Defense Minister Ehud Barak is urging the government to examine a plan for unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. Under the plan, secluded settlements and outposts in Judea and Samaria would be evacuated by the state, and any Jews wishing to remain in the region would be permitted to live there under Palestinian rule.
In a special interview with Israel Hayom, to be published in full on Tuesday, Barak outlined the details of his plan and explained the logic behind it. Under Barak's plan, the settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim and Ariel would remain intact. These blocs house some 90 percent of Judea and Samaria's Jewish population. Strategic areas (such as the Samarian hills overlooking Ben-Gurion International Airport) would similarly remain under Israeli control, and an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley would be ensured. The remainder of the territory would be handed over to the Palestinians to establish a state. Dozens of small Jewish communities would have to be evacuated.
Barak's plan elicited a harsh response from the right on Monday, with Likud Minister Yuli Edelstein saying that "this is not a disengagement plan we are talking about. This is our survival. Ehud Barak is continuing to make rookie mistakes. After supporting the disastrous Oslo Accords, orchestrating the escape from Lebanon and advancing the withdrawal from Gaza, which put a million Israelis in bomb shelters, Barak is now willing to put millions more in harms way just to get more votes."
"Barak needs to understand that the State of Israel, and the residents of Judea and Samaria in particular, are not marionettes in his absurd puppet show. I hope that when the full interview with him is published on Tuesday, it will come with a note explaining that the remarks therein are (again) the product of the interviewee's feverish imagination and are not intended to offend the readers."
Meanwhile, Barak's evacuation plan proposes several options: One option would be to provide monetary compensation to individuals and families who would be evacuated from their homes. Another option would be communal evacuation to an existing community in the settlement blocs or within the Green Line. A third option would be to remain in the settlements, under Palestinian rule, for a five-year trial period.
"It would be best to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, but barring that, practical steps must be taken to begin the separation," said Barak. "It is time to look Israeli society straight in the eye and say 'we succeeded in keeping in Israel some 80% to 90% of the Jewish population that have come there over the years with the encouragement of the Israeli government. That is a huge accomplishment, if we manage to bring them inside Israel's permanent borders.'"
"It would help us not only with the Palestinians, but with all the countries in the region, with the Europeans and with the American administration, and of course it would be beneficial to us," the defense minister said. "This is not an easy decision, but Yom Kippur is a good time to take a long hard look at the facts and say 'we are no longer a young country. We are 64 years old. We haven't been in Judea and Samaria for a year or two. We've been there for 45 years. It is time to make decisions not just based on ideology and gut feelings, but on an accurate reading of reality."
Barak stressed the immense importance of maintaining dialogue with the population that would be slated for evacuation under his plan. "The settlers are truly people who arrived with the sense that they were on a mission on behalf of the various Israeli governments, or with the government's full approval. As defense minister, I cannot ignore their vast presence in the front lines of any combat unit in the Israel Defense Forces."
Barak insisted that he has consistently proposed this plan of action for the last 12 years and that he is not just pandering to voters in the face of early election talk. He argued that Israel must continue to bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, saying that "he is definitely a partner. I don't know if this will work; I'm very realistic in that sense. I am not harboring any illusions. I don't think that a desire for peace is enough to make peace. In this regard I think the government is right. The onus is mainly on the Palestinian side."
Palestinian finance minister: Two-state solution is in jeopardy
Meanwhile, Palestinian Finance Minister Nabeel Kassis warned Sunday that the two-state solution would be in jeopardy if the Palestinian Authority didn't get a major cash infusion to alleviate its severe fiscal crisis.
Kassis said the authority needed money to function to prepare for statehood, noting that donors have not paid the $300 million that they pledged to the Palestinians. Some $200 million is owed by the United States.
Kassis also urged the international community to go beyond expressions of support and take action to create "the political horizon" to quickly end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Negotiations have been frozen for more than three years, and there are no signs they will resume.
"The two-state solution is in jeopardy if the PA is not able to continue to function and prepare for the two-state solution," Kassis said.
He spoke after a meeting of 27 donor nations, global financial institutions and representatives of the U.N., U.S., European Union and Russia known as the Quartet on the Middle East. Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon also attended the high-level meeting hosted by the United Nations ahead of the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting which begins Tuesday.
Irit Ben-Abba, the deputy director-general for economic affairs in Israel's Foreign Ministry, told reporters the government was "very concerned with the very severe fiscal situation of the Palestinian Authority at the moment."
To help, she said, Israel has released advance payments of tax revenue, allowed the transfer of goods that will generate income for the Palestinian budget, and authorized international projects in the 60% of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli control.
"We call on the donor community to put more effort into assisting the Palestinians at this stage and to encourage them to come back to the negotiating table," she said.
Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, who chairs the donor support group known as the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, said the Palestinian's economic situation "is dire and is getting worse."
He said donors reconfirmed their previous assessment that the Palestinian Authority's institutions are ready for statehood — a reaffirmation welcomed by Kassis.
The donors warned, however, that the economy was slowing after three years of high growth, improved living conditions and progress in improving the quality and functioning of Palestinian institutions, Eide said.
"During 2012, the Palestinian Authority is experiencing a severe fiscal crisis, due to shortfalls in domestic revenues, tax income, and donor contributions," he said. "It may face a financing gap of at least $400 million at the end of the year."
The committee called on donors to fulfill their outstanding pledges and increase their contributions for 2012.
Eide said that at Sunday's meeting the U.S. representative confirmed Washington's intention to meet its commitment.
The committee also called on donors to remain committed to the two-state solution and to continue assisting the Palestinian Authority to meet its financial requirements so it can "make the transition toward economic independence for a Palestinian state."
Eide also stressed that political progress is essential to get the Palestinian economy "back on track."