On November 5, 2002, the Palestine-Israel Journal held a roundtable discussion at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem on the subject of separation or conciliation. The participants were Nazmi Jubeh, a historian at BirZeit University, Naomi Hazan, Meretz Member of the Knesset, Danny Rothschild, President of the Council for Peace and Security, Khalil Tofakji, a prominent Paletsinian geographer and Daniel Bar-Tal, co-editor of the PIJ. The moderator was Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Aker.

Mr Bar-Tal: The focus of this roundtable is the problem of separation and conciliation as two options, or maybe as complementary or as separate options.

Mr Abu Aker: My first question is a general one about what we are witnessing now in terms of the implementation of a security or separation wall, and its impact on the political positions of each side. May we start with Mr Rothschild, who was involved in negotiations with the Palestinians when separation was not actually on the agenda.

Mr Rothschild: I am here as President of the Council for Peace and Security, an organization comprised of around 1400 high-ranking officers and high-ranking ex-officials of the Foreign Ministry, other security services and the police. We raised the issue of unilateral disengagement. It's not separation. Separation is something we don't like.

Mr Abu Aker: You use the term disengagement, but it's the same idea.

Mr Rothschild: Most of us are using the same terminology, but we don't mean the same thing by it. Let me define what I mean by unilateral disengagement. The end result is the building of a fence on the best security line - not political line - which will enable Israel to protect its citizens from terror. The second point is that there will be no Jews living on both sides of the fence, i.e., it involves relocating or evacuating settlements. In our plan, we speak about all the settlements in Gaza and around 50 settlements in the West Bank. This will not become the permanent border because our view is that the political line, which will be the final status line, will have to be negotiated. It's not something you can do unilaterally.
What led me to believe that there is no way that we can achieve anything by negotiations is the fact that, over the past year, I participated in meetings all over the world with Palestinian negotiators. Every time followed the same pattern. We talked. And we were able to agree on almost anything. Then came the last day when both sides wanted to agree on a paper to present to both governments. In all the times we met, we couldn't agree on a paper, other than what I would call a Haider Abdel Shafi Madrid prescription: leave the territories and it will be okay. That's the most courageous position that the Palestinian side was willing to agree upon. And I said, "Listen, we were much further along then than what you are willing to put on paper today." The answer was, "Yes: times have changed and we are afraid."

Ms Hazan: Let's talk about several aspects of this issue, not just security. Danny Rothschild and I don't agree, I'm afraid. I want you to know that the whole issue of separation and disengagement is one where you can easily put the left and the right in different places. I think, to a certain extent, this issue divides the peace camp in Israel.

Mr Rothschild: Meretz agrees to it.

Ms Hazan: Not all of it.

Mr Rothschild: There is one person who does not.

Ms Hazan: And you happen to be talking to her. And by the way, I'm not the only one in Meretz, I want to make that clear. I'll do this very quickly, to highlight the differences. The first issue is the basic working assumptions behind the idea. Danny Rothschild's first assumption is that, at the moment, any serious negotiations are impossible. Therefore, this requires unilateral action. My position is that we have not tried serious negotiations in the past two years. Therefore, we don't know whether they are possible or not. His second assumption was hidden in what he said, but I'll make it explicit. It is that, under the circumstances, we can only strive for some interim kind of accommodation, and I dispute that as well. I may actually advocate the urgency of a permanent settlement. I think that may be more feasible than interim steps. The third assumption is that, in this kind of situation, one has to take unilateral action. Unilateral involves compulsion on the other side, and that I don't accept.
Now on the conceptualization. The basic idea presented by the advocates of this position is that it is conceptually possible to distinguish between the security fence and a political boundary. I think that's ridiculous. Any serious investment today in a security fence - and we are seeing it on the ground - has very profound, long-term, political implications which are unacceptable to me because it changes the 1967 boundaries.
So if a security fence is a border, and a border is in line with what can be agreed upon in a permanent settlement - i.e., 1967, and not a few meters to the east or a few kilometers to the east - okay. But that's not happening. It's all moving east. At this rate, we will move east up to the Jordan River, and that's totally unacceptable. It's unacceptable because it's not in line with what I think Danny Rothschild accepts as a political solution. Problem number two relates to the settlements. Here I think Danny has a lot of courage to say that his line involves the removal of settlements, though it's a partial removal. But that means accepting, in principle, either dismantlement, evacuation or citizenship in Palestine. The principle has to be that the settlements are obstacles and impediments to peace. Therefore, I would go further.
At this point, I can think of 30 plans of separation/disengagement. They're very different in two respects - firstly in terms of the duration, interim or permanent, and secondly - whether they contribute or not to a permanent settlement based on a two-state solution using the 1967 boundaries. The suggestions that Danny Rothschild and the Council are proposing are helpful, but as soon as they put up a fence, which becomes a political boundary in the wrong place, it becomes a further obstacle to a negotiated settlement. Therefore, I find it extremely problematic.

