Israel Policy Forum Conference Call with MK Shaul Mofaz on His Peace Initiative Proposal

During a question and answer session, MK Mofaz explained that the plan called for the immediate creation of a permanent Palestinian State with provisional borders, not the creation of a provisional Palestinian State. In the West Bank, there are three types of territory. In Area A, Palestinians already provide security and civilian control. In Area B, Israel provides security and Palestinians provide civilian control. In Area C, Israel provides security and civilian control. Areas A and B together include about 40% of the territory, and about 99% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank lives in those areas. However, those areas are not contiguous. The provisional borders would include those areas, together with an additional 20% of the West Bank territory located in Area C. The Israeli government would provide guarantees, through the United States, that at the end of stage 2 the permanent borders of the Palestinian State would include most of the 1967 West Bank territory but not the exact same lands because Israel required a defensible border. MK Mofaz confirmed that Gaza would be part of the immediately created Palestinian State, but that this would be a difficult issue. It would be essential that Gaza be part of the Palestinian State under the control of the elected Palestinian government. MK Mofaz also maintained that Jerusalem must remain a united city and the capital of Israel, and acknowledged that this would be another difficult issue, but remained convinced that border issues could and would be resolved. MK Mofaz said he would not talk to Hamas, which he described as “a terrorist organization.” He noted that Hamas was continuing to gain more power and was continuing to smuggle weapons into Gaza and that Israel could not accept a terrorist organization living next to Israel continuing to launch missiles at the Israeli population. MK Mofaz said it was important to make clear that if Hamas won the next round of Palestinian elections and continued to act as terrorists that Hamas and its leaders “will not be around,” but that if Hamas were to agree to accept the existence of Israel and accept the agreements already reached that Israel would be willing to accept them and speak with them. MK Mofaz reiterated that Israel would not speak with Hamas if it continued to act as a terrorist organization and call for the destruction of Israel. MK Mofaz explained that his plan would succeed where all previous negotiations have failed because once Palestinians accept the idea of a Palestinian State the atmosphere “completely will be changed.” Once a permanent Palestinian State is established, even with provisional borders, it will be possible to start rebuilding the Palestinian economy and create a better atmosphere for the negotiation of the outstanding issues. MK Mofaz discounted the possibility that the Palestinians would say “no” to his plan or that they would insist on permanent borders before accepting the creation of a Palestinian State. MK Mofaz described conditions today as being substantially different from the past, when Israeli proposals from the Barak and Olmert governments were rejected. MK Mofaz explained that there was a unity of belief in a two-state solution in Israel today that has never existed in the past, and that Israel=s current leaders cannot hand off the conflict to the next generation of Israelis. Furthermore, a peace agreement with the Palestinians would be the key to peace agreements with Syria and Lebanon. MK Mofaz did not believe in poll numbers showing very limited support for his proposal among the Palestinians. The immediate creation of a Palestinian State, even with temporary borders, would be a tangible achievement, accompanied by assurances of permanent borders close to the 1967 border and expectations that a final status agreement would be reached and implemented within a matter of a few years. This would create the good will necessary to reach a final agreement. MK Mofaz disputed that his plan amounted to an offer less generous than the rejected proposals from the Barak and Olmert governments, explaining that his plan was totally different. In the past, there were no assurances that the Palestinians would end up with their own State. Once the Palestinian State existed, trust would be rebuilt and it would be possible to move forward with that trust and a good atmosphere, which would make it easier to achieve a final status agreement. MK Mofaz would not agree to a complete freeze of all new settlements. Certain settlements in the West Bank would remain as part of Israel, necessary to establish defensible borders, and there was no reason to impose a freeze. In other settlements, expected to become part of the Palestinian State, MK Mofaz said it was important to consider the lives of the settlers and that their daily lives must go on, but that there should be no further building. As for the status of East Jerusalem and the Arabs living there, MK Mofaz said it was best to start with a Palestinian State with temporary borders and then talk about core, final status issues. MK Mofaz had no second thoughts about the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, where former settlements have become the front line for Hamas terrorist attacks. MK Mofaz said he believed the withdrawal had saved the lives of Israeli civilians and soldiers. Israeli settlements in Gaza were not in Israel’s interest. Hamas came to power in Gaza not because of the Israeli withdrawal but because of Iranian influence, and it was better for Israel to fight Gaza terrorists without 12,000 Israeli settlers still there. But, in the West Bank, certain settlements would need to be retained in order to maintain Israeli security and a defensible eastern border. Any final agreement would necessarily include provisions for Israeli security and the right and ability of Israel to defend itself. MK Mofaz noted that Egypt and Jordan once had been enemies of Israel, but those former enemies now were at peace with Israel. Given the increasing threats from Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, there was a greater need for peace with the Palestinians and security now. MK Mofaz said the Palestinian State should be a responsible and adult state. It should be disarmed. It also should handle security matters and stop terror activities from its own territory once the Palestinian State started to function. It would not have a navy, an air force, or missiles, but it would maintain security forces. If necessary, international forces, from nations such as the United States, Britain, France, Italy, and Germany, could assist the Palestinian government maintain security. Israel would retain the right to defend itself, but MK Mofaz believed the Palestinians would want to handle security matters themselves before it would become necessary for the Israeli military to intervene. As for the settlements outside the “ natural settlement block” that would be incorporated into Israel in order to establish a defensible eastern border, MK Mofaz believed the settlers would have to be handled in two stages. In the first stage, during the first year following the creation of a Palestinian State with provisional borders, it would be necessary for Israel to pass a compensation law and prepare infrastructure for moving the settlers out. Then, following an agreement on final status issues, a referendum would be held in Israel to ratify the agreement before it was implemented. MK Mofaz believed that with a compensation plan in place, infrastructure in place for relocation, and approval by a referendum, most settlers would be willing to move of their own free will, although it was impossible to predict exactly how many. At the end, however, remaining settlers would have to be removed. Once the Palestinian State was created, MK Mofaz explained that Hamas would be part of that state and would in the first instance be the problem of the Palestinian State, not Israel. If Hamas agreed to accept a Palestinian agreement with Israel, that would not be a problem for Israel. What was important, MK Mofaz pointed out, was that the Palestinian president control Gaza: one law, one authority, one gun. MK Mofaz again clarified that the initial Palestinian State would include about 60% of the territory of the West Bank. Under a final status agreement, the Palestinian State would include territory close to the 1967 lands, but not the exact borders. To compensate for West Bank territory that would not be incorporated into the Palestinian State, there would be an exchange of lands or a land swap. There are a number of alternatives that exist for this proposal and MK Mofaz believes the Palestinians are prepared to accept this proposal. Finally, MK Mofaz said he has discussed his plan with various Palestinians, neighbors, and American officials. MK Mofaz said that his plan is the only Israeli plan currently on the table and that if someone else has a better plan then they should put it on the table. MK Mofaz said he believes there is a good chance his plan can succeed, but there is a limited window of opportunity, and he called upon the leaders of Israel and Palestine to move forward with his proposal. MK Mofaz, who was born in Iran, is a former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Force and Minister of Defense who currently is serving as the second ranking member of the opposition Kadima Party led by Tzipi Livni. MK Mofaz lost a Kadima leadership to MK Livni in September 2008, and there is speculation that his peace proposal is part of a political challenge to MK Livni, as well as to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (http://peacenow.org/entries/middle_east_peace_report__november_9_2009). There are reports, as well, that MK Mofaz has angered his own Kadima party by offering his own peace plan. (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/134287).