Israel’s inelegant options

The conflict should be managed until conditions arise for an agreed-upon solution

A checkpoint outside Isawiya (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A checkpoint outside Isawiya
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
With the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War upon us, it’s time to take a broad look at Israel’s options in Judea and Samaria, and chart a path forward that will secure Israel while leaving the door open to peace.
That is exactly what I’ve done in a new 50-page study entitled, “Israel’s Inelegant Options in Judea and Samaria: Withdraw- al, Annexation, and Conflict Management” (published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and available online in English, Hebrew and Arabic at
I review in depth the two well-known, divergent approaches to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and the application of Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
Alas, both approaches are problematic. Each poses a significant challenge to Israel’s future. Therefore, it is important to embark on a diplomatic approach that can gain as broad a consensus as possible within Israeli-Jewish society. In fact, the extent of societal consensus is more important than the specifics of any approach or agreement reached. It is critical to maintain the resilience of Israeli-Jewish society to resist pressures in the future. The supreme danger is the creation of a rift within Israel. It is therefore critical that a significant majority of Israelis – as large a consensus as possible – unite behind whatever approach is opted for by Israel’s leadership, in order to prevent a schism in the country.
Here is the nub of the problem: No good solutions exist. The political Right has no sound response to the demographic argument against annexation, since annexation will lead to the creation of a binational state (in practice). The Left has no serious response to the security threat stemming from Palestinian statehood, given the real possibility of a security meltdown in Jordan or the Palestinian entity.
Therefore, Israel’s choices are not a matter of right or wrong, but of electing to assume one set of risks over the other. Israel must choose the lesser evil.
But before deciding what the lesser evil is, it must be recognized that the conditions pertaining in the Middle East today militate against dramatic Israeli moves. The Arab world is in a state of violent chaos which requires effective and complete Israeli control of the West Bank for what may be a very long time. So no withdrawals are in the offing.
At the same time, any move toward formal annexation will wreck the ability of Israel to enhance relations with the import- ant Sunni countries, and might even lead to another bloody intifada and very problematic reactions in the international arena.
Nevertheless, the principled question of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ought to be resolved should be discussed to shape today’s policies in accordance with the preferred solution of the future.
Therefore, Palestinian statehood is not the real question currently before the Israeli public or Israeli decision-makers. Rather, the question is whether Israel aspires to leave open the possibility of future negotiations toward a two-state solution or will it act to close this option by expanding isolated settlements and practically entering into an unstoppable process toward a binational state situation.
THE PRO-SETTLER Right, and the hard Left, which denies Jewish rights in the Land of Israel, are two outlier factions within Israeli society, on opposite sides of the spectrum. In between, at the center of Jewish society in Israel, there is a large majority which desires a solution, and is quite ready to compromise on its rights over areas of the Land of Israel.
But it will do so only in return for an agreement that will ensure the security and peace of the country; and in a situation where the Palestinian minority does not grow beyond its current share of the population.
The only politically feasible way to act on this readiness in the future – which I repeat is unrealistic at present, despite the breezy optimism in some quarters following the visit of US President Donald Trump to the Mideast – is to limit Israeli building to the settlement blocs (or to the existing boundaries of settlements, as was recently agreed between Israel and the Trump administration).
This reserves the remaining area for discussion at a time when there might be a different Palestinian leadership and a readiness on both sides to compromise.
At present, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is unwilling to bear the responsibility of establishing a state, since once it is established he loses the excuse of the “brutal occupation” that allows the avoidance of the hard, mundane work related to the establishment and management of a state. Without the “occupation,” which allegedly prevents him from putting matters in order, he will have to face the many accusations of corruption that surround him, with this corruption being a major obstacle to the development of Palestinian society and state. It is convenient for Abbas to continue with the current situation as a ruler with no real responsibilities.
Israel for its part must not jeopardize its existence by embarking on rash unilateral initiatives that would radically worsen its security situation – just to please proponents of “forward progress” at any cost. This risk is not worth taking.
Therefore, I reject the suggestions that Israel undertake unilateral initiatives – whether unilateral annexation of all or part of the West Bank, or unilateral withdrawals from all or parts of the West Bank.
Unilateral moves would entail a very high domestic price for Israel, while earning the country very few gains in diplomatic and defense terms.
Israel should instead manage the conflict until conditions improve for a renewed negotiating effort at an agreed- upon solution. When on the edge of the cliff, standing still is preferable to leaping forward. 
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amidror is the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He was national security advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Intelligence Analysis Division in IDF Military Intelligence, and commander of the IDF Military Colleges