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Is unilateral action the key to our bilateral failure?

Ami Ayalon: 'Heroic peacemaking is over, it is time for coordinated and constructive unilateralism'

Abbas, Netanyahu and Obama meet in 2010. (photo credit: White House, taken by Chuck Kennedy)

Faith in 'the process' is at an all time low. Even the eternally out-of-touch Obama administration has taken off the rose colored glasses and admitted it is unlikely that Israel and the Palestinians will reach a peace agreement in the coming year due to the various political challenges facing them. Indeed, yet another contrived round of bilateral negotiations between the newly formed right-wing Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (that has historically shown no desire to agree to even the most generous of Israeli concessions) would likely be doomed to an even greater failure than the peace talks of 2014.

This comes as no surprise to Israelis, who have long felt that Israel has no legitimate peace partner to work with.  Abbas has walked away time and again from the negotiating table in favor of indirectly forcing the political reality of a Palestinian state on Israel sans direct negotiations, by way of garnering international legitimacy and continually fanning the flames of international ire against Israel through channels such as the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement and the UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council).


...a shared sense of futility will do nothing to ease the increasing tide of economic isolation and international pressure being placed on Israel

And yet, there is no relief to be had in all the parties finally arriving at the same page, as a shared sense of futility will do nothing to ease the increasing tide of economic isolation and international pressure being placed on Israel to stop settlement building and end the occupation. Despite their good (if not hypocritical) intentions, internationally promoted formulas for peace have all but come short in producing positive results or any real progress. What is to be done? And given the reality on the ground, what actually CAN be done in the present situation?

 

One hopeful initiative is currently being promoted by the non-partisan organization, Blue White Future (BWF).  BWF was co-founded by Admiral (ret.) Ami Ayalon, the former Director of the Israel Security Agency, Colonel (res.) Gilead Sher, a prominent advocate and former senior peace negotiator, and Orni Petruschka, a hi-tech entrepreneur and former IAF fighter pilot. Simply put, BWF's approach can be summed up as, 'don't wait for negotiations, act now to create an environment conducive to a two-state solution and an eventual return to the negotiating table'.


"There is ideological hardening on both sides, and time is running out for those who seek a secure, Jewish and democratic Israel..."

BWF asserts that "the current status quo remains untenable. The situation has worsened in the course of the last fifteen years and the conflict appears more intractable than ever. There is ideological hardening on both sides, and time is running out for those who seek a secure, Jewish and democratic Israel within recognized boundaries alongside a demilitarized, independent Palestinian state."

 

To cope with this deepening political quagmire, BWF suggests a paradigm shift that relies on constructive unilateral action on Israel's part meant to gradually create a reality of two states. This action would not rely on (but would encourage) a resumption of bilateral negotiations with the goal of reaching an agreement. According to Ayalon:

Ami Ayalon (photo credit: aayalonKNESSET.GOV.IL)

"Israel should secure its identity as the democratic home for the Jewish people, most notably by encouraging the relocation of settlers who currently reside east of the security fence in the West Bank … advancement on the unilateral track will enable Israel to create a two-state reality by forming its borders around a Jewish majority. These measures will demonstrate that Israel genuinely seeks a two-state solution, thereby reducing the international cost to it for maintaining the status quo."

 

 

In its White Paper, BWF listed the following steps as necessary to accomplish such a goal:

  • Israel should consistently strive for a permanent agreement according to the principles of the Clinton parameters and other like-minded proposals, while pursuing an unconditional track, independent of any progress that may take place through negotiations.
  • Israel should refrain from building new settlements and from expanding existing settlements east of the separation barrier and in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Construction could continue in the settlement blocs and in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
  • Israel could consider transferring areas east of the barrier to Palestinian control in a gradual, monitored and supervised manner. [Note that this part requires coordination and therefore is optional].
  • Israel should enact a law that allows for voluntary evacuation, compensation and eventual absorption of settlers presently residing on the eastern side of the security barrier, to encourage settlers who wish to relocate within the green line or within settlement blocs, regardless of whether an agreement with the Palestinians is concluded.
  • Israel should prepare a national plan for the absorption of the settlers who would relocate to Israel proper, whether before or after an agreement is signed. Such a plan should have urban, vocational, social, psychological and other appropriate components. 


Israel's evacuation of Israeli settlers from the Gaza strip caused much internal turmoil.

This cuts to the heart of BWF's plea for a paradigm shift in viewing the use of unilateral action, which has historically been a catalyst for destabilization, proving to be destructive rather than constructive in its effect.  One of the most prominent examples of destructive unilateralism is of course Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and Northern Samaria in 2005, which ultimately led to the violent overthrow of the Fatah government in Gaza and Hamas's rise to power, which has since resulted in Israel's need to carry out three operations of self-defense against Hamas' rocket fire and terror-tunnels.

 

"Some 30 percent of the approximately 100,000 residents of settlements in the West Bank ... outside the major blocs would voluntarily evacuate even in the absence of an agreement with the Palestinians..."

In contrast to the above example, constructive unilateral action, as described in BWF's White Paper, is to be done gradually and with much sensitivity to Israel's own varying internal politics and ideologies regarding the settlements.  And while internal political chaos may be expected ensue in any future evacuation from settlements that will not remain in Israel in a peace deal, the prospect may just be more feasible than expected.  According to a survey carried out by BWF:

"Some 30 percent of the approximately 100,000 residents of settlements in the West Bank east of the security barrier and outside the major blocs would voluntarily evacuate even in the absence of an agreement with the Palestinians. Moreover, the study found that nearly half of those 100,000 settlers reported a willingness to voluntarily evacuate following a peace agreement, while 40 percent say they would not."

 

BWF believes that by implementing these constructive unilateral moves to bring about a two-state reality, Israel will be sending the following message:

  • To the international community – First and foremost, Israel may rebuild the trust that has been gravely damaged in the last few years, and will be relieved of political isolation.
  • To Palestinians – The message to the Palestinians will be twofold: first that Israel does not object to the concept of a Palestinian state, as it is taking steps to enable the establishment of such a state. However, by continuing construction in the settlement blocs Israel will also convey a message that it is preferable for all parties to return to negotiations, because the reality of two states might end up being such that the security fence will eventually become the border between the states. Moreover, the new paradigm may result in greater support by the international community for constructive unilateral steps taken by the Palestinians (see below).
  • To the Israeli public – The Israeli public will hear a clear message from its government concerning its support for a two-state solution. It will also be an integral part of the process as it will be asked to provide the relocating settlers with a social safety net that will facilitate their absorption. The national absorption plan will call on the Israeli public to assist the settlers and to view them as “missionaries” who have accomplished their mission, a mission they were requested to undertake by numerous and varied Israeli governments. It is hoped that such activity will begin to mend the rifts that have divided Israeli society around the issues of settlements and settlers for decades.
  • To Settlers – The settlers will understand that Israel does not intend to claim sovereignty in the areas east of the security barrier. They would thus start thinking about their own future. It is expected that many settlers will take advantage of the voluntary relocation and compensation law.

 

If, rather than promoting an approach of political isolation, the international community adopts BWF's paradigm of constructive unilateralism with Israel, it can help to support and facilitate the process, and play a key role in encouraging the Palestinians to take similar unilateral steps themselves the will hopefully bring Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to bilateral negotiations in a climate of good faith, with the ultimate goal of creating two states for two people.


 

 

Rivki Matan

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