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A plan to fix Israel's borders

IT HAS been four years since the Mideast peace process broke down and we entered a bloody cycle of never-ending terror and violence. Israel can no longer delay making the necessary strategic decision about its own presence in the occupied territories and the operational moves this decision demands. We have to deal with the problem of the settlements born and bred in that vacuum of indecision that began in June 1967. Not just in Gaza as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposes, but in the West Bank as well. The definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is the essence of Zionism. But Israel's longstanding presence in the territories completely contradicts these two founding pillars. It is hard to reconcile a Jewish state with a Palestinian majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It is also hard to reconcile democratic principles with a situation where a huge civilian population is under Israel's control and does not receive full citizenship rights.

Palestinian terrorism also puts Israel in an impossible conflict between the right and the necessity to combat terrorism and Israel's democratic Jewish values. Israel's fight against terrorism in and of itself is justified by every reasonable standard. But there is no way to combat terrorism that has widespread civilian support and whose activists hide among a cooperative civilian population without seriously injuring innocent bystanders. If the entire picture was of a country fighting murderous terrorism, public opinion in the Western world would wholly accept Israel's efforts to protect its citizens. But that is not the entire picture. The entire picture includes continuing occupation and settlements deep within the territories that stain Israel's moral justification for fighting terrorism.

For the first time in history, through their weakness, the Palestinians are successfully mounting a strategic threat to Israel by creating a rift between it and the the rest of the world. The democratic Jewish nature of Israel and its membership in the prestigious club of Western countries are the strategic guarantees for our own existence. Suicide bombers -- as painful and deplorable as they might be -- cannot threaten Israel's existence. But a situation in which Israel becomes a pariah state in the world, a sort of second South Africa, is a severe strategic threat to Israel.

Israel, therefore, can no longer wait for the Palestinians to come around; it must take the necessary unilateral steps immediately. These steps do not have to be directed toward the Palestinians or dependent on their approval. Israel must strive to reach an agreement with the Western world, and with the Arab world to the extent possible, about the final and just border between itself and the Palestinian territories.

In return for international recognition of this border as Israel's permanent boundary, Israel must be prepared to clear all Israeli civilian presence beyond it. The exact location of this border will be determined in these negotiations with the world and will be in the spirit of past American proposals, such as the Clinton parameters.

This approach would win the support of the Israeli public. Recent polling developed by Jerome Segal of the Center for International And Security Studies at the University of Maryland and conducted by the Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel-Aviv University has found that a majority of Israeli Jews (54.4 percent favor, 29.6 percent oppose) support a unilateral withdrawal encompassing the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip, provided that from an international point of view, such a withdrawal ends the territorial dimension of the conflict, with Israel recognized as a Jewish state within a permanent boundary.

Jerusalem and refugees would be left as issues for future negotiations. Further analysis by party affiliation revealed that this proposal had strong support from across the Israeli political spectrum (including Likud Party voters) except for the far right.

In addition to reaching a final-status settlement, this process will put the ball back in the Palestinians' court and will entice them to return to the path of peace; they will realize that the train is leaving the station with or without them. But if the worst of all scenarios occurs -- that Palestinian terrorism continues or resumes in the future -- then Israel will treat them as an enemy. The international border will be sealed and the Palestinians will receive appropriate military responses, including Israeli Army activity in the territories. Only that these military operations will be purely defensive and will win widespread domestic and international support.

Reshef Cheyne is a member of Israel's Knesset and chairman of the Shinui Party faction, which is part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's governing coalition. 

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