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Opinion

Why Israel must make bold move to secure Palestinian peace talks – and Israel's future

As preliminary peace talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives begin in Washington, Israel must make a bold move to push negotiations forward and protect its security: declaring it has no sovereignty claims to key West Bank areas and facilitating voluntary relocation of Jewish settlers.

By Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher, Orni PetruschkaOp-ed contributors / July 30, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel's President Shimon Peres, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, participate in the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan, May 26. Mr. Kerry begins preliminary talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week, in hopes of re-starting the Middle East peace process.

Jim Young/AP/File

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Tel Aviv, Israel

Secretary of State John Kerry deserves enormous praise for getting Israeli and Palestinian officials to sit at the negotiating table together for preliminary talks this week in Washington – and for even getting in the game of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking at all.

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But for these talks to succeed, Israel must make a bold move that would help move negotiations forward, protect Israel’s security, and promote stability in the region. Given the upheaval in the Middle East and Israel’s hopes for a secure future, we cannot afford to wait for moves by the Palestinians or see whether negotiations succeed.

Mr. Kerry has been playing his cards with great skill and determination, even though the deck is stacked against him: a weakened Palestinian Authority; a divided Israeli coalition government beholden to West Bank settlers; and upheaval in neighboring countries where one of the only unifying elements is the populations’ support of the Palestinian cause.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to offer less to Palestinians than his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did in 2008, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cannot be more flexible than he was when he did not accept Mr. Olmert’s offer.

That’s why a bold move must be made now – one that will increase the chances of the negotiation track succeeding while also providing a fallback plan that will prevent the situation from collapsing into the abyss should negotiations fail.

Mr. Netanyahu has already agreed to release dozens of Palestinian prisoners, most of them convicted terrorists, and press reports allege that he implicitly agreed to halt settlement construction outside the major settlement blocks. These are genuine confidence building measures that removed obstacles toward resuming the dialogue.

But more will be needed. Netanyahu should further declare that Israel has no sovereignty claims over West Bank areas east of the security fence. (This is the fence erected by Israel around the main West Bank settlement blocks and Jewish parts of Jerusalem in order to counter Palestinian suicide bombers, terrorists and hostilities.) Then Netanyahu should announce a voluntary evacuation, compensation, and absorption plan for those settlers who live east of the fence and who choose to relocate to Israel proper, thereby allowing for the two-state notion to become reality.

We at the Israeli non-profit organization Blue White Future, who are striving to secure the future of our country as the democratic nation state of the Jewish people, call these constructive independent steps. They do not create obstacles to reaching an agreement. To the contrary, they improve the prospects for achieving it.

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