They Say/We Say: "Israel should act unilaterally in its own interests... for Israelis living in parts of the West Bank that everyone knows Israel will never give up"

They Say We Say We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.

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They Say, We Say: Are settlements really a problem?

They Say:There is no Palestinian partner for peace, so Israel can and should act unilaterally to preserve its own interests – namely, security and normalization of the situation for Israelis living in parts of the West Bank that everyone knows Israel will never give up. Doing so can actually promote peace by showing the Arabs that Israel does not want to hold onto the entire West Bank forever.
We Say: When Israeli-Palestinian efforts are at an impasse and immediate-term hopes for progress toward any agreement are fading, the appeal of new ideas becomes understandable. No doubt this is why, at such times, discussion of Israeli unilateral options comes up—generally in terms of unilateral “withdrawals” from the West Bank. However, it is essential to distinguish between ideas that are genuinely consistent with peace and the two-state solution, and ideas that simply perpetuate the avoidance and denial that have been the hallmark of successive Israeli governments’ policies vis-à-vis the occupation.

For example, unilateral “withdrawals” that leave Israeli settlers and soldiers behind, while marketed as a step toward peace, practically speaking are no different than continued occupation. Unilateral “withdrawals” that are cover for settlement expansion in the areas of the West Bank from which Israel decides not to “withdraw” (e.g. the area west of Israel’s separation barrier, plus or minus a little, amounting to at least 10% of the West Bank), are not simply continued occupation, but are potentially lethal to the two-state solution. Such settlement expansion, under the cover of “withdrawals,” would take any mutually acceptable land swap option off the table, rendering a future agreement on borders and territory impossible (Israeli land reserves are sufficient for a swap equivalent to at most 2-3% of the West Bank, along the lines laid out in the Geneva Accord). Moreover, this brand of unilateralism would prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem or any contiguity between East Jerusalem and the West Bank—and no legitimate Palestinian leadership will ever sign an agreement that doesn’t include both.

Similarly, plans to unilaterally divide Jerusalem – to rid the city of unwanted Palestinian residents ostensibly to make the city more Jewish and more secure – will have the opposite of the intended effect. As Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann writes:

These proposals make a bad security situation worse. Security in Jerusalem is a function not of the number of Israeli security forces on the city’s streets and borders or the number of its Palestinian residents per se. Insecurity in Jerusalem today stems from Palestinian rage, fueled by despair, deriving from permanent occupation, sharpened by fears that Israel seeks to change the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. Israeli statements, policies, and actions—like proposing cutting 200,000 Palestinians off from their own city—only intensify and lend credence to those fears.

As for “saving” Jewish Jerusalem, Israeli governments and settlers have been working for years to establish—through housing, parks, archeological sites, and tourist facilities—a Jewish pseudo-Biblical domain in the most volatile areas of East Jerusalem (and, indeed, of the planet), that is, the Old City and its visual basin, including the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, all at the expense of equities that Muslims and Christians hold in the city. Suggestions to further cut off Palestinians from these areas only exacerbate this dangerous trend, which is transforming the Israeli-Palestinian political conflict, resolvable by the two-state solution, into a zero-sum religious battle.

In short, while many unilateral plans are marketed as steps toward peace, the devil is in the details – and in the details, a common characteristic of unilateral plans is that, if implemented, they risk depriving Israel of any possibility of a two-state solution, taking the country further down a suicidal path which ends with Israel ceasing to be a democracy and a Jewish state.