Gershon Baskin thinks that by taking the initiative of creating the international interim governing authority in Palestine, Israel can ensure the orderly takeover of control of territories from which it seeks to withdraw.
Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party will pay lip-service to the idea of a negotiated process with the Palestinians for the next 6-12 months. During that time, the IDF strategic planning department will prepare detailed plans and maps for Israel’s proposed final borders that Olmert will try to negotiate with the United States. Even if Olmert does not receive the full backing of President George W. Bush for his unilateral definition of Israel’s borders, the new government of Israel will commence the implementation of the convergence plan that removes Israeli settlements from positions east of the separation barrier.
Palestinians will never agree to Israeli unilateralism, but they will also not oppose Israeli withdrawals and settlement removals. It seems quite likely that the Israeli decision to move forward with unilateralism will be based on the continued inability of the Palestinian Authority, whether the Hamas-led government or the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, to govern. As rivalries continue between the two main ruling elites there and chaos continues to reign, Palestinian public suffering and despair will increase. The almost complete lack of law and order in the Palestinian areas will likely produce an increase in violence, both internally and externally toward Israel.
Israel will want to pursue its unilateral withdrawal policy with vigor, but the question of who controls the territories east of the separation barrier will present Israel with dilemmas that it is incapable of answering alone. The possible humanitarian crises that would emerge from a collapse of Palestinian governance and financial bankruptcy will force the Palestinian issue back to the realm of the international community’s direct responsibility. Israel will be at a great disadvantage if the international community’s response is one of managing an acute crisis situation rather than seeking, from the outset, a planned course for direct international involvement.
Israel is determined to bring about a two-state solution, even if there is no immediate partner on the Palestinian side to accept its pre-determined borders for the Palestinian state. Israel is resolved to relinquish its direct control over the occupied territories and seek recognition from the international community that the occupation is over. In doing so, Israel should seek the agreement of the international community to temporarily take charge of those territories and properly prepare the area for full Palestinian sovereignty and control. An Israeli initiative for the international community to create a 3-5 year temporary interim governing authority over all of the areas that Israel withdraws from could properly delineate the path for a negotiated end of the occupation through the assistance of the international community.
As in East Timor, the interim international governing authority would prepare Palestine for an end to Israeli occupation and real independence for the Palestinian people. If the creation of such an authority is based on a UN Security Council resolution, it could also be predicated on a Palestinian referendum that would extend greater public legitimacy to the plan. Israel could play an active role in helping to determine the make-up and mandate of the international governing authority as long as it takes the initiative leading to its creation.
Israel, which has been more than reluctant to internationalize the conflict, would be well advised to see in this suggestion the internationalization of the resolution of the conflict rather than of the conflict itself. A two-state resolution of the conflict requires two sides to make it real and lasting. The basic guiding principle of Olmert’s unilateralism has been that there is, in the Israeli assessment, no effective and responsible Palestinian partner, hence Israel should not wait until such a partner comes to be. But along with this philosophy will likely come the realization that even unilateralism has limits. In the absence of a Palestinian partner it would be wise to have a responsible internationally sanctioned body on the other side helping to ensure that the Palestinian state emerges as part of a process that Israel can support rather than as a default from widespread chaos and violence.
By taking the initiative of creating the international interim governing authority in Palestine, Israel can ensure the orderly takeover of control of territories from which it seeks to withdraw. Israel will be voluntarily limiting its ability to take military initiatives in those areas, which is clearly a risk, but it will also ensure that there is a body to which political and military recourse can be addressed.
The Israeli convergence plan would probably have to be more extended than anticipated as a solely unilateral exercise, bringing Israel even closer to the green line. But once again, as Israel has already determined that it is in its interest to create the two-state solution, it would be wiser to make those decisions as part of a process that probably generates a de-escalation of violence and creates a more responsible and effective Palestinian governance.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.