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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: Israeli offers advice to Obama

March 12, 2013

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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.

— Ami Ayalon is a former director of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and a co-founder of the nonpartisan Israeli political organization, Blue White Future, www.bluewhitefuture.org. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

Very encouraging position-- but Israel has steadfastly refused to return to anything resembling the 1967 borders, and its current leadership would never accept that.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Even the most hard line Israeli leader, Menecham Begin, returned every inch of land to Egypt that Egypt wanted, essentially conceding to the pre-1967 borders. All Israel asked for in return was guarantees of peace. The fact is that there is every reason to believe this Israeli government would do the same and if not, the Israelis themselves would elect a government that would. Your statement that Israel would not return to anything resembling the 1967 lines is in error.

What became apparent after 1967 was that the Arabs were not ready for peace. They stated as much with their infamous three no(s) (No Peace, No Recognition, No Negotiation). To their credit, Egypt broke from that position and peace was achieved. The question still stands, are the Palestinians ready to break from that position? And are they ready and willing to control those within their own ranks that are not ready? Are the Palestinians ready to resist pressure from Hezbollah in Lebanon, with it's Iranian support? There are still many, many throughout that region who see Israel as an insult. Will whatever Palestinian leadership emerges turn their backs on them, the way Egypt did?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

Yea, yea, we know. Israelis are just misunderstood peacelovers, who show their love for peace by time and again killing way more Arabs than happens the other way around, stealing ever more Palestinian land (in direct violation of UN mandates) and taking over in the apartheid game where the S. African nazis left off.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

There are a lot of good ideas here, and I applaud an Israeli for proposing them.

Buried in them, unfortunately, is this "demilitarized" Palestine idea. I might support it if we included a "demilitarized" Israel - anybody think Israel would go for that?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Is it equality that you're asking for? Israel has a population of less that 8 million. The combined populations of the Arab League members is 220 million. How about in exchange for a demilitarized Israel, the Arab League agrees to reduce it's population to that of Israel's? Anyone think the Arabs would go for that?

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

This letter asks for a "demilitarized Palestine", not a "demilitarized Arab league", so your question isn't on point.

What's the population of "Palestine"?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

This conflict has never been one of Israel vs. Palestinians. Never. Israel has fought numerous wars against numerous Arab countries. Those who try to define the conflict in the very narrow way of Israel vs. Palestinians do so for a specific purpose, that being to portray Israel as a huge power as opposed to the defenseless Palestinians. And if you look at this issue only in with that narrow focus, it seems quite true. But why look at the issue with that narrow focus given the history of the various conflicts? Have relations between Israel and the rest of the Arab world suddenly become normalized, much the way European countries engage in free trade, free travel, etc.? No, despite the rhetoric, it is Israel that stands the best chance of being wiped off the face of the map. A demilitarized Israel would be a non-existent Israel.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

The lte, written by an Israeli, called for a demilitarized Palestine.

I'm just pointing out the absurdity of calling for that - nobody will accept that. Would the US accept demilitarization with international guarantees of our security?

It seems to me that including that is a kind of "poison pill" that makes the proposal untenable. Which is unfortunate, because I like all of the other items - they mirror very closely what I've suggested in the past.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

You ignore certain realities. If you're asking Israel to cede land to a group or groups that will then use that land to attack it, then that is a much larger poison pill, to borrow your analogy. There must be guarantees of peace in exchange for land. There must be a guarantee that whatever Palestinian government emerges, they must be able to control their citizens. That's an expectation of every country. Israel is under no obligation to facilitate their own demise.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

What?

There are no guarantees of peace, anywhere in the world, or any guarantees that governments can "control" their citizens, especially new emerging governments.

All countries are responsible for their own self defense - Israel is no exception, nor would "Palestine" be one.

The request that any country accept demilitarization is an unreasonable one - if Israel insists on that, there will be no resolution. And, if they refuse to even negotiate about an equitable land split, similarly.

Is it understandable that Israel is concerned about their security? Of course. But that doesn't make the repeated insistence on it reasonable or realistic.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

The guarantee of peace is implied. As is the existence of a country called Palestine. If one is to become a reality, so must the other.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Absurd.