Mr Abu Aker: Palestinians are against this separation wall. We are trying to highlight the consequences of building such a wall, but I don't see that the Palestinians have a clear plan of opposition.

Mr Jubeh: Personally, I'm not against separation, and I'm not against unilateral separation. If the Israelis want to leave the whole West Bank back to the 1967 borders, let them do it now, not tomorrow. This is the unilateral separation that I can understand. We have examples in the past of security settlements which later were converted into political settlements. The entire history of settling the West Bank began with security, as you remember, in 1967. First there were just some security settlements in the Jordan Valley, and then around Hebron. And now these have become a headache for both of us. The wall will transform the lives of many Palestinians into hell. You are creating more and more people who will stand against us in our process of trying to find peace.
The Israelis think it will bring them security. But because it's damaging people's lives, it will never provide security. At least 90,000 people in the northern part of the West Bank will end up between the Green Line and the so-called security wall. I don't know what kind of bombers they will become. I am personally not against establishing your wall on the June 4 border, as high as you want. If you ask me if it will function the way you want, I'm sure it won't. It didn't function in Rafah or in Gaza. The question I would like to discuss with you is whether both peoples are really mature enough these days to discuss a final status agreement. Are we ready for such historic decisions?
Looking at what's going on with the settlement activities, the bypass roads, the settlements around Jerusalem, my impression, as somebody who has been living in this city since 1991, is that Israeli strategy for metropolitan Jerusalem has not budged one inch. It has continued as if there were no peace process at all. The very small settlements around Jerusalem, outside the municipal border, are growing rapidly, which I think will damage any opportunity for peace in the future.
Looking at the Israeli political map, I do not see, in the coming five, six, seven years, an Israeli government that will be ready to reverse this process. You will say to me; "Let's look at the realities on the ground. We cannot remove 300,000 people from these settlements. Let's add to the already existing blocs which we wanted to swap or annex to Israel - the ones that Mr Rothschild has in his road map for separation - the Jordan Valley, the Ariel bloc, the Gush Etzion bloc, the Ma'ale Adumim bloc up to the Jordanian border."
This is a process of recreating, in the entire West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, ghettos and slums. For the 3.5 million Palestinians living there, this is converting our lives into villageships, not even townships. Between townships in South Africa, you can drive two, three hours without being stopped. I cannot drive more than two minutes in these ghettos. This is not the way to create good neighbors. And we will explode. We will not leave you any other option. Either you convert us into a South African regime, or there will be massive collective deportation from this land. I'm not speaking about this intellectually. This is what I am seeing today on the ground.

Mr Rothschild: I have been listening to this lecture in different versions since 1987. Look where it got us. I would have been happy if we had done it. We cannot. Neither of us can. We've been preaching for ten years now. I have been listening for years, with a lot of patience, to the same Palestinian lectures. In the meantime, things are happening on the ground - on our side, the settlements; on your side, Hamas, Islamic militants, car bombs and people committing suicide. We will find ourselves, ten years from now, sitting in the American Colony listening to these same lectures. That's the problem.

Mr Abu Aker: I would like to hear from Mr Tofakji. Explain to us what is happening right now so people can understand the implications of such a wall.

