The Illusion of the Unilateral Solution

Walla.co.il (online service) by Shaul Arieli -- The author is a member of the Economic Cooperation Foundation [as well as a retired IDF colonel and a board member of the Council for Peace and Security].
Translation via Israel News Today, May 27, 2014.

   Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s remarks about the need for unilateral measures in the aftermath of the collapse of the talks with the Palestinians could have been referring to two possible courses of action. The first, which is rooted in his concern that Israel might “turn into a bi-national state,” would be to continue down the road that Ariel Sharon took. Namely, it would entail complementing the disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria with additional actions that during Ehud Olmert’s term in office were given the slightly whitewashed name of the “convergence plan.” The second possible course of action would be for Netanyahu to openly endorse the three-phased messianic plan to annex the West Bank that was presented by Naftali Bennett, the first stage of which is to annex the settlement blocs to Israel.

   The former option primarily involves retaining the settlements in the so-called Enveloping Jerusalem area, the major settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley; completing the erection of the separation fence along the route that was approved by the Olmert government in 2006; and retaining the IDF’s presence and activity in the remaining territory, including an IDF presence at the border crossings. If he were to so wish, Netanyahu could turn over control of the territory in question to the Palestinians, re-designating it as either Area A or B in coordination with the PA, and retain cooperation with the Palestinian police. A number of stages would have to be passed in order to translate that option into an operational plan. At the very least, or as a first stage, Israel might complete the withdrawal from northern Samaria by removing the small settlements Mevo Dotan and Hermesh, and perhaps also removing Avnei Hefetz, Einav and Shavei Shomron, which lie alone along the road connecting Tulkarm with Nablus. The removal of a number of unauthorized outposts that are home to a small number of families in temporary trailer homes would not be viewed as a significant step; rather, it would be viewed as the implementation of some of the commitments that Sharon made to the Americans in the context of the road map. At the other end of the series of steps lies the full evacuation of all the “hilltop settlements” that lie outside the settlement blocs, including Yitzhar, Itamar, Bracha, Elon Moreh, Eli, Shilo, Carmei Tzur, Nokdim, Beit Hagai and many others.

   That option, with all its stages and possibilities, is likely to be met with fierce opposition from the people who reject the two-state idea across the political spectrum and from among the settlers on the ground. This will begin with the members of the Jewish Home and many of the Likud Beiteinu members in the cabinet and in the Knesset, who are likely to quite the coalition and/or to splinter off from the Likud; it will continue with opposition from some of the regional councils in Judea and Samaria, many of whose residents are going to be evicted, forcing them to merge with other regional councils; and will also include the hard-core settlers and the price tag perpetrators who live in those settlements and outposts.

   It is very hard to believe that Netanyahu, who accelerated construction in the settlements during the term of his second government, at a pace that reached an all-time new record peak in the first year of his current government, will agree to face off against those opponents. One need only remember how his deep-set fears of any clash with that group led him to make absurd decisions, such as the one to invest tens of millions of shekels to saw the foundations of the buildings in Givat Haulpana, and tens of millions more in the relocation of Migron.

Leave Them Guessing

   The second option primarily involves an annexation of the settlement blocs, dismantling the separation fence and accelerating construction in the settlements as a whole, and particularly so in the isolated settlements. This option can also be implemented in a gradual manner. It can start with the annexation of the settlement blocs that abut the Green Line, such as Modiin Illit and the western part of the Etzion Bloc, and it can advance all the way until the annexation of the Ariel and Kedumim “fingers” that jut deeply into the West Bank.

   This option too will face stiff opposition. Hatnua headed by Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid headed by Yair Lapid are likely to quit the coalition; the members of the international community, including the United States, are likely to impose painful sanctions on Israel; the Arab world—first and foremost Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan—can place a complete freeze on peace treaties and withdraw the Arab League’s peace initiative; the Palestinians are likely to announce the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, the nullification of the Oslo Accords and the beginning of a third Intifada, including in Gaza. As one tries to assess the likelihood of that option being put into action one need only recall Netanyahu’s panicky reaction to the violence that followed the opening of the Western Wall tunnel in 1996, at which point he rushed to sign the Hebron Protocol.

   Theoretically, there is also the possibility of adopting a “balanced” option that draws some elements from both of the above-cited two options. But the chances of that happening are low because Netanyahu will pay the painful price of both options without earning the praise of either side.

   If that is the case, then Netanyahu’s remarks [about unilateral measures] might best be described as another “Bar Ilan speech.” The prime minister is aware of the fact that the political deadlock does not serve Israel’s interests and is liable to produce new American and European initiatives, as well as more emphatic efforts by the Palestinians to secure UN recognition. By airing that slogan, Netanyahu hopes to keep everyone busy in the next few weeks guessing about its content, and less busy working on new initiatives of their own. He might adopt the first stage of the evacuation option in order to toss the international community a “bone” that will keep it busy for the next year, in exchange for which he might grant Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel and his extremist colleagues from the Likud a “package of benefits” that they will find hard to refuse.

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