The idea is not a new one. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flirted with the idea in 2014, leading to an avalanche of right-wing criticism.

Bar’s proposal to allow settlers to stay put in a Palestinian state was criticized by Gadi Baltiansky, the director-general of the Geneva Initiative, a nonprofit advocating a two-state solution.

If you agree that settlers may remain in West Bank, there is no cogent reason for them to stop expanding existing settlements or building new ones, Baltiansky said.

Also, the Palestinians will have less reason to agree to the planned Israeli annexation of the settlement blocs if Jewish settlers will be allowed to stay in a future state of Palestine, he argued.

Bar, a deputy Knesset speaker and second-term lawmaker from the Labor party, presented his blueprint of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a lengthy event in the Knesset. His initiative was welcomed by opposition leader and Labor chairman Isaac Herzog and the list’s number two, former peace negotiator Tzipi Livni.

However, Herzog, Livni and other Zionist Union MKs said that they do not necessarily agree with all the provisions of Bar’s proposal, and stopped short of fully endorsing it.

Last week Herzog said the unilateral Israeli evacuation of Gaza Strip settlements had been a mistake from a security point of view.

The bill is expected to face stiff opposition from the governing coalition, which will likely shoot it down, as it has done to previous bills put forward by Bar.

Netanyahu “prefers to bury these initiatives, to shut them down, to discredit them – to feed the public constant slogans of fear – ‘there is no partner,’ ‘there no chance,’” Herzog said. “We must be on the side of those who take historic action, just as my friend Hilik Bar is doing this morning.”

Herzog encouraged Bar to present his peace plan to leaders in Israel and the international community and collect comments and annotations. The party will then hold an in-depth discussion on it, he said.

“Saying that there’s no partner [for peace on the Palestinian side] is an excuse for diplomatic stalemate,” Bar said. “My outline … protects Israel’s vital security interests, keeps Jerusalem united, solves the Palestinian refugee problem outside of Israel’s borders, leaves the majority of settlers in their homes, strengthens Israel’s position in the world, and gives Israel a boost in its unflinching war on terrorism.”

The right wing in Israel wants to continue to “manage” the conflict with the Palestinians, Bar told a packed Knesset auditorium. “You do not manage conflicts. You solve conflicts,” he said. The current leadership’s approach will lead to a one-state reality that endangers Israel’s Jewish majority and thus would spell the end of the Zionist enterprise, he warned.

President Reuven Rivlin and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely openly advocate for a one-state solution, he lamented.

“Let us not kid ourselves: today we are told that [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas is ‘not a partner for peace,’ but in the bi-national state to which the right wing is leading us, Abbas will be a partner — in the cabinet,” he thundered. “And Khaled Mashaal is head of Hamas’s political wing today, but in the bi-national state to which the right wing is leading us, he will head a political party that will compete in democratic elections.”

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