Name one country that has guaranteed peace, and freedom from threats.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Imagine the U.S. helping al Qaeda establishing a base on Puerto Rico or on the U.S. Virgin Islands. Imagine us helping them establish a base on one of the outer bank islands off North Carolina. Al Qaeda would then be in a much better position to launch attacks against the U.S. Can you imagine such a scenario. Absurd.

What you are asking for is for Israel to do something very much like that, to facilitate the creation of a country on land it now controls, a country that is dedicated to Israel's destruction. Now that's absurd.

To get around that absurdity, Israel is asking for guarantees of peace. You say that not usual. You say other countries don't get such guarantees. I'd argue that point. But even if I granted you that position, tell me whose position is more absurd, Israel's asking for peace or those who insist Israel give land to an entity dedicated to their own demise?

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Ok - tell me one country that has guarantees of peace, and freedom from threats.

I don't buy your analogy of Palestine/Al Quaeda, but let's say I did. Then Israel and Palestine are enemies who will never resolve their conflict unless one side or the other is completely destroyed. Is that really your view?

If so, then all of this negotiation is just silly and a waste of time.

I say that a large number of both Palestinians and Israelis want peace, and some want a just peace. In that case, they should work for that - this lte offers many good ideas for it. But, requiring Palestine to be "demilitarized" isn't one of them.

Israel's continued land grabs are part of the problem, so giving back land that has been grabbed is one indicator of an interest in a just peace. Continuing to grab it, and refusing to give it back without guarantees of peace is a sort of bullying tactic.

Also, I'd like to point out that your analogy gives support to Israel as "legitimate" and denies that legitimacy to Palestinians, by referring to them as terrorists. This is also part of the problem, and it's one created by the unwillingness to grant them statehood.

Kind of a Catch-22, don't you think? Israel's a legitimate country, and so it can defend itself and operate militarily in numerous ways, but Palestine isn't, so they're just terrorists. Well, then we should grant them statehood, but no, they're terrorists, so we won't do that. Round and round we go.

And, finally, the US is just as guilty of not looking at what we do that creates enemies as Israel is, and we should improve in that regard. Why create enemies and then have to fight them if it's not really necessary?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Every country expects it's neighbors to live in peace. It doesn't always happen, hence we have wars. But if peace is to be maintained, countries are expected to control it's population. It is very much the responsibility of the U.S. to control it's citizens from attacking Canada. Canada has every right to expect that. If a country cannot control it's population, then they are a failed state along the Somalia lines.

Israel has every right to expect that whatever Palestinian government emerges, it will try to maintain the peace. Hamas, the elected government, has vowed to continue fighting Israel until it no longer exists. The leader of Hamas, just after the latest round of fighting, reiterated that stance, despite claims made that the Palestinians are ready for peace. True, there are individuals, but countries don't make agreements with individuals. They make them between governments.

I'm not a big fan of land grabs, but giving land back didn't bring peace from Gaza and it didn't bring peace when Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon. Giving land back did bring peace though with Egypt. So what does that tell us? If peace is the objective, land given must be accompanied by a peace agreement. Unilateralism does not achieve the intended result.

You may not like my al Qaeda analogy. But Israel is not being asked to give that land to Mother Tereas's orphanage. They are being asked to give that land to an organization that continues to this day to call for Israel's elimination. Expecting Israel to do that is beyond absurd.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

One can hope for peace, but it's never guaranteed.

If a Canadian joins Al-Quaeda and participates in planning attacks on the US, do we call Canada a "failed state"?

Of course not.

They can do what they like, of course. I'm not living there, and wouldn't choose to live there. If I lived next door to somebody who was committed to my destruction, I think I'd move.

The situation is undoubtedly more complicated - in addition to grabbing land, Israel has been controlling Palestinians in numerous ways for many years, including by collecting taxes from them, not giving them freedom to travel within their own borders, etc.

If you acted like that, would you be surprised if your neighbors didn't like you?

I see only several ways out of the current situation, which seems intolerable to me. First, one side or the other could simply move somewhere else - the land being fought over is incredibly small. Second, one side or the other can "win" the conflict, and destroy the other side. Third, they can work out some sort of reasonable resolution and live in peace (or try to do that).

