Encountering Peace: Netanyahu’s options

Israel has the ability to “cut to the chase” and to understand that in order to protect its own interests the best thing to do is to find the path toward agreement

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu speaks to the cabinet, April 6, 2014. (photo credit: AMIT SHABAY/POOL)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu speaks to the cabinet, April 6, 2014.
(photo credit: AMIT SHABAY/POOL)
So if the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have reached a dead end, both sides will independently consider their options and make decisions that will advance their own interests.
The Palestinians seem to be set on a course of turning the issue of ending the Israeli occupation and materializing their state over to the international community.
They will most likely continue to seek full state membership in UN institutions, international conventions and most probably the International Criminal Court.
They will utilize civil society all around the world to adopt their position and seek to delegitimize the Israeli occupation. As the underdog they are most likely to succeed.
The international community no longer needs to be convinced that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own and that the Israeli occupation of their state and the denial of their freedom by Israel are bad and must be opposed. The Palestinian leadership knows that as long as they control violence they are on a winning path. It is a long road and it will probably be filled with suffering, but they are on the path toward fulfilling their goals.
Israel has the ability to “cut to the chase” and to understand that in order to protect its own interests the best thing to do is to find the path toward agreement with the Palestinians on ending the occupation and signing a peace deal with the Palestinians. But that seems very unlikely now.
Israel’s continued settlement expansion – even this past weekend enlarging the area of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc – is a clear message to the Palestinians and to the international community that Israel has no intention of allowing the Palestinians to have their own state. Israel has apparently made its choice: it prefers settlements to any chance of peace with its neighbors. And because the people of Israel have bought the propaganda that there is no Palestinian partner, they have become convinced that peace is not possible and therefore do not take to the streets – because you don’t demonstrate for something that you do not believe is possible.
The Netanyahu government will have to decide its policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Let’s look at the alternatives: 1. Keep the coalition, forget about negotiations and peace – this is the do-nothing option. It requires that Israel continue to claim it is genuinely interested in negotiations with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must convince the Israeli public that he is sincere and that the real problem is that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not a partner and that it is the Palestinians who don’t want negotiations and peace. He has pretty much already achieved this goal.
Israel’s propaganda machine will work overtime (and succeed) to convince the Israeli public and Israel’s friends in the US Congress that Palestinians appealing to the international community to release them from Israel’s control is essentially their continued attempt to destroy the State of Israel. Not many people or governments around the world will be convinced, but the US will be on Israel’s side.
2. Option two is the same as above, with the added steps of retaliation against the Palestinians in attempts to bring them to their knees. Since Israel has total control over the entire West Bank and its economy, bringing the Palestinians to their knees is no great challenge.
Withholding the PA’s tax revenues, which Israel collects on its behalf, will mean depriving the PA of some 30 percent of its their budget. With the PA already deeply in debt to banks and to its private sector, it is clear that it will not be able to pay its bills, including the salaries of the many tens of thousands of Palestinians who work directly or indirectly for the PA.
The Arab League agreed to compensate for the losses incurred due to Israel withholding the tax money, but there is no great confidence that the PA will ever see that money. The payment record of the Arab states to Palestine is not so positive. In a matter of a few short months the PA will collapse financially and will not have the ability to provide for education, health care, welfare, security services, courts, cleaning the streets, electricity and water, telecommunications. It will not take much more than that to bring about a collapse of some of the Palestinian banks and the Palestinian stock exchange. Importers will not be able to get letters of credit. Factories will not have the ability to purchase raw materials.
Israel could also withdraw workers’ permits and not allow Palestinians to work in Israel. There are some 55,000 Palestinians from the West Bank employed in Israel. Israel could prevent Palestinian goods headed for export from crossing into Israel. The ports belong to Israel, which could easily close them to Palestinian businesses.
Would Palestinian financial collapse serve Israel’s interests? 3. Israel could take its revenge on the Palestinian leaders instead of the Palestinian business people. Israel could take away the ability of the Palestinian leaders to move around. Israel could close the borders to them, not allowing them to leave the West Bank. Any Palestinian leaders who cause too much trouble could be put under administrative detention and held for long periods of time in Israeli prisons. Israel has the technology to shut down the telephones of Palestinian leaders, shut down their Internet connections and disrupt their ability to communicate with the world. It won’t prevent them from communicating, but it would make it a lot more difficult.
In short, Israel could do real harm to the PA and its leaders, if it wanted to.
4. Israel could implement the Bennett plan of annexing Area C of the West Bank; 62% of the West Bank. All of the Israeli citizens living in the West Bank live in Area C, while only a few of the Palestinians in the West Bank do. Simply declare that Israeli law is extended to all of Area C. There is no need for fanfare and ceremonies.
The difference on the ground will be non-discernible – Israel is already in full control and Israelis there for the most part live under Israeli law. The Israel Police function there, the tax system is Israeli. No big deal.
Israel did it in east Jerusalem and also in the Golan Heights and the sky didn’t fall.
Israel could continue to build “transportation contiguity” for the Palestinians in areas A and B so that they will not enter roads in Area C, which will be only for Israelis and the few Palestinians who live there (and that way can also push back any attempts to call it apartheid, because Palestinians who live there can use those roads too).
I have no doubt that creative Israeli minds are already busy coming up with all kinds of brilliant plans and ideas to prevent the Palestinians from breaking loose from Israel’s grip on their lives.
The bottom line is that none of them will work. No Israeli plans and policies will ever remove the burning desire of the Palestinian people to be free and to live in a state of their own. Those who believe that we can convince them to give up their national aspirations, or that we can buy them with jobs, money or promises of economic prosperity have simply lost touch with reality.
In the end, in order to save itself, Israel will end its control over the Palestinian people and the state of Palestine will be recognized by Israel. The price of doing it today is a lot less than it will be in the future.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.