This week, the Israel Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), headed by former Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Asher Yadlin, issued a new plan for confronting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The INSS plan is called “A Political-Security Framework for the Israeli-Palestinian Arena.”
In its introduction they state: “Although Israel has never been stronger and more secure, it today faces a severe external national security threat in the form of a one-state reality, which would perforce be either non-Jewish or non-democratic. However, the Israeli political system of recent years has failed to address this threat seriously.
“While the Israeli Right continues to lead Israel toward a one-state reality that threatens to destroy the Zionist dream of a Jewish democracy, the Left still believes that reaching peace is possible. However, the Palestinian parameters for agreement are clearly unacceptable to the vast majority of people in Israel, fall short of assuring sufficient security and demographic conditions, and fail to guarantee the end of the conflict.
“Thus, both of the traditional two paradigms are unrealistic, and the dichotomy between them is artificial… The main advantages of the INSS plan… is in its very essence: defining a clear strategic goal for Israel as a Jewish, democratic, secure, and just state, and arresting the slide toward a one-state reality. The second advantage is in its modular, flexible, and phased implementation strategy. This strategy can breach the current impasse in the political process and enjoy critical flexibility of maneuver between various alternatives, while suiting the ever-changing strategic environment.”
The INSS correctly assesses that with the current leadership in Israel and Palestine there is no possibility of bridging the gaps between them at this time on the fundamental core issues that must be agreed upon. There have not been any genuine Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations during the entire terms of the past two Netanyahu governments. There have also not been any Israeli political initiatives toward the Palestinians or initiatives aimed at setting a political border between Israel and Palestine.
During all this time Israeli settlements, not only in the settlement blocks, have been expanding. Israeli infrastructure for Israelis throughout the West Bank (roads, water and electricity networks) have also grown enormously. Proposals for annexation of most of the West Bank (area C, which equals 62% of the area) have taken root inside of Israel’s Right wing and have trickled down to the mainstream.
THE NON-JEWISH majority “between the river and the sea,” which is subject to Israeli control and domination, does not enjoy the benefits of Israel’s democracy, and thus Israel, under the continued right-wing Jewish religious population is destroying Israel’s own self-definition as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. The one-state reality is materializing before our eyes.
It is already questionable if there remains a viable two-states solution. It is difficult to find Palestinians who still believe in that solution, which most thinking Palestinians now call a political fiction. The facts on the ground since the signing of the Oslo agreements, of continued Israeli settlement building, expanded land expropriations, house demolitions, removal of Palestinians from area C, entrenching the Israeli occupation and control over the Palestinians, prove to the Palestinians that Israel never had a real intention of allowing them to have a state of their own.
Israelis who know the reality on the ground also have real difficulty imagining how a two-states solution could be feasible without the Palestinians agreeing to at least 10% of the West Bank being annexed to Israel, and east Jerusalem never being the capital of Palestine. Under the current reality, and in the absence of any clear Israeli peace initiative, there is no acceptable starting point for entering into negotiations.
These were the issues that the INSS team of military and security experts placed on the table when they confronted Israel’s strategic options. The continuation of the status quo, which is not static but all the time moving toward annexation, essentially means that Israel either becomes non-democratic, apartheid-like, or it no longer can claim to be the nation-state of the Jewish people. If at the current time, with the current leaderships, there is no possibility of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, does it mean that Israel cannot take actions to improve the situation on the ground, create better conditions to facilitate possible genuine negotiations in the future, and to prevent the horrendous effects of annexation?
The lessons from the strategic negative impacts of previous Israeli unilateralism, both in the withdrawal from Lebanon and from Gaza, have been learned. And so the question addressed is how to achieve a better result for Israel without handing territories over to the possibility of becoming areas for attacking Israel? The central element for mitigating the risks of Israeli withdrawal, according to the INSS, is to define a political border, which is not permanent; declare that the permanent border will be negotiated between the two states in the future; and to keep full Israeli military control of the Jordan Valley and freedom of military action within the entire area under Palestinian control for countering terrorism.
THE OTHER central element of the mitigation of risks is to continue to coordinate security with the Palestinian security forces, even to enhance that coordination and to take steps for enlarging Palestinian territorial assets with contiguity, without Israeli settlements inhibiting free movement, and without Israeli checkpoints in and around Palestinian cities. These steps, according to the INSS plan, would increase the chances for a functioning governable Palestinian state in the future.
The INSS also went beyond the regular separation paradigm of “Us here and them there,” recognizing that cross-border Israeli Palestinian cooperation in all fields – economic and others – would be mutually beneficial and could help to create the environment which would enable future negotiations. The INSS plan overcomes the Israeli habit of calling for divorce and hopefully recognizes that: 1) there was never a marriage, and 2) eventual peace is not built by walls and fences but rather by bridges of understanding and cooperation. The plan calls to “demonstrate Israel’s intention to promote political and territorial separation from the Palestinians and promote conditions for a two-state reality, thus improving Israel’s strategic position even without bilateral political progress.”
While the plan does not undertake enough emphasis for rebuilding Israeli-Palestinian partnerships – something that an institute like INSS could play a very positive role in doing – this is the best option for Israel under a government led by the Right wing, yet cautious enough not to completely cave in to the demands of the Israeli settler’s movements. A more left-leaning government could do a lot more to create a more positive climate for genuine negotiations that would have to include dealing with Jerusalem, Gaza, refugees and a swap of territories with much broader cross-border cooperation in everything from water, energy and the environment to security.
Renewing genuine negotiations, even with the current Fatah-led leadership, would not be impossible, but it would also demand Israeli initiative and demonstration of real intentions to create a viable two-states solution based on rebuilding partnerships of real cross-border cooperation. Giving a significant push to Palestinian economic development and seriously improving the lives of Palestinians on the ground by enabling more freedom is largely in Israel’s hands. New positive initiatives by serious people, like those in the INSS, are most welcome.
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.