The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a leading Israeli think-tank, hosted its annual conference this week on Israel’s regional and international challenges. INSS’s policy recommendations are of special significance this year because its Director, Amos Yadlin, was designated by the joint Labor-Hatnua list as its candidate for the position of Defense Minister in the next government. Whether in the unlikely scenario of a Labor victory or in the less unlikely scenario of a national unity government, INSS’s policy recommendations might be implemented (even partially) after the elections, and must therefore be gauged.
On the issue of the stalemate with the Palestinians, INSS expressed its views ahead of the conference in a short paper authored by Gilead Sher and Liran Ofek (“An Integrated Political Strategy: Regional, Bilateral, and Independent”). Sher, a practicing lawyer, is a senior fellow at INSS and served as Israel’s chief negotiator during the failed 2000 Camp David summit and Taba talks. While Sher witnessed firsthand the failure of the 2000 negotiations, and while subsequent negotiations failed as well (including the 2007-2008 negotiations under the Olmert government and the 2013-2014 negotiations under the third Netanyahu government), Sher is adamant that “a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … can be achieved” though he himself admits that, in practice and “at present,” the likelihood of such a solution is “slim.”
According to Sher, the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians is detrimental to Israel because it threatens Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic country, and because it undermines Israel’s international standing. Therefore, Sher suggests, Israel should initiate a move meant to neutralize the “demographic threat” and to ease international pressure. While the initiative proposed by Sher is not a mere replication of the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, its outcome would unlikely be significantly different.
Like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sher talks about “regional opportunities.” Unlike him, however, he considers the so-called Arab Peace Initiative to be a serious and valuable offer. This “initiative” was first issued by the Arab League thirteen years ago. Since then, the Arab world has turned into one big war zone. Iraq, Syria and Libya have imploded. Iran has become a threshold nuclear state that controls four Arab capitals (Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a). Saudi Arabia, generally considered the main promoter of the “Arab Peace Initiative,” is surrounded by Iran’s allies in the north (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon) and in the south (Yemen). Its economic clout has been affected by falling oil prices. Who, seriously, is supposed to deliver peace on behalf of the Arab world in 2015?
Even if the Arab world were able to deliver, its “initiative” is an unacceptable take-it-or-leave-it document. It demands a “full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967”, whereas UN Security Council 242 only expects Israel to withdraw “from territories,” purposely leaving room for negotiations. It calls for the implementation of the non-binding 194 UN General Assembly resolution (which the Palestinians claim as the legal backbone of the so-called “right of return”) but rejects “all form of Palestinian” patriation [sic]” in Arab countries.
Sher is implicitly skeptical about the negotiated “political solution” he calls for, since he himself suggests a “Plan B” (just in case repeating the same experiment for a fifth time were to produce the same outcome yet again). His “Plan B” consists of “a default plan of independently separating from the Palestinians via a provisional border” in which Israel would “hand over control of most of the West Bank to the PA (Palestinian Authority), with the exception of the Jordan Valley and the areas west of the security fence.” About 100,000 Israelis would be removed from the territory handed to the PA, yet the Israel Defense Forces would retain “full freedom of operation there” as well as “control over the airspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.”
What Sher is suggesting, in effect, is a (supposedly coordinated) unilateral semi-withdrawal. Doing so might relieve Israel of its demographic angst, but it will not convince the PA to end its “lawfare” against Israel, nor will it free Israel from international pressures. If Israel is still accused of occupying Gaza in spite of having withdrawn from that territory to the last inch nine years ago, how will it not be accused of occupying the West Bank while retaining its control over significant territories there and letting the IDF operate freely in the areas evacuated by Israeli civilians? And why would Israel’s inevitable military operations in the West Bank after such partial withdrawal produce less civilian victims, less Goldstone reports and less outraged media coverage than previous military operations in Gaza?
Trying to force oneself out of a Catch-22 situation is legitimate and even praiseworthy, but defying logic is neither.