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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mr Abu Aker: You said you are ready to return, with certain
modifications, to the borders of 1967. But with such a wall, how
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mr Abu Aker: Some people say that what is left is
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
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