You would think that following Israel’s ruinous unilateral withdrawals from
Lebanon and Gaza, unilateralism would be dead in the water. For the majority of
Israelis and Israeli strategic thinkers, I believe that this remains the
But the political Left is impatient. The same people who once sold
us Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas as peace partners are now telling us that
peace is impossible yet the existing situation is unacceptable, and therefore
the unilateral route is the only remaining course of action for
In fact, there is a groundswell of “elite” (read: Leftist)
opinion building in favor of unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank. I sense
that Prime Minister Netanyahu is being pulled in this direction.
current parlance, unilateralism means to “make peace without (Palestinian)
partners;” to tear down settlements in the distant reaches of the West Bank in
order to “signal” to the Palestinians that the Netanyahu government is “serious”
about compromise; to “show” the world that Israel is not interested in “forever
being an occupying power”; to “act boldly to set Israel’s borders without being
hostage to the Palestinians,” and so forth.
Over the past year, Ehud
Barak and Shaul Mofaz, both former defense ministers, have touted unilateral
Israeli action. “We are on borrowed time,” Barak said in a June 2012 speech to
the Institute for National Security Studies. “We will reach a wall, and we’ll
pay the price. If it isn’t possible to reach a permanent agreement with the
Palestinians, we must consider an interim arrangement or even a unilateral
INSS director Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin backed up Barak with an
“academic study,” which after reviewing all negotiation possibilities, reached
the conclusion that no agreement can be reached with the Palestinians and
therefore Israel “should go forward (with withdrawals) without depending on the
At a more recent INSS conference, Barak’s former bureau
chief, Gilad Sher, presented a team report titled “The Palestinian Issue: Toward
a Reality of Two States” which also advocated unilateral Israeli
Aware of the disastrous security consequences of the 2005
unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the INSS team did not suggest a military
withdrawal from Judea and Samaria but only a civilian one. In other words, many
Israelis living beyond the 1949 armistice line would be deported, but the IDF
would retain its presence beyond that line.
Or to put it another way, the
settlers would shafted, even though the military “occupation” of the West Bank
would continue and no peace would ensue.
Sher is, coincidentally,
co-chairman of an organization called “Blue White Future” which is pushing a
“compensation law” that would provide payment to tens of thousands of settlers
for leaving their West Bank homes.
The International Crisis Group, and
the Elders – motley collections of ex-statesman like Jimmy Carter who backed
Arafat as a peace partner for Israel – also are now promoting Israeli
unilateralism in order “to create a two-state reality,” without
(These same geniuses have also harangued us for years about
returning the Golan to the Syrians. What a great idea that would have been.)
Thomas Friedman of The New York Times
and Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic
(President Obama’s favorite columnists) are hawking unilateralism as well.
Goldberg: “Netanyahu can have an honest conversation with the Israeli people
about the consequences – military, moral and demographic – of the settlements.
And he can contemplate a notion advanced by a growing number of the country’s
security experts: A unilateral pullout of some settlers from the most distant
reaches of the West Bank. It would show Israelis that their government is
interested in finally winning the Six Day War.”
They justify this by
wanting to “save Israel from itself,” and by the argument that “the status quo
GOING INTO A NEW round of bilateral negotiations that
US Secretary of State John Kerry is seeking to initiate, it would seem that
Israel is certainly not going to make any diplomatic move without a significant
and concrete Palestinian quid pro quo. It was Netanyahu who once said: If they
give, they’ll get.
But since those negotiations aren’t yet in the bag,
and even if they launch, it’s hard to see them easily leading to any real
agreements – the prattle about unilateralism is ever-present.
is the time and place for Netanyahu to make it clear that Israel is not headed
down a slippery slope toward another imprudent “disengagement” from the
territories – for all the known, sound and still-relevant
Unilateral Israeli withdrawals don’t bring security or peace.
Rather, as the Lebanon and Gaza precedents prove, they guarantee the
continuation of the conflict and even its escalation. Remember: Judea and
Samaria (the West Bank) are the heartland of Israel, situated in the closest
proximity to our two biggest population centers: greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The West Bank is not the relatively isolated and distant Gaza Strip. Withdrawal
from the heights of Samaria without real peace and security would be a desperate
and dangerous move.
Moreover, unilateral Israeli action to redraw the map
of settlement in Judea and Samaria (i.e., to expel Israelis from their homes)
only encourages Palestinian maximalism.
The Palestinians learn that there
is no reason to compromise with Israel on any issue (borders, settlements,
Jerusalem, refugees, recognition), since Israelis will eventually tear
themselves down and out of the West Bank. All the Palestinian Authority has to
do is sit tight and remain intransigent.
Modest diplomacy is the only
realistic way to push Israeli-Palestinian relations away from confrontation and
Everything else has already failed. Israel should
sit tight and wait out the Palestinians until they crawl back to the negotiating
table with mature leaders and realistic expectations. It’s irrational to dangle
before them the hope that Israel will, out of desperation, unilaterally