At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin Feb. 1, German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged, “This is not the time to make comprehensive progress on the two-state solution.” Let us, for once, decide not to address the quandary implicit in the chancellor’s surprising comment, and instead limit ourselves to the following questions: When had there been a more opportune time in the past, or when will there be an opportune time in the future to end a conflict that has extended for more than 100 years? When will the time come to put an end to the occupation, which will soon see its 50th anniversary? I choose to focus on Merkel’s later words: “Improvements can be achieved in certain places.”
As a service to someone viewed as Israel’s most important friend in Europe, if not in the entire world, I propose the following 10 suggestions for improvements in "certain places." All of these can be implemented without making heavy diplomatic decisions. They do not touch upon what is usually called “core issues” such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees, and do not involve major decisions such as establishing a port in Gaza, as recommended by the Israel Defense Forces. Each and every one of these suggestions is anchored in agreements with the Palestinians, in international law and in basic moral principles. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who discovered economic peace this week in an aid package for the Palestinians, would not even have to take time out from his busy schedule to meet with his counterpart in the Palestinian Authority. The recipe for making improvements in "certain places" is simple enough: a healthy dose of common sense, a generous dollop of true security considerations, a pinch of fairness and a drop of political courage.
A year ago, the Rabbis for Human Rights organization sent such a recipe to the prime minister’s office. Similar suggestions are offered in internal discussions in security circles, only to be rejected in the political ones. Since the Labor Party has decided to put the two-state solution into the deep freeze, this is the time to defrost the “improvements” concoction and serve it to the chancellor.
- Cease the de facto annexation of West Bank lands. It is time for Israel to stop using Ottoman-era laws to enlarge the settlement enterprise throughout the West Bank. Israel relies on Ottoman legislation that enabled the regime to declare all land that is not private "state land." Thus, Israel banishes Palestinians from large areas in the West Bank. In 2014 alone, 3,800 dunams were declared "state land." From information provided by the Bimkom Association (based on data provided by the Civil Administration), we see that since 1967, only about 0.7% of land declared “state land” (some 9,000 dunams out of nearly a million) was transferred to Palestinian use. The rest of the state land became the "area of jurisdiction" of Israel's local and regional councils. Only about a tenth of this enormous "area of jurisdiction" is actually built up. Researcher Dror Etkes from the nongovernmental organization Kerem Navot discovered that in 90% of the settlements, construction deviates from the official limits of jurisdiction.
- Change the planning and construction policy. Planning jurisdiction should be returned to the Palestinians living in Area C so that they will be able to plan their own villages and build on their land. The discriminatory granting of building permits in the West Bank (more than 94% of requests for Palestinian construction permits are rejected) forces the Palestinians to build without permits. The Civil Administration destroys hundreds of houses and structures in Palestinian villages every year, leaving their inhabitants, including children, homeless.
- Put the burden of proof on the squatters. The existing legal procedure requires the person whose land was taken over to prove ownership. In many cases, the victim is not in possession of the necessary documents and the squatter, who is able to prove that he cultivated the land for 10 years, wins. Israel blocks Palestinian access to extensive tracts of their land. Radical settlers use their legally owned weapons to chase the Palestinians away and take control of their land. Senior security officials should instruct the soldiers to act forcefully against the intruders and punish soldiers and police who refuse to intervene. Lawbreakers must be prosecuted; it is not enough to merely evict them.
- Prevent the allotment of funds to illegal outposts. The legal adviser to the government should take action against members of the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization and government offices that violate the 2003 directive issued by Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein forbidding the practice.
- Stop using the revenues from import taxes Israel collects for the PA as an instrument of political pressure as happened in 2012, when the PA appealed to the UN General Assembly for non-member observer status.
- Connect all the Palestinian villages in Area C, under Israel's direct responsibility, to proper water, sewage and electrical infrastructure. Until then, the Civil Administration should be instructed to cease destroying Palestinian farmers' wells and cisterns.
- Remove movement restrictions from sick patients, medical staff, ambulances and medication in the West Bank. Physicians and nurses from the West Bank should be permitted to work in East Jerusalem, where the six main Palestinian hospitals are located, and to enter Israel for training.
- Israeli security personnel should not be allowed to use lethal force to disperse demonstrations, so long as their lives are not in danger. Soldiers should be trained to avoid such incidents, the rules of engagement should be enforced and soldiers who shoot unjustifiably should be severely punished.
- Stop subjecting Palestinians to indignities at checkpoints and other points of friction. High-placed IDF officials argue that such practices contribute to hostility and terror. Additional manpower should be allotted to security checks at the crossings to put an end to the daily humiliation endured by thousands of Palestinian laborers who wait in endless lines.
- Revoke the injunction that severely limits freedom of speech at demonstrations, rallies, parades or in publications dealing with “the political issue or anything that could be construed as political.” Human rights activists should not be subject to false arrests under the pretext of involvement in terror or incitement to violence. The rights of every human being to a fair trial and protection from arbitrary imprisonment and arrest transcend all political debates.
In conclusion, let us briefly return to the issue of timing: Should the government decide in the middle of the current “knife intifada” to adopt steps such as these, it may be interpreted by the Palestinians as a prize for terror. On the other hand, if the violence dies down, the decision-makers in Jerusalem will lose what little interest they have in changing the situation on the ground. Therefore, as in the two-state issue, the problem here is not urgency, but willingness to take action at all.