Following revelations on Sunday of a secret letter of understanding between Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which the two leaders outlined the parameters for a future Palestinian state, Efraim Sneh spoke with Arutz Sheva about the agreement – and what it could mean for Israel going forward.
Sneh, a long-time Labor Party member, served as one of Herzog’s principle negotiators during talks with Abbas ahead of the 2015 Knesset election.
The framework agreed upon by the two parties includes the formation of a Palestinian state, which would encompass all of Judea and Samaria. Jerusalem would be divided in two, the eastern portion of which would serve as the capital of Palestine. Israel would also accept some refugees under the “right of return”.
The Old City of Jerusalem would also be divided, according to the outline, though as Sneh noted, Israel would retain the Western Wall.
“The most important thing is that the Western Wall remains under Israeli sovereignty. Eastern Jerusalem is divided, separating [predominantly] Israeli neighborhoods from [predominantly] Arab ones, which we don’t see as being part of Israel’s capital.”
The division of the city, Sneh acknowledges, will not be easy.
“We need to change the lifestyle in Jerusalem. [But] it’s better to have two separate capitals [in Jerusalem] than a single [united] city ridden with conflict.”
Sneh rejected suggestions handing over sovereignty of half of the city would threaten its Jewish majority. “The city is already 37% Arab,” said Sneh.
“The idea is to separate, rather than expand, between Arab Jerusalem and Jewish Jerusalem. The unity between Jabel Mukhbar and Talpiot is a false unity, it’s not real. Whoever talks about the unity of the city under Israel sovereignty is asking to give Israeli citizenship to 330,000 Palestinians. Who wants that?”
While Sneh mentioned the desire to “separate” from the Arab population of Jerusalem, the Herzog-Abbas agreement includes a provision for joint municipal control of the city, despite being under divided sovereignty.
“We’re living in a complicated reality and there are no simple solutions. What I did during the talks was draw a compromise line. We’re maintaining the idea of two capitals for two states, but leaving the municipality under joint control.”
Sneh also insisted that Herzog’s acceptance of some number of Arab refugees into Israel under the “right of return” would allow Israel to retain discretion in the number and nature of the immigration.
“What are we worried about, that Israel will be flooded with Palestinian refugees? That possibility, while it is unlikely, needs to be prevented, and the language of the outline prevents it. Nothing will happen without Israel’s agreement.”
Under the framework hammered out by Herzog and Abbas, Israel would surrender 96% of Judea and Samaria to the new Palestinian state, retaining only 4%. Israel would also hand over territory equivalent in area to that 4% from within the Green Line.
“The idea is,” said Sneh, “to leave most of the settlers within Israeli territory, which is why we set the amount of [territory] at about 4%, which allows us to leave most of the settlers on the Israeli side of the border. Regarding the rest, we’ll need to conduct negotiations, and perhaps they will wish to remain where they are and become citizens of Palestine. That’s also a possibility.”
Regarding Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to accept Jewish citizens, Sneh suggested the issue could be worked out in negotiations.
“There is such an idea, and it needs to be discussed.” But, added Sneh, “there is no partner to continue with the present situation. For someone who says we need two states for two peoples, there is partner.”
Sneh did admit, however, that a peace agreement following the framework could entail large-scale expulsions of Jews from their homes.
“As far as the settlers go, it’s a possibility that several thousand of them will have to be resettled, either within the 4% [of Judea and Samaria Israel will retain] or inside the Green Line. But if the present situation continues, we’ll be a state with a Jewish minority.”
“I don’t hide the unpleasant fact that some settlers will have to be evacuated from where they now are.”