Mr Tofakji: The first stage stretches from Teneq Square close to Salem until Kufr Kasem, next to Jenin. There are around 11 Palestinian villages between the old Green Line and the new separation line. When you make facts on the ground, we are jumping to the final status for borders.
As for security, without trust between Palestinians and Israelis, this fence will be meaningless. Anybody who wants to kill himself can bring a ladder and jump over the wall and do whatever he wants. This happened three or four months ago when somebody came from Hizbollah in Lebanon, and did just that.
I was in Taba when we negotiated with Gilad Sher and Shlomo Ben-Ami that the Rehan bloc, Shakeed, Hananit and Marihan will be inside the Palestinian areas. But according to the separation line, they now want to annex this to Israel. In other words, a new map is being drawn.
If you have so much money to invest in this new separation line, why not give it to the children? I read a report today that more than a million Israeli children live below the poverty line. But they intend to spend around $400 million for this wall. Around 80 square kilometers, 80,000 dunam, will be annexed to Israel by military order. There will be 26,000 Palestinians between the old Green Line and the new separation line in the first stage. What will happen to them? Will they need permits from the civil administration to enter their fields, do you want to give them Israeli passports, or will they be Palestinians living inside Israel? So far, there are no answers to these questions.
With regard to Jerusalem, when we transfer the separation line under construction to our map, the airport's runway goes into the West Bank to the north, while south of the separation line, the runway and run off land are in Jerusalem. The separation line to the north of Jerusalem takes maximum empty land and a minimum number of Palestinians. South of Jerusalem, it annexes Rachel's tomb, part of Bethlehem, to Jerusalem. I believe this new border was actually begun in 1995 under Mr Rabin, near Tulkarem and Qalqilya, where he started to build a line in 1995. But then it was frozen.

Mr Abu Aker: Mr Rothschild, how can we build a wall and then start negotiating on the borders?

Mr Rothschild: The problem is not building a wall and then negotiating. There are a few steps. One is to negotiate, not to talk. What we are doing here is talking. The moment we have to put it in a paper, we will disagree.

Mr Jubeh: We agreed in Oslo, at least on paper. So there is hope.

Mr Rothschild: Neither side could implement it. The Palestinian leadership is very weak but it cannot give up, so it has to work on the lowest common denominator. That's what worries me.

Mr Abu Aker: You said you are ready to return, with certain modifications, to the borders of 1967. But with such a wall, how can you?

Mr Rothschild: The problem with you - and some Israelis too - is that you take it for granted that, after you have the obstacle or the fence or whatever, nobody will be willing to negotiate. I am telling you this is wrong. Our plan, as written in our proposal, is that the fence has to be as close as possible to the Green Line. It doesn't say it cannot be moved. Between 1967 and 1973 the amount of money we put into the Egyptian border was 60 times more than the amount of money being invested in this fence. And we left Egypt.

Mr Abu Aker: Do you see a need for a permanent fence?

Mr Rothschild: No.

Mr Abu Aker: What is your vision then? And why do we need it now?

Mr Rothschild: The Israeli leadership today has a responsibility to protect its people. I don't know any other way, under today's circumstances - and I am speaking as a security person - to deal with the security problems in which people are blowing themselves up in Israeli malls. Maybe I'm a poor security guy, which I am willing to admit. I know that the obstacle is not a hundred percent foolproof. But one has to look at the alternatives. Saying no, no, no, that's not an alternative. And if the only alternative is let's negotiate on the final status line, what I am saying is that we cannot, at this moment, negotiate it and execute it. I would have been happy to, but right now we cannot.

Mr Bar-Tal: It should be made clear that the Israeli government is not executing the Council's plan.

Mr Abu Aker: Even though Mr Rothschild says this wall is the best thing they can do to prevent attacks.

Mr Rothschild: Why do you call it a wall? Call it an obstacle.

Mr Jubeh: In some places it's an eight-meter high wall with tunnels and electronics and I don't know what. I don't know whether it's a security wall or a psychological wall to satisfy the Israeli need to think that they can live behind it in peace. I think the wall and the settlement activities are making any two-state solution impossible in the future.

Ms Hazan: To a certain extent the last part of the discussion is at cross-purposes because the situation on the ground, in security terms, is that Israel is going with two policies. One policy is reoccupation of the West Bank. The second is the creation of the security fence. And I admit that I am a bit surprised that it leaves Jews on both sides of the fence along with reoccupation.
In security terms, Israel's policy, since the adoption of the idea of a fence, is one of confusion. You can't have it both ways. Your suggestion about a security fence assumes there would not be Israeli troops occupying the West Bank.

Mr Rothschild: If you're talking about Israeli government policy, go ahead. What we're saying is that we don't see Israelis on both sides of the fence, but don't put me in the position of a government representative. I'm not.

