As negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority continue out of public eye, an Israeli organization is attempting to lay the groundwork for one of the most contentious issues to be resolved: the relocation of Israeli settlers.
Blue White Future, a civil society movement, was founded by Ami Ayalon, the former Director of the Israel Security Agency, also known as the Shin Bet; Gilead Sher, a former senior peace negotiator; and Orni Petruschka, a high-tech entrepreneur and former IAF fighter pilot.
Sher, who was Israel's co-chief negotiator at the Camp David and Taba summits, was in Chicago in late August. He described the movement's aim as "securing the future of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and as a democracy within recognized, safe and legitimized borders.
"We believe that it is imperative that Israel disassociates from the Palestinians in order for a two-people solution to be attained. In the case it is not attained throughout negotiations, Israel should be prepared to do it on its own … in order to have the boundaries of the State of Israel encompass a Jewish democracy," he said.
The central plan is to persuade 100,000 settlers living in communities beyond Israel's security fence to willingly relocate. To advance its plan, BWF is focusing on three areas: identifying existing or attainable infrastructure needs; drafting legislation to address compensation, relocation and absorption of the settlers; and outreach to the settler community.
Any discussion concerning relocation of settlers invariably raises comparisons to the August 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, with its heart-wrenching images of families tearfully leaving their homes and synagogues under IDF escort. Despite assurances from government officials that plans were in place to find them new housing and jobs, complications arose that persisted for years. According to YNET, an Israeli online news source, by 2007 only 56.8% of evacuees had found employment and in June 2010, 70% were still living in mobile homes.
An Aug. 18 report in the Jerusalem Post quoted a Knesset study, released three years ago, that concluded the financial cost of the disengagement equaled nearly $3 billion - without taking into consideration the considerable costs of unemployment and insurance and income guarantee payments by the National Insurance Institute.
Sher said they had "learned and studied all the lessons from the Gaza disengagement.... We are … calling upon the government to start planning today for the relocations extending years ahead, not at the very last minute. We provide the settlers with the possibility to relocate willingly, not subject to law enforcement."
For more on Sher's thoughts about the current peace talks, and how they differ from previous rounds, click here.