Ariel Sharon opposed the construction of the security fence for a long time. Although he understood its security goal, a goal which proved itself with the dramatic drop in terror, he also knew that the fence would lead to the creation of a new political reality. The settlers also understood that the fence's construction would leave those remaining east of it "outside the fence."
Those settlers were sent by all of Israel's governments – both right-wing and left-wing – as pioneers, based on the perception of Zionist settlement meaning security. The border, according to that perception, was supposed to pass in a place where people build a community, work its land and know how to fight for self-defense.
Indeed, that Zionism won. It largely made it clear to the Palestinians and Arab countries that time was not on their side and that if they failed to recognize Israel and its right to exist – there would be no Palestinian state. The Arab League's decision from 2002, which recognized Israel's existence, is a victory of our resolve and our right to stay here forever. This victory belongs first and foremost to those settlers who went out and implemented it. But upon the erection of the security fence, which they stayed "outside of," the settlers realized that the negotiations would be conducted based on the 1967 borders, and that any deterioration in the security situation would be directed at them. Many of them decided, and rightfully so, that their mission was over.
Knesset Member Miri Regev's bill to apply the Israeli law to the Jordan Valley, which was approved last week by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, turns them into hostages. Those settlers, some of whom arrived at the Jordan Valley 30 and 40 years ago, who gave the best years of their lives and their life's work as the State's emissaries, who are ageing and whose children no longer live close to them, will be trapped in a place where they see no future – neither personal nor national.
None of us have the moral authority to prevent them from coming back, if they want to. According to a survey conducted by the Macro Center for Political Economics and the Blue White Future movement, 36% of settlers in the Jordan Valley are interested in returning, regardless of the Valley's political status, and we must let them come back as winners. They cannot turn into bargaining chips in a cynical political game. Their future and their children's future are more important than the musical chairs in the Likud. The future of the rest of the settlers will be decided as part of the negotiations, and most of them, according to the same survey, are interested in returning as part of an agreement. The IDF will stay there to protect them until we reach a permanent agreement and security arrangements which Israel finds acceptable.
On the practical level, this mission is at the government's doorstep. The financial value of the assets they hold is too low to allow them to live in dignity within the State of Israel. The government must enact a voluntary eviction, compensation and absorption law, which will provide the economic foundation for their lives. This is an ethical duty of the State which sent them, and it cannot renounce this duty.
But that is not enough. The State of Israel's mission hangs over it all: To serve as a democratic state which is the national home of the Jewish people. For that purpose we must ensure that the State has a clear Jewish majority, and that is only possible if we create a reality of two states. The government must declare that it has no and will have no sovereignty claims east of the security fence. Such a declaration will increase the faith of the international community and Arab countries in the sincerity of Israel's intentions to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, and will reduce the international, diplomatic and economic isolation we are heading towards right now.
The negotiations taking place today between Israel and the Palestinians are welcome. But even if they fail, it's not too late to come to our senses and work to maintain a Jewish, democratic Israel, secured within its borders.
Ami Ayalon is one of the founders of the Blue White Future movement and a former Shin Bet director