Some extremely interesting and even important papers as well as a few disappointing ones were presented at the 2014 session of the annual Herzliya Conference, the flagship event of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya.

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Justice Minister Livni addressing the session Photo by courtesy of the IDC Herzliya

 

A statement in the address by American military strategist, Professor Edward Luttwak left an impression on me that influenced my evaluation of other speakers. He said human history is made by very intelligent people doing very stupid things. And when you have intelligent people doing stupid things it is no use lecturing to them because they’re not stupid but they are subject to so many compulsions pressures and demands that you are not aware of.

And this was very much in my mind when I viewed on video, the session on “Israeli Leaders debate peace”. On the one hand it was extremely disappointing, yet if the politicians can put aside for a while, their petty party politics in favor of some genuine civil discourse, a positive groundbreaking change could result.

Allow me to explain. I listened to Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, Isaac Herzog Naphtali Bennet and Gideon Sa’ar. The disappointing aspect was the amount of time each spent on lambasting the others. Unfortunately they all seemed unconcerned about or unaware of the hugely encouraging positive fact that all agree emphatically that the major settlement blocs must remain under Israeli sovereignty. Believe it or not, I am not exaggerating.

Although Livni said settlements are a burden – designed to prevent the Zionist dream and that settlements don’t provide security, she contradicted herself by saying later that even she thinks the major settlement blocs will be part of Israel, even suggesting that we annex them. She added

“80% of Israelis living beyond green line live in blocs that should be kept”

Yair Lapid also said we should keep these blocs, despites threatening “if we annex one settlement Atid will leave the government”. He said Israelis want security and to be separate. For this to happen we need to establish our future borders and withdraw from isolated settlements. With regard to the controversial construction he insisted that it be stopped only outside the blocs.

“Stop building in areas that will not be part of Israel”.

More specifically he said he doesn’t mind construction in Gilo neighborhood and Gush Etzion.

“We need a map that will determine those blocs where construction can increase and where it must cease ..if you don’t see the difference between Gilo and Yitzhar you don’t make peace any more of a probability”

adding that we will not be able to vacate the isolated outposts if we don’t keep the settlement blocs because these must remain an integral part of Israel

Isaac Herzog lambasted Lapid for transferring money to settlements and said “Bennet is risking the Etzion bloc that is dear to him [Herzog]. Herzog at least did put forward a plan. In its core arrangement

“the Jordan valley will remain part of Israel until we reach agreements and the security fence will be completed”.

He too said 80% of Israelis who live beyond green line will be under Israel sovereignty. Jerusalem will remain united from a municipal point of view but will be two capitals. Jewish neighborhoods including the “Wailing Wall” will be under Israeli sovereignty and the right of return will be to the proposed Palestinian state only

And Naphtali Bennet certainly must agree to retention of at least the blocs advocated by the others while continuing to press his case for annexing the entire area C and creating improved conditions for Palestinians in areas A and B.

And Gideon Sa’ar representing Likud drew lessons form what he called past mistakes in relinquishing territory and insisted that the status quo is preferable to a change that will lead to worse conditions

Although the politicians seemed to be oblivious of its importance, their agreement on this crucial issue is of immense significance. While we all agree on the importance of building bridges among diverse faiths and cultures, it is obviously much more important to build bridges among our own divisions. And this agreement on a fundamental issue offers an irresistible opportunity to get together, lay out the points of agreement and discuss rationally the pros and cons of differing views about minimum security essentials.

The first lesson to be learned is the vital importance of terminology. As Yair Lapid said ” if you don’t see the difference between Gilo and Yitzhar you don’t make peace any more of a probability”. And this sentence is the crux of the confused debate about settlements in Israel and internationally, highlighting Israel’s dismal PR failure. In the eyes of the world as well as in the minds of many Israelis, residents of established orderly towns like Gilo and Ariel are regarded as “settlers” and tarred with the same brush as the vociferous few hilltop youths who destroy Arab olive groves, scrawl graffiti on mosques and puncture Arab tires.

If any meaningful dialogue is to take place the words used by a writer or speaker must convey the intended meaning to the interlocutor. Consequently there is an urgent need to coin distinctive names for the villages or towns like Gilo and the people that live there on the one hand and isolated outposts and their occupants on the other. The unqualified words ‘settlement” and “settler” are misleading. So too is the unqualified call to “end the occupation” without distinguishing between the Western Wall, access to Mount Scopus and Gush Etzion on the one hand and isolated outposts on the other.

Secondly and most importantly, the time is opportune for the “intelligent” people representing Israel’s major political parties to put aside their differences for a moment and build on the important points of agreement that became apparent at the “Israeli leaders debate peace” session. An urgent meeting needs to be convened at which these vital points of agreement are formalized in a resolution that can be presented to the world as a united front on basic issues.

As a postscript it is important to recall that the agreement by all parties on settlement blocs coincides fully with the view of the late Yitzhak Rabin as expressed in his last speech to the Knesset.