I prefer one or three, and don't like two very much. It's interesting that the lte, written by an Israeli who was a member of Shin Bet, comments that Israel may be on a suicidal course. If so, it's in their best interests to change that course, don't you think?

What percentage of the vote did Hamas get? If it's anything like here, it's a rather small margin of victory, which means that many Palestinians don't support them.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

You're not taking the al Qaeda analogy far enough. Because what you are advocating for is not just the presence of a known hostile force, but you're asking someone to facilitate that presence, make it easier for them to attack you. The analogy would be if the U.S. knew of an operative working out of Canada, would we give him assistance in moving his base of operations closer to our border? That's what you're asking of Israel, that they give up land that will then be used to attack Israel. If there is a compromise to be had, it's that in exchange for that land, guarantees of peace must be the price. This whole land for peace idea is nothing new. It's been the basis for negotiations all along. I didn't make it up.

I don't know the margin of victory. If one looked at what percentage of eligible voters voted for Obama, it would be far less than a simple majority. Yet he is our elected leader. He represents us, for better or worse. Hamas is the elected party of the Palestinians. And they continue to vow the destruction of Israel to this day. For better or worse, that's the official policy of the Palestinian people.

Israel may be committing suicide. Their policies that do indeed border on apartheid, may cause them to lose their very soul. But if their choices are suicide, or being murdered at the hands of an enemy, they're going to be just as dead in the end.

At the conclusion of WW II, both Germany and Japan were demilitarized. Both had been completely defeated. Peace was imposed afterwards, and peace has been maintained since. It may be an unfortunate truth that only after a complete defeat by one side or the other will peace be achieved. After 1967, the Arabs claimed victory. They refused to seek their land back through peaceful negotiations. Rather, they sought to claim the position of victor, seeking to impose it's demands on it's adversary. Up became down in their world.

I hope for a peaceful solution in that region. But that will only be had with a truly regional settlement. Not one made by some non-governmental individuals, but by Israel along with the Palestinians and Egypt and Jordan and Lebanon and Syria and Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Iran and Europe and the U.S. and the U.N.

juma 1 year, 9 months ago

Fifth: If Israel wants to do what it wants then STOP taking (stealing) billions$$$ from the US taxpayer. Many years ago Arafat said there will only be a settlement when Israel stops acting like America's spoiled child. Agree that we cut ALL aid ASAP until Israel wakes up to the world.

Kathy Getto 1 year, 9 months ago

Are you implying the Israelis are thieves? Oh my goodness. Appears to be a sweeping generalisation to me.

voevoda 1 year, 9 months ago

Thompson's work doesn't prove that the historical precedents are "phoney." He is just proposing a different politicized version of the past--one designed to delegitimize the modern state of Israel.

The impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved through any appeal to historical precedents. Not only because the claims rooted in ancient history are complicated and tenuous, but more because the recent history, in the past century, has created so many legitimate yet conflicting claims and so many legitimate grievances.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

This is an excellent read on the situation in Israel/Palestine, primarily since 1948. As the title indicates, it's primarily about Israel, but it does a good job of covering pertinent details about what was happening contemporaneously with its Arab neighbors, as well as the US and European countries.

It's not a romanticized fluff piece of anyone involved in this saga, whether Arab, American or especially Israeli, so I don't expect that uncritical supporters of Israel such as jhawkins would ever read it, at least not with any degree of objectivity.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0374281041

Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country--and Why They Can't Make Peace by Patrick Tyler

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

I've mentioned this before, Bozo, history did not begin in 1948. As an example, support of Hitler by Palestinian religious and civic leaders would explain why in 1946, 1947 and 1948, Jewish refugees entering Palestine did not seek accommodation with those same leaders. Palestinian rejections of previous proposals of a two state solution, such as those proposed in the Peele Commission Report just prior to WW II might explain why those same Jewish refugees believed a two state solution wasn't possible.

