On October 3, Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Haim Ramon addressed the Israel Policy Forum’s annual leadership event. The following is a summary of his remarks.
Sixty years later, the most important thing is to maintain Israel as Jewish and democratic. What was Ben-Gurion’s legacy? In 1950, he said in the Knesset that the Jewish people had to choose between the dream of greater Eretz Israel or the Jewish state, and that he preferred the Jewish state over the dream of the greater land of Israel.
That choice remains with us today. Therefore, we have to understand that the occupation is a threat to the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. If we don’t bring an end to the occupation, the occupation will bring the end to the state of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.
Most of that territory is not an asset, but a hindrance. In 1967, after the Six Day War, Israel annexed twenty-eight villages that historically were part of the West Bank and defined them as Jerusalem. They had never been Jerusalem. Now, they are part of Jerusalem. So the response to those who say, “You want to divide Jerusalem,” is to say that we are not dividing anything.
For Jews, Jerusalem is the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, West Jerusalem. It is not those twenty-eight villages that were never part of Jerusalem until we annexed them and defined them as Jerusalem.
Most people on both sides know what the endgame will be on Jerusalem, as well as, the other main issues concerning a comprehensive settlement—borders, refugees, and security.
I believe that in the near future a Declaration of Principles, on all four issues, can be reached. This DoP will not be a detailed one, but one with a clear political horizon with principles that can be adopted.
I will start with the borders. It is clear that Israel will annex the settlement blocs west of the fence. Israel does not want more blocs of settlements. I know that because it was Sharon’s Likud government (which included all of the extreme right-wing parties), not a Labor government, that decided to build the fence that includes all of the blocs of settlements—including Ariel, Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim, Givat Zeev, all of them. This area includes only 8 percent of the West Bank.
It is clear to everyone that everything on the east side of the fence will not be under Israeli sovereignty, including to those that are themselves living east of the fence who have made tremendous effort to be included inside the fence.
With the Geneva Initiative, the Palestinians also recognized that about 2½ percent of the West Bank would be included under Israeli sovereignty. So the gap between the two sides is between 2½and 8 percent.
It’s not easy to bridge this gap. It is agreed, however, that between our position of 8 percent and the Palestinian position of 2½ percent there will be a swap. Where the swap will be and how it will happen is something that we have to negotiate. But the principle is accepted. So let’s formalize it. It’s not that complicated. It’s possible.
On Jerusalem, it’s clear and in the interest of both sides that east Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state and that its Arab neighborhoods will be under Palestinian sovereignty. It is also clear that the Jewish neighborhoods, including the neighborhoods beyond the 1967 green line—Har Homa, Gilo, Pisgat Zeev—will be under Israeli sovereignty. The historic basin is something that we will have to reach an agreement on.
On the subject of refugees, the Palestinian leadership knows that the refugees will not return to the state of Israel. They know that the idea of Palestinian refugees having a right to return to the state of Israel contradicts the two-state solution, which they support. So, what will happen with the refugees? What can happen is the creation of an international fund to deal with compensation as well as the humanitarian problems of the refugees.
On the matter of security, the principle that the Palestinian state will be demilitarized is clear. The meaning of demilitarization has to be discussed, but the principle is agreed upon.
Israel must declare in the near future that it will offer the settlers living east of the fence compensation for leaving their houses. It is clear to everyone, including the settlers, that they will not stay there forever. I believe it is our obligation to offer them now—not in five or fifteen years from now—a fair proposal that doesn’t force them out, but gives them a choice. Out of about 70,000 Israeli settlers living east of the fence, we believe that between 25,000 and 35,000 of them will return to the area inside the Green Line. A move of that magnitude will demonstrate to the international community that Israel is serious about not occupying or annexing territories that are east of the fence.
I believe that two major accomplishments—a Declaration of Principles and the idea of evacuating 25,000 to 35,000 settlers living east of the fence—are something that can be reached in the near future. What we need are courageous leaders on both sides.
It is not going to be easy. We know that the political and domestic arenas in Israel are complicated. We also know that, in most cases, leaders trying to reach peace pay a heavy political price. But I believe that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is fully committed.
Today, when the Knesset marked the 60th anniversary of the November 29 partition decision at the UN, Olmert talked about his father, who was a member of the then extreme right party Herut which was against the partition decision. On this occasion, Olmert said that his father was wrong and that we must all understand that we have to divide the country so that Israel will remain a Jewish and democratic state living in peace, security, and prosperity. I believe that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas are committed to reaching peace during 2008, and that they are willing to take the risks necessary to achieve it.