Ms Hazan:
What I'm saying is that the government has not adopted your concept of a security fence. What is actually taking place is not the same as the Council's plan. Two policies are being carried out at the same time. One is reoccupation and the other is the creation of a fence with Israelis and Palestinians on both sides. This is a prescription for total and utter confusion, as well as an anti-security policy in any sense of the term.
Second point - and this relates directly to your position - I can't disagree with a fence on the 1967 boundary because that promotes a political solution. Any deviation from that I find problematic.
The third point is what alternatives do we have? They exist in most of the documentation that has come out recently from the EU, the Quartet and the US road maps. First, an Israeli pullback from areas A and B to the status quo before September 29, 2000. I see that as the most important element for security at the moment. Second, the entire discussion has not brought international monitors into the arena, which I think is essential to maintaining some kind of disengagement between the sides. Third, reopening negotiating channels immediately, not with a sequential approach, but with a parallel system. These are all realistic alternatives that do not leave us with a totally confused Israeli government policy.

Mr Abu Aker: Dr Jubeh, more land is being confiscated and agricultural land is being destroyed. How do you think the Palestinians can survive this?

Mr Jubeh: I don't think the Palestinians are surviving these days. They are losing hope, and you cannot expect anything from a hopeless person. I want to elaborate on the two sides not being capable of reaching a solution in the coming years. We need third-party international forces to disengage us from each other. If someone from the PA promises you that he will maintain security following any agreement, he would be lying. The Israelis managed to destroy all their infrastructure so they cannot deliver, especially in Gaza.
We need time to rebuild these forces. But during this time who will be responsible for security? I don't believe that international observers alone can deliver. We have experience with that in Hebron. All they could do was report back to their governments. We need international forces to disengage us from Israeli forces and settlers. If you talk about the security of 218 settlements and the 120 new small outposts, we already have 350 military camps.

Ms Hazan:
249, to be precise.

Mr Jubeh:
Every day there's a new one. I'm not exaggerating.

Mr Abu Aker:
You're talking about 218,000 Israelis living in the West Bank.

Mr Jubeh:
I don't know who will be able to disengage us from that. So I think we need a break. Without it, it's impossible to begin negotiating the future. Who will arrest people on our side if the police cannot move from Ramallah to Bir-Zeit or from Bir-Zeit to Jifna? You need somebody who will take care of all of this in the interim security period.
Till now, it has always been Palestinians demanding monitoring forces, but I hope the Israelis will recognize this is important for them too.

Mr Rothschild:
Our latest poll showed that 76 percent of Israelis are in favor of our unilateral separation proposal, understanding what it means - a fence, roughly on the Taba lines, plus evacuating around 50 West Bank settlements and all those in Gaza. 76 percent of the people of Israel, and every guy who commits suicide makes the percentage higher.

Mr Jubeh (laughing): You're asking us to send more people to commit suicide?

Mr Rothschild:
On the contrary. If we continue to preach to each other that the best solution is a return to the 1967 line, we will agree, but we won't be able to do anything about it.

Mr Abu Aker:
Why not?

Mr Rothschild:
Because we tried and we failed. We tried to assign blame. I couldn't care less who is to blame. I want to see results, and results can only be achieved if we take a break from each other at the moment. That means evacuating settlements.
I will never agree to international intervention in the sense that you are talking about. Nowhere in the world has that succeeded unless the two sides fully agreed to cooperate. And I can assure you that there are extremists in Israel and among the Palestinians who will do their utmost to show that an international presence doesn't work.

Mr Jubeh:
It's a problem of jurisdiction.

Mr Rothschild:
No. It's a problem of how to carry out a mission without teeth. If you want them to fight, that's a totally different ball game. Then you have to persuade the American mothers and the French mothers to send their children to fight in Palestine. No way.

Mr Jubeh:
They sent them to Afghanistan.

Mr Rothschild:
That's a totally different situation. There are two different sorts of international presence. If it's only political - to report back to the Security Council about what has gone wrong - spare us. But a military presence with teeth - in the 21st century, I don't believe you can persuade any democracy in the world to send soldiers to fight our fight.

Mr Tofakji:
Why are we speaking about separation all the time? Why are we not talking about federation or confederation?

Ms Hazan:
That's the next round.

