To remain a Jewish and democratic state, Israel must separate itself from the Palestinians now, a former Israeli peace negotiator told a Washington audience last week.
Ret. Brig. Gen. Udi Dekel struck a note of urgency, saying Israel cannot afford to wait for the outcome of a future round of negotiations because the status quo threatens the country’s identity.
Speaking to 130 people at Temple Micah, Dekel, the lead negotiator in the failed 2008 peace talks with the Palestinians, said Israel needs to act in its own interest.
“We have to put on the table a new plan for going forward,” he said.
He said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “share a common interest in not moving forward” toward a final status agreement that would settle all issues between the two peoples.
Yet the destination the two sides need to reach are clear from several failed rounds of negotiations dating back to the Clinton administration: a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, security guarantees for Israel, and Jerusalem shared by the two states.
“We know the destination. But we don’t know which track will get us there,” said Dekel, whose Dec. 9 appearance was part of a weeklong U.S. tour sponsored by J Street.
Israel should “shape the reality” by declaring that it will withdraw from the West Bank to its security fence until future negotiators decide on a final border, he said.
“If the Palestinians participate, it is better,” said Dekel. “But we are not waiting any longer.”
He said there were two obstacles in implementing the plan. “We have to evacuate 100,000 settlers. It’s not easy. But we cannot wait any longer.”
The second problem is that the Palestinians are not able to “establish a democratic, functional state.” Dekel called on moderate Arab countries and the United States “to support the Palestinians, so we aren’t stuck in the middle of the road.”
Dekel is managing director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He participates in a working group of Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians that keeps discussions going in anticipation of future peace negotiations.
Dekel’s plan concerned the West Bank only. An audience member asked what he would do about Jerusalem.
Dekel said his proposal is the same one that the Israelis made in 2008: The city’s Arab neighborhoods would be the Palestinian capital and its Jewish neighborhoods the Israeli capital.
The sticking point, the “holy basin” including the Western Wall and the Al Aksa Mosque, “neither side can compromise on, but they can decide to cooperate and give a third party the authority to manage it until we are mature enough to decide for ourselves,” he explained.
To allow Netanyahu more flexibility, Dekel called on the moderate Zionist Union, led by opposition leader Isaac Herzog, to join the government.
Dekel’s answer to an audience member who complained that Netanyahu makes no distinction between Arabs and terrorists earned the ex-general his one applause line from this mostly liberal audience.
“Netanyahu,” he said, “is not Israel.”