This article was originally published in Yedioth Ahronoth in Hebrew.
Mr. President, shortly you will be visiting our country for the first time. Although we have witnessed several misunderstandings between Israel and the US administration in recent days, you are a true friend of Israel. What does “a true friend” mean? On the one hand, he is fully committed to the security of the state and promises to have her back as needed. On the other hand, he is committed to advancing a peace agreement between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab world – which if realized will be the most important security asset of the state, similar to the strategic peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt. Mr. President, you are both!
Unfortunately, it is very likely that during your visit, senior officials in our government will tell you fairy tales, fabrications, and lies. This is not the proper way to treat a friend. But in the current government, whose real leader is the head of a small and extreme party named Naftali Bennett, this is the working method.
You will be told that “Israel has no partner”. That is absolutely not true. The pragmatic Arab world is our partner. It is undergoing a dramatic change in its outlook on Israel, and a genuine desire exists to advance relations with us and create a strategic alliance against Iran and radical Islamic organizations. From General el-Sisi in Egypt to the leaders of the Gulf states, all are committed to the same plan: the Arab Peace Initiative, which includes resolving the conflict and recognizing Israel. The plan needs to be adjusted to meet Israel’s security requirements, but for you to succeed, it should be made the basis for negotiations.
You will be told that the situation in the territories is irreversible. That is another lie. A smart agreement, with land swaps, will enable the annexation to Israel of the large settlements near the Green Line. Israel has no security interest in maintaining the isolated settlements located deep inside the West Bank. As someone who served as a Brigade and Division Commander in the West Bank, I know that there live good people who love Israel. However, from a security point of view, their presence there is a burden, not an asset. Evacuating the remote settlements, coupled with robust security arrangements will enhance Israel’s security, not undermine it. In the context of a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow for increased security, political, economic and intelligence cooperation between us and our neighbors, Israel can relinquish large parts of Judea and Samaria.
You will be told that Israeli society can not stand the evacuation of the settlements, that it will tear us apart. You should know that Israeli society is strong, united, and Zionist, in stark contrast to the divided and victimized image that some of our leaders cultivate. We have faced tremendous challenges over the years: we won wars, we absorbed mass immigration, we overcame economic crises, built the strongest army in the Middle East and established a glorious high-tech industry. A country that within two years successfully absorbed more than a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union is also able to successfully meet the challenge of evacuating isolated settlements. It will require emotional strength, but that is what has been required of us, time and again, from the day we established the state. You probably know we have always risen to the challenge.
You will also be told that it is impossible to work with the Palestinians, to rely on them. You’ve already discovered how untrue that is. Earlier this month, during the press conference with Abu Mazen, you spoke in appreciation of the excellent cooperation between the IDF and the Shin Bet on the one hand and the Palestinian security services on the other, which has been operating for nearly a decade. You mentioned that the two sides are “working amazingly together,” and as someone who has been involved in security coordination for years, I say that you were 100 percent right. This does not contradict the fact that in any agreement, Israel will need to control its borders and have the ability and right to defend itself in the air and on the ground. With you in the White House, I have no doubt that this will be the case.
You will be told further that there is no point in a political settlement, and it is preferable to “focus on the economy.” In practice, peace cannot be achieved without robust and reliable security arrangements, and real security cannot be achieved without delineating a border. And these two cannot be achieved without developing the economy. The conflict itself is an impediment to Palestinian economic development, and only an approach that combines peace and security will lead to real economic growth for the Palestinians, and open presently inaccessible huge Arab markets for Israel.
You must have also heard that the Israeli public has hardened its position, and will not support Netanyahu if he moves toward a peace agreement. Indeed, following the second intifada, Israelis are rightfully more hesitant and cautious. Still, a majority realises that controlling millions of Palestinians is a recipe for the destruction of the state. Most Israelis wish to end the conflict – they just do not believe it’s possible. Once you take charge, and enlist all of Israel’s regional partners to the anti-Iranian alliance, you can change their calculation. I advise all not to doubt your persuasive abilities. With no prior political experience, you have persuaded so many millions of Americans to vote for you. Lack of prior experience in our region may also prove an asset.
You may also hear lies and excuses from the Palestinians. They will blame Israel for all past failures, even though history proves that Arafat and Abu Mazen made bad decisions and missed opportunities to reach an agreement. They will blame Israel for the situation in the Gaza Strip, even though Hamas shoulders the primary responsibility for the crisis there. They will talk about the right of return, but as you know no Israeli, left or right, accepts that.
Given voices on both sides intending to present you with a distorted picture of this Fake News, I could not sit still and decided to publish this letter. To succeed, these statements must be carefully filtered and fact checked. Netanyahu and Abu Mazen have shown considerable flexibility in previous negotiations, but at the moment of truth, because of short-term political considerations, always found the way to avoid doing the right thing. Should they succeed in dragging you into futile arguments stemming from lack of political courage, the outcome will resemble that of your predecessors.
In conclusion, and based on my decades of service in the IDF, I suggest tabling a clear formula for an agreement: set a rigid timetable for negotiations – less than a year – and make clear that the implementation will be spread out over a long period of time. Palestinians want to know how their state will look like. Israelis want to be assured that this process will be done with caution and responsibility. You can square these two considerations and achieve the “ultimate deal”. You can succeed where your predecessors failed.