Mr Tofakji:
Separation is his mentality. You want to annex these blocs to Israel and we'll give you some land here or there. No. According to UN Resolution 242, the Green Line is our border. You are there and we are here. You protect your people and we protect our people. Then, if somebody crosses the border to do something inside Israel, it's our responsibility, and vice versa. Nobody has crossed the border between Syria and Israel since 1973.

Mr Rothschild:
I think you're right. That's exactly what Shafi said in Madrid. He was right and you are right. The question is can we implement it?

Mr Abu Aker:
With this political situation, and the Israeli elections which will probably favor the right wing, where are we heading?

Ms Hazan:
I'm surrounded by men who seem convinced that they know what's going to happen tomorrow and I don't join them. I have been listening carefully to this conversation. In many respects, there is very little difference around this table.
We'd like to go to a viable two-state solution by agreement. The difference is how to get there. I find the discussion around the idea of separation one of the most constructive things that's happened, because it makes the clearer the objective of searching for concrete and pragmatic solutions wherever possible.
The situation is going to get even worse unless something is done to alter its course. That's our job. At this point we are not negotiating, but if we can agree on some idea of what can be done, we'll be in much better shape than we have been for the past two years. It's not going to be easy now because the predictions are for a more right-wing government in the next elections.
But I also am sufficiently schooled in elections to know that they're not over until they're over. We have three months of very hard work ahead of us, maybe we can do something. This has been absolutely the worst government in Israel's history, and it's our job to try to change it. It's the job of all of us around this table to get down to work, after we've put each other back 30 years in the past two years.

Mr Abu Aker:
But most Israelis are now moving to the right.

Mr Rothschild:
That's the initial reaction to what's going on on the ground. Any psychiatrist will tell you that the initial reaction is revenge and then fear.

Mr Abu Alia:
The same with the Palestinians.

Mr Rothschild:
Both sides. What I am putting on the table is a solution. If the facts are as Dr Jubeh said, you are able to say what you expect from us, but don't know what you expect from your own people or how to implement it. Therefore, we have to take action. Withdrawing to the Green Line and removing all the settlements is not a solution we are able to implement at the moment. The question is, from here onwards, what are we going to do.

Mr Abu Aker:
Some people say that what is left is confrontation.

Mr Rothschild:
I don't agree. I want to negotiate in the future as well. But we have to be able to deliver. Israel is a weak democracy at the moment. It cannot deliver. The Palestinians cannot deliver. The alternatives are either to go to confrontation, or to take unilateral steps to calm the situation until we are able to negotiate again and deliver.

Mr Jubeh:
The problem with this assumption is that separation will slowly make other solutions impossible. If we wait another five years with no negotiations, other facts on the ground will become irreversible. I don't see any coalition government in the next four or five years in Israel that will opt for the painful solution that we need.

Mr Rothschild:
It's the same with the Palestinians.

Mr Jubeh:
But we are not creating facts. In five years, all these new outposts will not be just small water tanks and caravans, but settlements. We know that from past experience. It will be too late for the idea of a two-state solution because you will not be able to dismantle that many settlements.
What remains as a solution in the long run is a bi-national state. Khalil spoke of federation or confederation. I do not believe that is applicable in this case because it requires two independent entities, and we will not have an independent entity in the coming five, six years.

Mr Rothschild:
You are speaking about us being a weak democracy which cannot force settlers to come back inside the 1967 lines. But you are not willing to talk about the weak Palestinian leadership which cannot force its people to stop committing suicide inside Israeli malls.
That's the essence of the problem on both sides - weak leadership or a weak democracy. Decisions cannot be taken by either side. That's why there is need for unilateral action .

Mr Abu Aker:
Conciliation seems very distant right now.

Mr Rothschild:
Go to the people of Kfar Saba, and they will tell you they want a wall that a bird will not cross. It's the same for the people of Qalqilya and Kfar Saba.
Mr Jubeh: But the bird will cross, in spite of all the walls. They will find hundreds of ways to cross. At this moment, I would guess there are at least 30,000 to 40,000 Palestinians working illegally in Israel, without permits. In spite of everything.

Mr Rothschild:
Speaking from my security experience, as long as Jews are living on both sides of the fence, this situation will continue. We cannot have Jews living on both sides of the fence. That's what we are preaching.

Mr Abu Aker:
So we have a common understanding.

Mr Bar-Tal:
Thank you all very much on behalf of the Palestine-Israel Journal.