When our previous conversation was interrupted, DD the imaginary Israeli Defense Dove and critic of Netanyahu was about to present details of her "step by step" approach. "Here's what I think should be done," she said.
"It is only a first sketch; it needs much more fine tuning. But remember, the aim is to get things going and to entwine both sides so they'll have a stake in moving on. It entails a lot of what diplomats call 'creative ambiguities.' And it includes some necessary bitter pills for all sides. It makes it harder to pontificate without real commitments."
"Let's envision a period of several years, say five, in which steps are taken at intervals. This allows time to evaluate follow-through on commitments made."
The steps don't work on the basis of 'I do this and then you do something absolutely equivalent' -- just something useful."
And it is not like a chess game; the aim is to defuse and open up possibilities, not to capture the king.
FIRST STEP: ISRAEL makes a grand gesture. We declare -- reiterate, really -- that the 1967 War, in which we occupied the occupied territories, was an act of self-defense and now, as then, we are willing to trade land for peace. We then announce that a complete freeze on settlement activities in occupied territories -- immediately, unilaterally. Not another brick.
Funds used now to subsidize settlements will be transferred directly and quickly to social programs that raise living standards for Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel proper -- especially affordable housing. Israel establishes an open, public auditing system of governmental and quasi-governmental institutions like the Jewish National Fund that makes available monthly to the Israeli citizenry and press details of where monies coming into Israel from abroad are going.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) halts its involvement in any international effort to obtain statehood apart from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The PA also renounces support from any countries or movements (Islamic, nationalist, European, otherwise) that do not support direct negotiations. It drops its plans to pursue cases against Israel in the International Criminal Court. Cairo, Amman, and Riyadh endorse this separately -- and then the Arab League as a whole, embraces it publicly.
All outside aid and financial transactions to the West Bank and Gaza are placed within an open international oversight system. The PA accepts publicly that malfeasance should lead to proportionate cut-backs in foreign aid. Malfeasance includes explicitly the diversion of concrete and other materials delivered to Gaza in order to help civilian life (by building schools or roads) to Hamas military efforts including tunnels dug to attack Israel.
The PA declares that it will continue security cooperation with Israel and it calls on Iran to halt immediately its pursuit of nuclear capabilities on the grounds that it is inimical to Mideast peace. The PA declares that a nuclear blast in Tel Aviv would be a crime against humanity and notes that it would also devastate Palestinians in the very nearby West Bank. It demands that Tehran end threatening rhetoric towards Israel. And the PA calls on all Palestinians to reject any kind of support or assistance, particularly military and including in Gaza from Tehran or Hezbollah until Iran stops its nuclear pursuits. The UN's Security Council and General Assembly endorse this Palestinian announcement.
STEP 2 (Eight months after the first step). Israel and the PA make parallel announcements: Neither side will accept parties in their governing coalitions -- call them 'national unity governments' or a similar domestic political constellation -- that reject the principle of territorial compromises or support violent means to resolve disagreements. The Arab League endorses this publicly.
STEP 3 (Ten months after step 2): Israel withdraws from selected parts of "Area C" of the West Bank (mostly controlled by Israel under the Oslo Accords) and gives them to the PA. The U.S., the E.U., and Saudi Arabia initiate new, large-scale economic aid programs to the West Bank. Gaza will receive new too depending on how Hamas has acted in the previous 18 months.
Mitchell Cohen is editor emeritus of Dissent Magazine and professor of political science at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. His book Zion and State (Columbia University Press) examines the intellectual origins of the conflict between the left and the right in Israel. It has just been republished in Paris by Editions la Decouverte.