The mindset of the Jewish refugees in 1948 must be put into context. Imagine if I proposed looking at a history of the land there and said let's begin in 1968. Then the West Bank and Gaza, The Golan Heights and Southern Lebanon would be Israel, with claims made by others being illegitimate, or without historical context. In that case, 1968 would be not just arbitrary, but it would be self serving. It would be intellectually dishonest. It would be misleading. The same dishonest applies to anyone wanting to look at the history of that region and begin in 1948. Everything must be put into context.

Or, we forget history. We look at today. We forget the atrocities committed by both sides. And yes, I do recognize that atrocities have been committed by both and continue to this day, by both. There are many within Israel who make claims the land was given to them forever by God. There are many within the Arab community who see Israel's existence as nothing more than a continuing Crusade by the West against Islam. We can argue those points forever. Forever. I think a better solution is to forget history and focus on today. Not 1948. Not 1967. Not 1973. Today.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

jhf.

From a quick search, it appears that your portrayal of Hamas is a bit off - they've agreed in principle to a 2 state solution, and are combined with Fatah, the more moderate group.

Also, they see Israel as an occupying force, and themselves as defending forces - a position I have a bit of sympathy for, and aren't willing to become "demilitarized" and thus incapable of self defense.

No state would willingly give up their right and ability to defend themselves - it's not natural. If Israel wants to "conquer" the Palestinians and then impose their conditions, that's one thing. But, they shouldn't expect to get the fruits of that sort of activity in negotiations.

And, of course, engaging in that obvious an attempt to wipe out the Palestinians would be risky.

I hope they figure something out, but I fear that they won't - it's similar to my feeling about our destruction of the natural environment.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Hamas' charter continues to call for end of Israel, plain and simple. It does remind me though of a well known situation that happened years ago, and it happened often. Yasser Arafat would go to the U.N., or some other international gathering and claim that the Palestinians were ready to accept a two state solution with Israel. That same night, he would go before a largely pro-Arab group and say the struggle won't end until Israel is completely destroyed. Those who wanted to portray the Palestinians as ready for peace would hold up his speech before the U.N. as evidence that it was they were ready for peace and the Israelis were the ones holding up the process. Of course, the pro-Israelis would counter by pointing out that Arafat said just the opposite later that day. At different times, Hamas has said this and they've said that. Fatah has said this and they've said that. I'd ask, what have they done?

What has Israel done? They've grabbed land. No denying that. It's a fact. They have also relinquished land as well. That, too, is a fact. They have existed in a virtual state of war for decades with some. But they've also made peace with others. To say Israel is unwilling to relinquish lands is wrong. To say Israel is unwilling to make peace is wrong. But as with any negotiation, both sides have to give in order to get. If you disagree with my assertion that Israel should not demand a guarantee of peace, if you disagree with the demilitarized suggestion, I wonder what it is that you propose the Palestinians give up, in exchange for the land? What do you propose to do with the nearly half million settlers now living in the West Bank, some now there going on a few generations? What do you propose be done with the 20% of Israel's population that is Palestinian?

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

And I'm sure that Israeli leaders do the same thing.

Well, the question is whether or not they should have to give anything up - if Israel grabbed land, they should give it back without requiring anything in return.

If I steal your watch, and then say I'll sell it back to you, that's extortion, not a reasonable negotiating position.

What the settlers do is Israel's problem, and it's one of their own creation - if they hadn't continued (and escalated) building settlements in disputed territory, the problem wouldn't exist. If I build something on disputed land, and it's decided that land is yours, you don't have to fix my problem of what to do with it.

Of course, decisions about what happens to existing Palestinian citizens of Israel, etc. can also be discussed as part of negotiations. My preferred solution would be that those who want to remain become Israeli citizens, and Israelis who want to remain in Palestine become Palestinian citizens. It's just cleaner that way.

They can decide whether or not they want to allow dual citizenship, and also how easy or difficult they want to make it for one group to travel to the other country, just as all other nations do.

Once we have two states, then we have all of the ongoing questions and problems that two neighboring states have to solve.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

And if the Israelis stole the land from the country of Palestine without just cause, I might agree with your position. Of course, that's not what happened. So your entire premise is without merit. So, I ask again, during the negotiations, if Israel is to give up land, what shall they receive in return?

