Israel should consider a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank if
negotiations with the Palestinians fail, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on
“Waiting and lack of activity creates the illusion of quiet,”
Barak said. “We are on borrowed time.”
Barak, speaking at the annual
meeting of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, said
it was important to try and reach a comprehensive agreement and deal with all
the core issues with the Palestinians.
“I am not sure that is possible,”
he said. “If it turns out not to be possible, we need to think about an interim
agreement, or even unilateral steps. Israel does not have the luxury to
remain in a stalemate.”
An official in Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s office distanced Netanyahu from Barak’s comments.
giving his opinion,” the official said.
“Netanyahu presented his position
last night, calling [during a speech at the INSS conference] for an immediate
start of negotiations.”
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon,
speaking at the same conference, took Barak to task for his words, without
mentioning him by name.
Anyone raising the possibility of unilateral
steps is preventing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from returning
to the negotiating table because it confirms the belief that if they just wait,
Israel will fold and give in, Ya’alon said.
Barak did, however, receive
support for his position from Amos Yadlin, the former head of Military
Intelligence who now serves as the INSS director.
Yadlin presented a
report at the conference claiming that the chance for a peaceful negotiated
resolution with the PA was not attainable in the near future and therefore
Israel needed to consider a unilateral withdrawal from the West
Yadlin said that INSS decided to recommend unilateral action due to
an understanding that the PA leadership was not willing to compromise on the
right of return for refugees and was also unlikely to recognize Israel’s
identity as a Jewish state.
The idea of unilateral Israeli steps is a
notion being increasingly discussed publicly, with former Mossad head Ami Ayalon
and Barak’s top adviser when he was prime minister Gilad Sher penning an oped in
April in The New York Times calling for such a move.
“Israel can and must
take constructive steps to advance the reality of two states based on the 1967
borders, with land swaps – regardless of whether Palestinian leaders have agreed
to accept it,” they wrote. “Through a series of unilateral actions, gradual but
tangible changes could begin to transform the situation on the
The PA, meanwhile, responded to Barak’s comments by expressing
opposition to any Israeli unilateral move, saying this would end the idea of a
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said that
any Israeli unilateral withdrawal [from the West Bank] would lead to the
establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders – something that
the Palestinians are opposed to.
“This policy won’t lead to a solution
and would prolong the conflict,” Abu Rudaineh said in a statement. “It will end
the idea of the two-state solution.”
He said that the Palestinians
remained committed to a just, lasting and comprehensive solution for a
Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 “borders” with Jerusalem as its
The Palestinians would not accept any solution that does not
include Jerusalem, he stressed.