A different peace plan for Israel

Israel's military mission on the West Bank to cripple, if not destroy, the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism is accomplished. Every sovereign state has a moral obligation to protect its citizens, and Israel is no exception.

But effective military action is not enough. A solution to the conflict can only be achieved through a negotiated agreement that provides the most important elements for each side. As remote as such an agreement may be today, it is nonetheless imperative that an Israeli plan be presented to the Israeli public, to the Palestinian people, and indeed to the world at large.

Some may argue that it is a mistake to present an Israeli peace plan before terrorism is completely stopped. But I think this is exactly the right time to tell the Palestinians what is lost by their violent intransigence following Camp David and what is practically possible for the future. I also believe that this plan could be viewed as an initial, though not official, response to the Saudi peace plan.

Four major elements must be included in the framework of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian agreement: borders, security, Jerusalem, and refugees.

The permanent borders would be based on the 1967 borders, but adjusted according to the reality of change over the past 35 years. About 5 percent of the West Bank territory with the largest concentration of Israeli settlement blocks, especially those close to the Israeli border, would be annexed to Israel. Israel, in return, would give up lands on its side of the border. Settlements in the Gaza Strip would be relocated inside the Israeli border. Residents of settlements in the West Bank would resettle in the areas that are annexed to Israel.

The security arrangements would be based on a joint effort against terror. The Palestinian state would be demilitarized of all heavy weapons (artillery, armor, missiles, etc.). An effective inspection mechanism would validate this demilitarization. Militias and terror organizations would be dismantled. Israeli military presence along the Jordan River would be maintained and its extent examined every few years, according to the regional situation.

Jerusalem will, at last, become a city of peace. The Jewish neighborhoods adjacent to Jerusalem would be annexed to it. The Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would be under Palestinian sovereignty. The holy basin, the old part of Jerusalem where sacred sites of three religions are located, would enjoy a Vatican-like status with freedom of access guaranteed to all faiths. An interreligious council of Christians, Jews, and Muslims would oversee the arrangement.

The problem of the Palestinian refugees would be solved in the framework of a comprehensive plan for regional economic development. All the countries in the Middle East with large refugee populations would be involved. The development plan would not be based on charity but on the tremendous potential of regional economic cooperation. Use of the gas resources in the sea near Gaza, joint desalination plants, irrigation projects, canals connecting the three seas of the regions, joint transportation systems, and cross- border tourism routes are just a few possible avenues of economic cooperation. The primary winners of this development will be the Palestinian refugees. They will also have the right to immigrate to the Palestinian state, but not to the Jewish state. The international community should play an important role in this development plan.

The plan outlined above comes out of the conviction that, at the end of the day, a compromise is unavoidable. No terror will change this eventuality. A responsible Palestinian leadership should weigh the benefit to its own people of pursuing an objective of peace toward an eventual two-state plan, where coexistence is the goal for all people of this region. Only in this way can further suffering and loss of life be replaced by hope.

I believe that my plan, if accepted by the Palestinian leadership, would be supported by the vast majority of Israelis. The coming international peace conference on the Middle East would be a proper venue to discuss these ideas.

• Ephraim Sneh, transportation minister in Israel's coalition government, is a Labor Party member of the security cabinet.

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