Israel, I fear, is on a suicidal path: It could cease to be the democratic home of the Jewish people.
This is why I greatly appreciate President Obama’s decision to come to Israel despite all the serious issues he faces in America. His visit could mark the beginning of a new era in the struggle to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because it is crucial to make the most of it, I am taking the liberty of offering four suggestions to the president as he prepares for his trip.
First, he must avoid ambiguity. We Israelis appreciate direct talk. Overly positive or opaque pictures created deep disappointments for us in the 1990s. We understand that maintaining the status quo will lead us into the abyss. We also realize that guiding us away from the abyss will entail painful concessions. We need to be shown a clear picture of both the tough road and the better future ahead.
Second, he should espouse the following clear principles for the endgame: Two states for the two peoples with mutual recognition; borders based on the 1967 lines with equitable swaps to enable the settlement blocks to remain under Israeli sovereignty; Jerusalem should remain an open city, capital of two states, with Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods, Israeli sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods and a special shared regime for the administration and guardianship of the holy sites; a demilitarized Palestine with international guarantees of its security; Palestinian refugees returning only to the Palestinian state or resettling in third countries with compensation; declaration of end of conflict by all sides.
These principles are in line with the Clinton parameters, the Arab League peace initiative, the Geneva Accord and the proposal I put forward in 2002, with Palestinian scholar Sari Nusseibeh, that nearly half a million Israelis and Palestinians have signed.
Third, it’s important to make sure the parties talk about an agreement, not a process. Over the last 20 years, negotiations seemed to be the end, not the means. That approach has taken us further from the destination we seek. The famous “road map” is a case in point.
Fourth, Obama should adopt a new approach: constructive and coordinated unilateralism. This is not an oxymoron.
Bilateral negotiation is the only way to reach an agreement, but the U.S. should support any step, by Israel or the Palestinians, even if done unilaterally, that moves us closer to a reality of two states for the two people. And conversely, the U.S. should oppose any step that takes us further from this outcome.
A few examples: The United States should support the Palestinian statehood bid in the United Nations, to enable a discussion about borders between the two states. It should not object to the establishment of a Palestinian unity government of Fatah and Hamas, provided that government is based on the two-state vision. It should support Israel when and if it announces that it does not see its sovereignty being applied east of the security barrier, and when and if it enacts a voluntary evacuation and compensation law to encourage settlers to relocate from the West Bank.
I offer these ideas as an Israeli citizen, but I also strongly believe they are in America’s interest. A clear process that will lead to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is a precondition for the creation of a regional coalition that will address Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and terrorism, violence, fundamentalism and nuclear proliferation throughout the Mideast. Rightly or wrongly, Obama’s ability to jump-start the peace process has become a test of his leadership in the eyes of many Israelis, Palestinians and Arab moderates.
Israel has won many battles to secure the Zionist dream of a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, but it seems to be losing the war. We need a two-state solution to fulfill this dream. Israel eagerly awaits Obama’s visit.