A Vision for Peace



Nearly two horrific years into the latest round in the seemingly interminable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians -- and from the perspective of my own longstanding involvement in Israel's military defense -- I have never been more convinced that there is no military solution to this conflict. As we work to defend ourselves against terror, we must also strive to return to a political process whose goal is to provide security today and hope for tomorrow for both Israelis and Palestinians. President Bush's speech yesterday, calling for fundamental change within the Palestinian Authority, is a positive step in that direction.

Instead of futile interim agreements and unilateral plans, Israel must focus on two dimensions: security separation and a political horizon for peace. For Israel, achieving separation from the Palestinians is of utmost importance, enabling a shift away from confrontation, towards a renewal of dialogue and diplomacy.

While a full separation should be part of a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, the security separation is designed to make it as difficult as possible for suicide bombers and other terrorists to enter from the West Bank into Israel proper. Such separation will not only provide greater safety for Israeli citizens, but will also reduce friction and the risk of escalation between Palestinians and Israelis.

Ultimately, we will need a continuous system combining a physical barrier with technological means, armed personnel and monitors. It must be emphasized that this kind of separation is not meant to demarcate a border, or disrupt the economic life and movements of the Palestinians, but rather to thwart terror while leaving all political options open.

At the same time, a genuine political horizon, both substantial and credible, must be set forth. The vision must be founded on the notion of two states for two peoples -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peaceful coexistence.

Striving toward this horizon must begin -- as President Bush suggested yesterday -- in a renunciation of the use of terror by Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership and a dismantling of all the terror organizations thriving in the Palestinian Authority. Only a full abandoning of the terror policy will pave the way to a solution.

To realize this vision, both sides will have to make painful concessions and give up part of their historical dreams. Yet before the journey toward this realization begins, leadership on both sides must adopt the basic understanding that the solution to our plight will only be reached at the negotiating table and not in the battlefield.

United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397 can provide the basis for a settlement. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal should also be given due consideration, as it points the way to a comprehensive all-Arab settlement with Israel, based on the concept of land for peace and an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A Palestinian state should enjoy territorial continuity in the West Bank, with special passage arrangements between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel will evacuate the settlements in the Gaza Strip and the isolated settlements in the West Bank. Most settlers will be able to move to areas adjacent to Israel, which will become part of Israel in the proposed agreement. Israel will have to ensure that construction of new settlements is frozen during the interim period. The Palestinians, for their part, must pledge that their state will be demilitarized.

Regarding Jerusalem, we seek its international recognition as the capital of Israel. However, it is in Israel's interests to ensure separation of Jewish areas from the distinctly Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city. As for the Old City and holy sites, a governing body should be created to oversee these areas, acknowledging each side's special ties without defining final sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

A solution must also be found to the Palestinian refugee problem. However this solution cannot be based on what the Palestinians call the "right of return" to Israel proper. An agreement by Israel to such an arrangement would undermine its fundamental character as the homeland of the Jewish people.

The Saudi initiative provides the basis for a pragmatic solution of the refugee problem: a solution that is just and agreed upon by both sides. In practice, the solution will largely be achieved by rehabilitating and settling the refugees in Palestine, with assistance provided by an international fund in which Israel will participate.

Strong security arrangements must be an integral part of this agreement. International supervision can be implemented for some of these security measures.

In addition to diplomatic support, the role of the international community must extend to improving the socioeconomic conditions of the Palestinians. Likewise, development of the Palestinian state as a democratic political entity, with an educational system that enriches its youth and does not promote incitement and martyrdom, is essential to the long-term stability of the agreement.

Today, this vision seems far away, almost impossibly remote. Yet we will keep the door to negotiations open until a responsible Palestinian leadership is prepared to walk through it with us. This is manifestly not an easy path to take. But it is our duty to seek and bring about light and hope in the midst of the darkness, for the sake of both peoples.

Mr. Ben-Eliezer is Israel's minister of defense and chairman of the Labor Party.

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