Tel Aviv is a pleasant city, a relief after the clergy-led madness of Jerusalem, although I am reminded of a rival British newspaper that once considered basing its correspondent in Tel Aviv in order to report Israel as a normal country.
The paper quickly realised that Israel is not a normal country; it is a state wherein we nice friendly Western liberals seek out nice friendly liberal Israelis in order to recapture something we were once taught about: a light among the nations. I'm not sure that such countries ever exist, but it was good to find a reserve colonel in the Israeli army who talks sense.
Shaul Arieli, on his computer screen, produces a mass of green and orange and red that turns out to be a map of the West Bank.
How do you make sense of it, this liver-sized mess with its weird Areas A, B and C, the first being Palestinian-’controlled’, the second shared between Palestinian police and Israeli troops, and the third — by far the largest part — occupied by the Israeli army? How do you persuade, cajole, force the 300,000 Jewish colonists and the 200,000 Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem to up sticks and leave so that the Palestinians can live independently in the 22% of mandate Palestine that is left to them?
I should add that Arieli was one of those Israeli officials responsible for portioning out Areas A and B back in 1994.
But Arieli, who last wore his uniform at the end of 2001, was a negotiator of the Geneva accords, the unofficial Israeli-Palestinian agreement that sought a way out of the tormented landscape which Israel has created since its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Arieli positively glows with excitement. It can be done. The Palestinians can have a state. It's just a matter of sorting out, well, 2% of the land. Arieli sees me shaking my head. So off he goes: “In 1993, there were only 107,000 settlers in the West Bank (excluding east Jerusalem). During the Oslo talks, between 2001 and 2009, Israel added another 100,000 settlers.
“Today, there are 300,000 settlers in the West Bank with another 200,000 settlers in east Jerusalem. This is not a natural growth. It's a very clear Israeli policy — to extend the settlement area. But 65% of the settlers are on only 1.2% of the area. In November 2007, (Mahmoud) Abbas said he was prepared for a 2% swap of land. This is a territorial issue — it's about (UN Security Council Resolution) 242. This means the 1967 borders.”
I understand what this means. Keep the huge Jewish colonies around Jerusalem — Ariel, Ma'ale Adumim and Gush Etzion — and near the Dead Sea, but squeeze settlers from other illegal sites (all settlements are internationally illegal, whatever Israel says) into the 0.8% difference between the 1.2% of the land on which 65% of the settlers live and the 2.0% allowed by Abbas. This is optimism of a bleak kind.
The Netanyahu government and its Lieberman clique are hell-bent on the continued Jewish settlement of east Jerusalem and the colonisation of the West Bank. Area C is almost all lost to the Palestinians.
Besides UN resolution 242, upon which Arieli depends, deliberately calls for Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied in the 1967 war — not ‘the’ lands.
But Arieli doesn't give up. The only solution is a swap. The '67 border will have to be the basis of the swap — we would have to keep 75% of the settlers on 2% of their land.
I have my doubts. Long may the Arielis of this world survive. But I fear that Palestine has gone