(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)
Within the next five years, expect Israel to begin to unilaterally disengage from the West Bank.
There is rarely an audience at a college, synagogue, or organization that I speak to that doesn’t at some level believe if only Israel would withdraw from the West Bank and ended its “siege” of Gaza, the root cause of the conflict would end, with a two-state solution just around the corner. Many have absorbed a politicized view of international law regarding the conflict that says Israel has no legal rights for settlement beyond the Green Line. Its military presence is at best problematic, and at worst is a war crime. I often hear that it contradicts our Jewish values to “occupy” and control another people.
Shlomi Eldar of Israeli TV, writing in Al Monitor asks the question, “Why hasn’t Israel lifted the Gaza blockade… even Naftali Bennett the most right wing member of (the government) has reached this conclusion.” To many harsh critics of Israel in the EU, UN, and on college campuses, Gaza’s Islamist totalitarian government is viewed as a social movement providing humanitarian benefits, as is Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Being one of those who favor a security-based two state solution that includes an ironclad end-of-conflict resolution and a demilitarized Palestinian state, I sometimes try to imagine what would happen if Israel left the West Bank and ended its security arrangements around Gaza.
A friend of mine often tells me that once Israel withdraws from Judea and Samaria with American backing, if terrorism returns, the whole world, whose only grievance with Israel is the occupation, would defend an unconditional Israeli military response. He told me it would be different this time, different from Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, when the exact same line of reasoning evaporated in the desert sun, when Israel’s response to rocket fire targeting its civilians was booed in many quarters, rather than being accepted as legitimate self-defense.
Conveniently forgotten is that the borders of Gaza were open after the 2005 withdrawal, and it could have become a Dubai on the Mediterranean with billions in foreign investment, if only the Palestinians choose economic freedom over eliminationist ideology. The choice was simple from a Western perspective, accept a Jewish State living side by side in peace, and benefit from the mutual economic cooperation. When it all quickly fell apart, instead of realizing that it was not about territory but Islamist ideology, critics managed to blame Israel for the Palestinian’s rejection of the open door to prosperity that was presented to them by saying they hadn’t coordinated their leaving in just the right way with the PA.
So let’s return to what would happen if Israel, under American and worldwide pressure, were to decide to try to disengage from the West Bank. Proponents say everyone knows the outlines of a future Palestinian State, except for the inconvenient fact that those “Clinton” borders are totally unacceptable to today’s Palestinian leadership and society.
Lets say that the EU, UN and America demand a settlement where Israel is forced to withdraw from 98% of the West Bank, and compensates the PA with a 2 % land swap. The overwhelming majority of the Palestinian population in poll after poll not only believe Israel has no right to the 2%, but has no right to any land within the Green line! So will the promises of support for Israel, if it needs to respond to future Palestinian terror from the new Palestinian state materialize from these international organizations? Not a chance. “Resistance,” i.e. terrorism, will again be rationalized in the name of the years of “oppression,” just as the same voices condoned the terrorism of the 1990’s after the Oslo accords were signed. Withdrawal advocates have amnesia about the Palestinian Authority, which directed the terrorism while it was negotiating with Israel during the Clinton years.
Israel will be told to give up one thing after another for peace and ignore the terrorism as history’s punishment for the years of occupation and humiliation. But the first dead Palestinian child who is used as a human shield, or is lost as collateral damage will bring an outpouring of condemnation against the Israeli bullies.
The Europeans lead by the Swedes, French, and Irish will rail that the imposed demilitarization of the new Palestinian State is morally wrong, that every nation must have a right to defend itself. Can Palestinian tanks and fighter jets be far behind? But relax; the PA will collapse long before that is possible with Hamastan or Islamic State taking control. Of course the world will blame Israel for waiting too long to negotiate. There is a reason the PA sometimes does work with Israel fighting the current Intifada. They know that an Israeli withdrawal from all of the territory will lead to their immediate downfall, with jihadists throwing Fatah members from 10 story buildings as they did in Gaza in 2005.
But let’s say a demanding President Trump, or a President Hillary Clinton with her personal Middle East envoy President Bill Clinton, convince the PA to accept the Clinton or Olmert parameters to end the conflict.
Will the Palestinians accept it and mean it? Will either President be able to convince the Muslim world to accept two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, as outlined in UNGA Resolution 181, written at the time of the birth of the Jewish state and the infamy of the Palestinian Nakba, the catastrophe of the birth of the illegitimate Jewish state.
Any internationally forced resolution will of course be accompanied by international guarantees in writing and international troops on the ground. All one needs to do is to look at the betrayal of the Ukrainians by these same Western powers, who promised them that if they gave up their nuclear weapons, their territorial integrity would be guaranteed. How well did that work out for the Ukrainians? As for international troops, just look over the northern border into Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, where the promise of an international force in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War to stop the resupply of Hezbollah missiles yielded the clandestine transfer of over 100,000 missiles into Lebanon, and ZERO missiles being intercepted by the international force.
