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Zionist Union MK proposes unilateral ‘separation’ plan from Palestinians

Omer Bar-Lev outlines steps to ‘keep Israel Jewish and democratic’; Likud’s Avi Dichter calls proposal unrealistic

Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev holds a press conference at the Knesset on November 30, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev holds a press conference at the Knesset on November 30, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Zionist Union legislator Omer Bar-Lev unveiled a new unilateral plan to separate from the Palestinians, featuring compensation for settlers living outside the main settlement blocs and the transfer of some Israeli-controlled West Bank land.

The idea was quickly criticized by a Likud MK as unrealistic.

“I don’t plan to discuss again the question of the existence of a Palestinian partner and how the average Palestinian educates his children,” said Bar-Lev, a former commander of the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal (General Reconnaissance) unit, at a Knesset press conference on Monday. “I understand that there will be some who will disagree with me, but I am not ready to put the future of the Jewish democratic state into the hands of the Palestinians.”

The four-part plan, titled “Separation: Putting a Border on the Conflict,” is meant as a way for Israel to move forward on the diplomatic and security front without needing to depend on the Palestinians, he said.

The first part of the plan calls for an immediate end to West Bank building outside of the large settlement blocs which are expected to stay under Israeli sovereignty in any potential agreement with the Palestinians.

The second part includes a voluntary evacuation and compensation law for settlers living outside of the main settlement blocs. Such a law would involve the state buying the homes of those interested in moving out of isolated settlements and compensating residents with 400% of the estimated value of their home. The funding for this law would be split 50-50 between the state budget and loans from the World Bank.

A panoramic view of the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
A panoramic view of the Etzion Bloc region of the West Bank. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The third step of Bar-Lev’s plan involves expanding the extent of the lands under Area B of the West Bank. This is land which, since the Oslo II agreement in 1995, has been under Palestinian Authority civil control and Israeli security control. The additional land would come from sections of Area C, which is under full Israeli control. Approval of land transfers would be subject to Israel’s security needs.

The plan’s fourth step deals with the Gaza Strip and calls for a complete ceasefire and the territory’s disarmament in exchange for development, including the building of a deep-water port and an airport. According to the report, this phase includes international support and funding by the Arab League, and is conditioned upon “absolute quiet” in terms of the security situation on the border with Israel.

“Separation from the Palestinians is an existential interest of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” wrote Bar-Lev in the plan’s introduction. “The uniqueness of all four of the steps is that they are the fruit of our own decision, without dependence on others, and that they are attainable, at the same time, in an immediate period of 18 months.”

The unilateral plan comes in the wake of years of unsuccessful attempts at peace negotiations and a changing Israeli discourse in which even supporters of reconciliation have replaced the term “peace process” with “diplomatic process,” he noted. Unilateral moves were also the trademark of late former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who in 2005 removed all Israeli civilian and military presence from the Gaza Strip.

Avi Dichter speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel (photo credit: AP/File)
Likud Knesset member Avi Dichter (AP/File)

Likud MK Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, criticized the unilateral and limited nature of Bar-Lev’s plan in an interview with Army Radio Tuesday.

“An agreement has to be a full agreement,” he said. “We signed an agreement with Egypt that was a full agreement, each side knew what was to happen at each stage… We signed one with Jordan… We understand that [the Oslo Accords of 1990-95] didn’t succeed to say the least…[because] the Palestinians didn’t do what they were supposed to do.”

Dichter added that he is in favor of diplomatic initiatives on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but that these should be realistic. He said that it is important for Israel to base its decisions on “vision, and not a dream.”

Bar-Lev made headlines in August for breaking with Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

Bar-Lev’s initiative comes after his Zionist Union colleague, MK Hilik Bar, proposed his own peace plan in July. Bar’s plan called for Israel to recognize a Palestinian state at the United Nations, without specifying its borders, and to open up deliberations on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Echoing previous peace proposals, Bar’s plan called 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.

A more innovative aspect of Bar’s plan said that Israeli settlers who wanted to do so would be allowed to stay as residents of a future Palestinian state. Bar also called for Israel to give Diaspora Jewry an “advisory status” regarding certain aspects of Israel’s foreign policy.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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