June 27, 2016 - All those new schemes for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

This week, Alpher discusses "new schemes" for dealing innovatively with the conflict, many of them unilateral, partial or piecemeal: the unilateral security plan presented by some 300 retired generals and senior security personnel known as “Commanders for Israeli security;” whether the commanders’ plan connect with the two-state security plan developed by a team of Americans, Israelis, Egyptians, Palestinians and Jordanians that was recently unveiled in Washington; the “Two States, One Homeland” plan; and a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

Q. Lately we seem to be swamped with new schemes for dealing innovatively with the conflict, many of them unilateral, partial or piecemeal. Can you comment on them?
A. We are indeed deluged by new plans. They very much reflect the current vacuum in official peace process efforts and contacts and the desire by a multiplicity of interested parties to do something about the situation. How helpful these plans can be in countering that vacuum is the key question. I am not particularly optimistic.

Still, the plans are worthy of our attention.

Q. Perhaps you’ll start with the most prominent plan: the unilateral security plan presented by some 300 retired generals and senior security personnel known as “Commanders for Israeli security”.

A. Under the heading “Agreements Out, Arrangements In”, the commanders’ plan proposes “a regional yet unilateral process to consolidate political-security arrangements with the Palestinians and the Arab States. These arrangements would grant Israel permanent and recognized borders that ensure Israel’s security, its solid Jewish majority and the democratic character of the state for years to come.”

Laid out in great detail, with extensive maps, the commanders’ proposals would complete the security fence that attaches some eight percent of the West Bank to Israel, offer the settlers living beyond the fence (108,000, in 108 settlements) incentives to leave while freezing new settlement construction there, and clarify that Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would become part of a Palestinian state. The commanders’ would accept the Arab Peace Initiative with clarifications.

Meanwhile the IDF would remain in all of Area C (60 percent) of the West Bank and would continue to control overall security. The “commanders” argue that Israel’s security would be advanced as would the goal of separating the two populations. Illegal Palestinian labor migrants would be expelled and illegal migration stopped by the completed fence, but investment in the Palestinian economy would be encouraged. The border with the Gaza Strip would be opened to far more expansive commerce and plans would be laid for a Gazan sea port. If Israel were to adopt the plan, present a workable map and security plan and clarify its intentions, the overall effect on international attitudes toward it would be positive.

All in all these ideas, many recycled here from previous unilateral plans, are positive. Adopting and implementing them would undoubtedly improve Israel’s sagging global image. But they are either not feasible or not likely to be particularly productive.

Not feasible, because the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Bennet government is not about to cut off over 100,000 settlers or designate Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods for a Palestinian capital. Moreover, like all unilateral Israeli plans this one too would be rejected and condemned by Israel’s Palestinian negotiating partners for fear lest it become entrenched and recognized as final status. The Palestinians would therefore seek to sabotage the plan, for example by soliciting international condemnation for a completed fence that attaches eight percent of the West Bank to Israel and becomes Israel’s opening negotiating stance in any future negotiations.

Not productive, because economic aid to the Palestinians has proven historically to have no connection with attitudes toward peace: this is the old “economic peace” syndrome at work. And because the vast majority of those 108,000 settlers living beyond the completed fence would reject incentives for leaving and might forcibly oppose the scheme.

Could this plan help cultivate more moderate Israeli public opinion and thereby affect Israeli politics? Far more developed bilateral predecessors like the Geneva Plan did not. The public no longer holds retired Israeli generals in particularly high regard (especially when they proudly present themselves as “commanders”).

In the early years of this century, Ariel Sharon was influenced by public opinion to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza. These days, I don’t think Netanyahu and company are overly concerned

Q. Does the commanders’ plan connect with the two-state security plan developed by a team of Americans, Israelis, Egyptians, Palestinians and Jordanians that was recently unveiled in Washington?

A. A number of the 300-strong commanders are on this team too. The new plan amplifies that prepared by General John Allen during the Kerry peace initiative of 2013-14. On the American side it is associated with the Center for a New American Security, headed by Michele Flournoy--a potential candidate for the post of secretary of defense or national security adviser in a Hillary Clinton administration.

The CNAS plan suggests a 10-15 year-long “conditions-dependent, performance-based, area-by-area phased redeployment of Israeli security forces with target timetables, benchmarks, and an effective remediation process” as the military dimension of the emergence of a Palestinian state. The US would be heavily involved militarily, including in an operational capacity along the Jordan River and at Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.

