With the victory of Hamas and the recognition that Israel and the Palestinians have both consistently failed to meet their obligations, it is more than reasonable to declare that the Oslo Accords and the road map are no longer relevant to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It seems equally reasonable that Israel and the PA will not be able to continue any constructive negotiations at any time in the foreseeable future. It is also reasonable to state that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not go away – in fact, it will become worse. Any temporary cease-fire may be positive, but it would also create a delay in dealing with the problem and would not make that easier in the future. With Kadima continuing to lead in the polls, it seems reasonable to assume that Israel is likely to engage in additional unilateral withdrawals.
It is reasonable to predict it will remove all settlements east of the separation barrier. Unlike the Gaza withdrawal, most of the settlers to the east of the barrier would probably move west voluntarily. Being suddenly located east of the barrier, coupled with the offer of significant financial incentives, would bring some two-thirds of those settlers westward. Only later would the government have to call in the troops to remove the more hard-line settlers who refuse to move on their own.
SIMILAR TO the Gaza withdrawal, Israel’s unilateralism would not gain any real positive trade-offs vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Israel could only win big from the international community. The next phase of disengagement is most likely to be similar to the Jenin area disengagement and not the Gaza one – in other words, Israel will not turn vacated territory over to Hamas. With the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in control, Israeli withdrawals and settlement removal will most likely leave the IDF in various strategic locations with the capability of conducting operations inside Palestinian areas. With the only Israeli presence beyond the security barrier being a military one, Palestinian forces will view the IDF as a legitimate target for “resistance” military actions – which could lead to continuous rounds of escalation – even with a hudna vis-a-vis Israel proper. Much of the international community will also view these attacks as legitimate, as Israel will be seen much more as a classic military occupier. It is completely reasonable to expect that a war of attrition against the IDF would ensue, looking sadly familiar to Israel’s last years in southern Lebanon. Israel would gain strategically from removing the settlements, but lose strategically in a significant way by leaving the army behind. With Israeli soldiers likely to be killed every day, this would not be sustainable over time. BASED ON the reasonable assumptions above and in the interest of saving lives, it is time to admit that Israel and the Palestinians do not have the tools or ability to resolve, or even manage, the conflict by themselves.
We need help, and the international community is the address to provide that help. Here is what I believe can be a reasonable solution: Israel unilaterally withdraws behind the security barrier including all settlements east of the barrier, leaving about 90 percent of the West Bank beyond the security barrier. The withdrawal takes place over two to three years. Israel turns to the Security Council and requests that the UN take responsibility for the areas from which Israel withdraws. Once an area is withdrawn from, the territory gets turned over to a UN Interim Administration Mission (similar to the East Timor model which led to independence there). The Security Council creates a UN Interim Administration Mission with a four-year timetable. Its main task: to prepare the Palestinian territories for independence. The mission would include a military arm taking physical control of the areas from which Israel withdraws. It would also maintain a strong military presence along the Jordan River, as well as manning all of the crossing points into Israel from the Palestinian side. Also having a policing function, the mission would work directly with the Palestinian security forces, which would be unified under a single command. The mission would oversee and support the work of the Palestinian police in maintaining law and order, and by providing technical and physical assistance to the Palestinian police. The Mission would also have a financialgovernance component undertaking several major infrastructure projects, such as supervising the construction of the physical link between the West Bank and Gaza, the construction of electricity, water and other infrastructure projects, ending the full dependence of the Palestinians on Israel. It would also be the recipient of international aid, administering that aid for the benefit of the Palestinian people. The remaining permanent-status issues (final borders, Jerusalem, refugees) would not be dealt with until the last year of the UN Interim Administration mission, as the mission would not be in the position to replace Palestinian negotiators; however, if conditions arose in which such negotiations were possible earlier, the mission would request that the Security Council convene in order to determine the best way to conduct them. With the establishment of the UN Interim Administration Mission, future control of the political process would be in the hands of the UN Security Council (to be expected as a reasonable international demand in exchange for its coming to the rescue).
While this initiative ought to be launched and presented to the Security Council by Israel, it is essential that the Palestinian people back it. A referendum ought therefore to be held among the Palestinians, mandated by the UN Resolution that would serve as the source of authority for implementing the UN Interim Administration Mission.
THERE ARE clear advantages for Israel in this plan. Its implementation would enable Israel to conduct a secure and safe withdrawal and redeployment. Direct responsibility for the welfare of the Palestinians in the West Bank would be legally transferred from Israel to the international community. Financial management and governance of the territories would be essentially transferred from Hamas to the international community.
Major economic development and infrastructure projects would enable much less Palestinian dependence on Israel. The PA’s borders with Israel (in the West Bank) would be secured by international troops on the Palestinian side, and not Palestinian forces.
There are also some risks. Losing its physical presence east of the security barrier, Israel would be completely limited in what it could do inside the territories controlled by the international forces.
Israel would lose its control over the eastern border with Jordan. It would have to agree to several major infrastructure projects that rely on Israeli assistance to work – for example, the West Bank-Gaza crossing. Israel would have to agree to a formula for negotiations on permanent status that it will not control.
Disadvantages for the Palestinians would include the fact of the PA government being less independent and having to work in accordance with an international administration. Permanent status negotiations would be put off for at least three years. But on the positive side for the Palestinians, Israel would continue to withdraw, and to move settlements behind the security barrier. Palestine would reach independence in four years. International engagement would create greater stability and more chances for economic growth and prosperity.
The Israeli occupation would essentially end and the Palestinian problem finally would be internationalized. Foreign troops on the ground would impede any Israeli incursions or military action in the territories. Over time, Palestinian dependence on Israel would be significantly lessened.
This is not the perfect solution. The best one would involve a negotiated process between the two sides, but that is simply not feasible.
Given that, internationalization of the solution is perhaps the best way to ensure that we do not lose the two-state option, which is so vital to Israel’s national security needs and is also in the interest of the Palestinians.
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.