Dismantling outlying settlements would have few drawbacks, but would lead to one very big plus: international legitimacy.
By JONATHAN ROSEN
Over the past two decades Israel and the PLO have negotiated intermittently over a final-status arrangement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.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.More 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.Needless 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.AdvertisementSuccinctly put, 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 perhaps.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 those areas.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.The 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 Strip.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 may.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.Instead 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 Right.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.Admittedly, 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 Israel.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. The writer is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.
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