Note that the IDF essentially turned down Allen’s ideas in 2014 and that Israeli security thinking generally prefers to avoid dependence on non-Israeli forces for enforcing a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Then too, this security plan is meaningless without additional agreed two-state provisions covering issues like borders and Jerusalem. But if Clinton is elected, Israel could conceivably be invited to revisit the Allen plan in updated form.< !--ENDS Background -->

Q. Then there is the very different “Two States, One Homeland” plan.

A. This is very much a local Israeli-Palestinian initiative whose boosters include a number of relatively moderate settlers. It is very much a bilateral plan, albeit one developed by grassroots liberals rather than generals.

The idea is a two-state solution based on the Palestinian demand, backed by the Arab Peace Initiative, to return to the 1967 green-line boundary, including in Jerusalem. Unlike most other two-state plans, however, no settlers would be removed to facilitate the plan. Rather, all settlers could remain in place in the Palestinian state if they agree, as Israeli expatriates, to abide by its laws. Nor, with a few possible agreed exceptions, would any Palestinian refugees be allowed to exercise formal “return” to Israel. The Palestinian state would resettle refugees. But all Palestinians, refugees included, would have open access to Israel, just as all Israelis would have open access to Palestine. The idea is to render the border, settlers and refugee issues essentially irrelevant to the solution.

I believe this formula, though creative and interesting, would be a recipe for disaster. Once subject to Palestinian law, many thousands of settlers would be confronted with court orders to turn their land over to the Palestinians who originally claimed ownership before Israel, through devious legal means, expropriated it. Palestinian police would show up at the gates of settlements, which would be obliged to “integrate” and allow Palestinians to live in them. Palestinian traffic police would ticket settler drivers, perhaps even provocatively. The outcome would be bloodshed, calculated by extremist settlers to bring the IDF back into the West Bank and into clashes with Palestinian forces.

The agreement would not survive. But not for this reason alone. Masses of Palestinian refugees, once resettled from Lebanon and Jordan in the West Bank, would exercise their right to “visit” Israel. They would try to locate the long-erased homes and villages of their great grandparents from 1948 and would refuse to leave those sites, ultimately provoking violence. The effect on Israeli-Palestinian relations would be as disastrous as the settler-Palestinian friction. The fact that the proposed solution seeks to distinguish between citizenship and residency--meaning that Palestinian refugees and others could aspire to live in Israel as non-voting residents just as settlers live as non-voting residents of Palestine--would not save this arrangement and not prevent widespread violence.

This is not a good idea. The right of return and settler issues have been the bane of peace efforts thus far. They would condemn this plan to failure as well.

Q. How about recent references by prominent Jordanians to the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation as a way of alleviating Israeli concerns regarding the emergence of a Palestinian state?

A. This is in some ways a Jordanian version of the “Arab solution” that PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman, as well as other prominent Israeli right-wingers and a few left-wingers, like to talk about.

Recent Jordanian advocates include former prime ministers Abdelsalam al-Majali and Taher al-Masri. They argue that a confederation would ensure mature and sovereign Jordanian responsibility for order in the West Bank--an “upper authority responsible for security, economy and foreign affairs”, according to Majali--thereby reassuring concerned Israelis and preventing disturbances that might send hundreds of thousands of West Bank Palestinians fleeing to Jordan and thereby destabilizing it. One apparent Arab variation of the plan would introduce Mohammed Dahlan, exiled arch rival of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and a man with broad contacts in the Emirates and Cairo, as compliant West Bank leader.

The most far-reaching version of the confederation plan calls for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, after which an independent Palestinian state would request the union with Jordan. The most limited version suggests Jordanian citizenship for the Palestinian inhabitants of the areas A and B enclaves on the West Bank and perhaps even for Gazan Palestinians. The first option would be turned down by Netanyahu and Lieberman, who want to hold onto much of the West Bank; the second, which is the ultimate dream of the Israeli pro-settler right-wing mainstream that would then annex all of Area C--or 60 percent of the West Bank--would end up “Palestinizing” Jordan and is anathema to the Hashemite leadership.

Interestingly, the first option was recently addressed favorably by Shlomo Ben-Ami, a peace dove who was foreign minister and peace negotiator under PM Ehud Barak. Ben-Ami suggests that “Israel, in this scenario, would benefit from gaining an interlocutor that is an orderly state with a tradition of--and interest in--negotiation and compliance with agreements.” A majority of Palestinians would, Ben-Ami suggests, support the idea. So would Jordan, but only if it faces a threat to its security from instability in the West Bank caused precisely by the emergence, or threat thereof, of a Palestinian state.

Q. To sum up. . .

A. Under present circumstances, wherein both Israel and the Palestinians suffer from an acute leadership deficit, all these ideas are non-starters. Their very provenance attests to growing alarm and despair in many circles over the future of the two-state model. Still, it’s good to have them on the agenda.