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

So you think that continued building of Israeli settlements on disputed territory is fine?

If you and I are arguing about who owns a little strip of land in between our houses, and I build something on it, and then claim it's mine because of that, am I right?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

As you say, the land is in dispute. That's in direct contradiction to your earlier comment that Israel stole the land. You can't have it both ways.

I would say that given the land is in dispute, that dispute should be resolved through negotiations, which generally implies a compromise, one side getting something, the other side getting something else. I was proposing land for peace. You've asserted that's absurd. Again, what shall Israel get in exchange? Where is the compromise you propose?

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

If it's in dispute, then it's not Israel's land to "give up" in exchange for other things. I think it's you who want to have it both ways.

The reasonable thing to do if land is disputed is to not build things on it until the dispute has been resolved. If Israel had done that, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

I propose an equitable land split, with two states, each with all of the corresponding rights and responsibilities. Why? Because it's the fair thing to do.

Demanding that one or the other side give up their right to self defense in exchange for such a resolution isn't fair or reasonable.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

There are a couple of problems with your suggestion, not the least of which is that it's rooted in some fantasy land, where idealism prevails over the real world. The population of the world is increasing. Not just Israel, not just the Arab countries, everywhere. Those people need to live somewhere, work somewhere, shop somewhere. Building is necessary. Saying they shouldn't have built is like saying the world's population shouldn't grow. A fine sentiment. A fine dream. A fine fantasy.

You forget your own roots, Jafs. If your roots are anything like mine, then you should know that many of our tribe moved to Israel, to the U.S., wherever, to flee oppression. Those that landed in Israel were refugees in the truest sense of the world and yes, they needed a place to live, work, go to school, etc. They had every right to survive.

The 1967 war changed the borders, right? Wrong. After the 1948 conflict, armistice lines were drawn with the final borders to be determined. Israel might shrink as a result of those negotiations, or it might expand, depending upon what agreements the parties reached. Unfortunately, the Arab countries that possessed Gaza, the West Bank, etc. chose war over negotiation. And they lost more land as a consequence of those decisions. Lands won in war are frequently kept by the victor. The American southwest was taken from Mexico. Shall we return it. The German city of Danzig is now know as Gdansk, Poland. Japan lost islands now claimed as part of Russia. Shall they be returned? Or is Israel being held to a standard that you're not willing to hold even yourself to?

BTW - Look at a map, tell me how Gaza and the West Bank can connect, without splitting the current Israel in two, the very thing you say is intolerable?

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm going to stop here, since we don't really get anywhere with this conversation.

Not everybody is committed to not doing the right or fair thing - some of us actually try to do that.

Given that Palestine isn't a state, and has never been one, all of your examples about other Arab countries are irrelevant.

I'm very aware of my roots - I just also understand that Palestinians have roots and history as well.

And, when Israel encourages Americans to move over there and build settlements, that's a far cry from some unavoidable increase in population, which by the way is certainly not unavoidable, if people choose to have fewer children.

I'm sure that if both sides wanted to, they could find a line down the middle of the country, and divide the land equally, creating one border and two continuous chunks of land (with a shared Jerusalem, as this author suggests, and I've suggested in the past).

Or they can continue this horrible endless conflict.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Also, that's the idea behind "land swaps" as I understand it. So, settlers could stay there, but Palestine gets other land somewhere else to compensate.

That's fine with me too, as long as they get a unified, contiguous territory that has one border with Israel, self governance, etc.

None of this ridiculously broken up territory and having to go through Israeli checkpoints all the time.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Interesting, that having those broken up pieces of land was exactly what was proposed in the Peele Commission Report, only with the Jewish state being the one that was broken up. The Arabs of that time rejected that proposal, while the Jews were ready to accept. Apparently, what's good for the goose isn't good enough for the gander.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

I would reject it if either country didn't get a continuous chunk of land, with one border.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Maybe you would reject it. But the fact is that the party you say would be getting the bad end of the agreement was willing to accept while the party getting the lion's share was the one who rejected.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

I'd have to look more into the details of that proposal to have an opinion on it.

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