Over the past two decades Israel and the PLO have negotiated intermittently over
a final-status arrangement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian
That process has essentially been at an impasse since 2009 for
a variety of reasons, some of which are technical and tactical, while others are
more substantive in nature.
If we are to accept at face value the
statements made by the two parties, the substantive issue for both Israelis and
Palestinians preventing negotiations from advancing can be summed up as a lack
of confidence in the other’s true intentions.
The Palestinian leadership
says it has no confidence in either Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu personally
or the willingness of his right-wing coalition government to make the minimal
concessions necessary to resolve the conflict. The Israeli leadership says it
has no confidence in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the
intentions of his government to resolve the conflict and to accept Israel for
what it is: a Jewish and democratic state.
The Palestinian leadership’s
rejection of the peace offers that were put on the table by Ehud Barak and Ehud
Olmert contributed to Israelis’ mistrust. The indiscriminate violence of the
second intifada and Palestinian rhetoric denying Jewish history and the Jews’
connection to the Land of Israel exacerbated that skepticism.
recently, Abbas’s statements that he would refuse to recognize Israel as a
Jewish state in any final arrangement further undermined Israelis’ confidence in
the intentions of this supposedly moderate Palestinian leader.
to say, the Palestinians have a similar litany of complaints, and can cite
numerous Israeli policies, such as continued growth in the settler population,
as well as countless statements by public Israeli figures, which ostensibly have
eroded their confidence in Israel’s peaceful intentions.
both leaderships have adopted the position that they have “no partner” for
negotiations and argue, as a consequence, that no substantive progress can be
made toward resolution of the conflict.
EVEN IF the “no partner” premise
is accepted, is inaction and the adoption of a passive “wait and see” stance
truly the only option available to Israel? No, it is not. Despite its drawbacks,
the option of unilateralism remains available.
Admittedly, the unilateral
withdrawals from both southern Lebanon and Gaza exacerbated existing tactical
problems for Israel, particularly in the form of unchecked armament among
Hezbollah and Hamas. It is important to underscore, however, that the tactical
problem posed by rocket attacks was neither created by the withdrawals nor could
it have been averted by means of continued occupation, only mitigated
The only viable solution to the threat of rockets from Lebanon
and Gaza, barring a peace agreement, is the solution that Israel has used
successfully against Syria and other enemy countries with rocket and other
military capabilities: deterrence.
The logic of the unilateral
withdrawal, despite the tactical problems it exacerbated, was as follows: Over
time, Israel stands to lose more strategically by maintaining its occupation of
southern Lebanon and Gaza than it does by giving up its military control of
By withdrawing, Israel removed the onerous millstone of
occupation from around its neck and did away with one of the principal tools
used by its enemies in their effort to undermine its legitimacy.
Barak government and the Sharon government, similar to the Netanyahu government,
felt that they had no Arab partner for peace in Lebanon and Gaza respectively.
Contrary to the Netanyahu government, however, Barak and Sharon opted to take
unilateral action to advance Israel toward the future they believed was in its
best interest: an Israel that was not occupying southern Lebanon and an Israel
that had no settlements and no longer occupied any part of the Gaza
Despite the perceived absence of an Arab peace partner, is it
unfair to ask the Netanyahu government what future it envisions for Israel in
another five, 25 and even 50 years in Judea and Samaria? Is it one in which the
outposts, such as Migron, still exist? Is it one in which the settlements
outside the major settlement blocs, such as Yitzhar, still exist? If that is its
vision, then the government should say so publicly and work to solidify that
future by building up those settlements and annexing the territories, come what
But if that is not its vision then the time has come for the
government, as the country’s leadership, to spell out what future it does
envision for Israel, and to begin to act to bring it into being, even in the
absence of an Arab partner.
If that future is one in which Israel has
borders that include the major settlement blocs and the Jewish neighborhoods of
east Jerusalem, but not Migron and Yitzhar, then it behooves the government to
begin to work toward that goal.
Israel has little to lose by removing
those settlements and outposts, save a questionable tactical bargaining chip
with the Palestinians. Alternately, Israel stands to gain a great deal
strategically by pulling back to borders that are both part of the national
consensus and, no less importantly, the international consensus.
of an Israel that cannot build anywhere beyond the Green Line, be it in Gilo or
the Etzion Bloc, Israel will be able to build everywhere it wishes within the
territory that lies behind its new boundaries. Instead of an Israel in which the
public is divided over the settlement issue, Israelis will be united around the
newly-defined borders, with the exception of the fringes on Left and
Investment and construction in settlements will cease to be a
politically explosive issue that creates enmity between Israelis and will do
away with the “them” and “us” divisions that have torn Israeli society apart for
the past four decades.
Equally importantly, Israel will do away with one
of the principal tools that has been used by its enemies to undermine its
legitimacy: the argument of illegal settlement.
That issue, which Israel
has been most hard put to defend internationally, will essentially be rendered
moot by a withdrawal to internationally-sanctioned borders.
this will require facing off against the fringe group of Gush Emunim, the
religious ideologues who spearheaded the settler movement whose eschatological
beliefs forbid them from conceding even an inch of the Land of
But the Gush Emunim ideologues will discover, as they did at the
Kfar Maimon rally on the eve of disengagement, that the majority of Israelis are
not willing to continue to sacrifice the future of all of Israel for the sake of
Migron and Yitzhar, just as they weren’t prepared to do so for Netzarim and Kfar
Darom. The fringe religious Right will discover, once again, that it stands
alone on that issue.
The time has come for the government to lead Israel
to the future, even if that requires difficult unilateral decisions.
writer is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.