So what is likely to happen in the next five years? I believe that Israel will again act unilaterally. In Gaza, it will almost certainly lift many of the current security requirements surrounding Gaza; most likely as payment to the Turks for diplomatic relations, while satisfying the Turkish desire to be part of the distribution of Israeli gas from the Mediterranean natural gas fields.
As for the West Bank, former military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin of the Institute for National Security Studies recommends a unilateral disengagement from 85 percent of the West Bank, if diplomacy fails.
“Security should be preserved by the army, and the Jordan Valley needs to remain in the army’s possession.”
This would have strong support from many Israelis, from the center, center-left and center-right.
However with IS on the southern Golan, on the Iraqi-Jordanian border, with radical sleeper jihadist cells in Gaza, Jordan and the West Bank, and the IS jihadist message in the Muslims homes worldwide through the Internet, the foundational premise for a stable Palestinian State seems to be teetering on quicksand.
Do you know who doesn’t want Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza? It’s the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and much of the Gulf states who fear an IS takeover in the Levant. IS already works with Hamas in the Sinai, proving that the radical jihadists of IS are just a different shade of Muslim Brotherhood Islamism. Remember that Hamas is child of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group whose long-term goals are the same as IS, but whom the Obama administration touted as a force for “moderate Islamism.”
Where are their mea culpas for that dead-wrong analysis? By the way, destroying IS won’t rid the world of violent radical Islamism, as it lives independently of IS in Iran, al Qaeda, and in various forms through many parts of the Muslim world.
But the most likely immediate result of an Israeli withdrawal, coordinated, imposed, or negotiated, is the collapse of the PA, seen by the Palestinian people as corrupt and illegitimate. Palestinians polls of Palestinians bear this out. Into this void will most likely come Hamas, déjà vu of the Israeli disengagement of 2005 from Gaza. Now instead of Sderot, a marginalized small town that most Israelis ignored in the aftermath of the 2005 withdrawal, the small town in Katyusha range of Hamastan on the West Bank will be Tel Aviv, where 80% of Israelis live.
A new version of Operation Defensive Shield will follow, followed by worldwide condemnation, sanctions, boycotts, and delegitimization. It will act as an accelerant for the BDS movement in Europe, and on college campuses. Our “friends” in Europe, whether leftists or anti-Semites, will lead the charge. Just listen to the current Swedish Foreign Minister, and the British Labor leader. They seem happy to throw Israel under the bus, perhaps as a scapegoat to atone for the age of European imperialism.
So what to do? My friends tell me the status quo is unsustainable. The occupation will bring the BDS movement into the mainstream of America over time.
Americans relate to Israel on shared values, and the occupation is undermining the long-term American commitment to Israel. They don’t know that the 3 billion per year American investment in Israel returns more vital intelligence and saved more American soldier lives than all of NATO combined.
If I were to council the next American President, I would recommend the following:
• Announce that American stands with the one and only democracy in the region, Israel, which is essential for American national security
• Publicly place the onus for the failure of a two-state solution primarily with the Palestinians who have repeatedly refused to sign an end-of -conflict resolution, or accept a Jewish state, as evidenced by their rejection of the Clinton and Olmert offers
• I would recommend that America stop considering the Palestinians victims, as much of their struggles are self-imposed, choosing ideology over economic independence
• Unless the Palestinians agree in advance to sign an end-of-conflict resolution with a demilitarized state, America will publicly state that it won’t push for anything more than a more sustainable ceasefire and ground-up economic development
• Ask Israel as a gesture and to affirm its rule of law, to uproot all illegal settlement outposts
• Israel as a gesture for the future time when the Palestinians are ready for a final deal, should limit their building over the Green line to the environs of the major settlement blocks
• Make clear that with ISIS just over the Jordan, Israel must for the foreseeable future control the security of the Jordan River Valley
• Demand transparency, an uncorrupt Palestine government ending incitement, and a preparation of Palestinians for their share of painful compromises.
Realistic? Actually yes! One of the reasons the peace process has failed is that almost nothing is ever asked of the Palestinians, and worse, no consequences are imposed for their rejection of every deal that allows Israel to exist. They need to see sticks as well as carrots to prompt them to come to the table and do more than take what they can and then walk out, as they have every single time so far.
Speaking frankly to the Palestinians, working with the Sunni Gulf states, Egypt, and Turkey to accept a reasonable security deal for Israel, and getting rid of UNWRA’s definition of Palestinian refugees, a lethal poison pill for Israel, would be the beginning of the road to a two-state solution.
The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™) and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.