Top Israeli Think Tank: If Talks Fail, Israel Should Withdraw From 85% of West Bank

Former MI chief Amos Yadlin says unilateral action preferable to status quo.

The country’s leading strategic think tank recommended on Tuesday that if the diplomatic process with Palestinians fails, Israel unilaterally withdrawal from 85 percent of the West Bank - between the security barrier and the Jordan Valley.

The Institute for National Security Studies, headed by former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, urged that in such a move, Israel retain the large settlement blocs, the area known as the Ben-Gurion Airport corridor (for the purpose of thwarting potential Palestinian rocket attacks on planes), and keep military control over the Jordan Valley.

The INSS maintained that in the event of the peace talks’ failure, Israel should carry out the withdrawal plan even in the face of Palestinian opposition, while seeking out the support of the United States and major European countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

“We prefer this process over remaining with the status quo,” said Yadlin. “It is true that unilateral action has a bad image because of the withdrawal from Lebanon and the withdrawal from Gaza. Still, if there is anyone who would like to go back into southern Lebanon, let him raise his hand, please.” The recommendation was made as part of the INSS’s annual strategic assessment.

“Security should be preserved by the army, and the Jordan Valley needs to remain in the army’s possession. The line that Israel will draw as the border will be the separation barrier and the Jordan Valley,” Yadlin said, adding that in his view, the most important issue was not the eastern border and the Jordan Valley region, but the future western one, which would have to provide protection to Highway 6 and Israel’s home front.

Turning to the world powers’ agreement with Iran, Yadlin said the final agreement needed to keep Iran years, rather than several months, away from reaching a nuclear bomb. “Iran is three to nine months away from the moment it decides that it wants a nuclear bomb to reaching one,” he said.

He outlined three scenarios expected to take place in the near future: the failure of the talks between the world powers and Iran; an extension of the interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by six months and a “bad deal” for Israel regarding Iran; or a final agreement with Iran that would be acceptable to Israel.

“Israel can protect its interests (on the Palestinian issue), but it must be more flexible [regarding the peace process], and that way we will also have the ability to be firmer on the Iranian subject and get the United States on board,” Yadlin said. “I am the last to accept the assertion that all the other problems will be solved if we settle the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but moving forward will help us promote our interests on the Iranian issue.” INSS officials also said that Israel was facing two key issues: the U.S.’s policy regarding the Middle East and the continued upheavals in the Arab world.

According to the institute’s strategic assessment regarding Syria, implementation of the international plan to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons is vital. If Assad’s regime should survive, “Israel must continue considering military operations to strike at strategic arms in Syria to prevent them from being transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon or from falling into the hands of jihadists in Syria itself,” the assessment held. The INSS noted that Syria would continue suffering from instability, which would have significance for Israel as well, particularly in the area of its border with Syria, meanwhile causing problems for Jordan, too, since the Syrian crisis could spill over into the Hashemite kingdom, causing internal shocks.

Regarding Israel’s talks with the Palestinians, the institute maintains that moving forward will improve Israel’s security cooperation in the region, besides the peace process’s obvious significance for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Institute officials believe this can be done via negotiations toward a permanent agreement or a transitional agreement, or by unilateral withdrawal.

Yadlin also pointed out positive things about the regional balance of power. Israel’s borders are almost completely quiet, with deterrence proving effective with the neighboring countries and also with terrorist groups based in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. He also noted that the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan have held, as have relations between Israel and the United States, noting the annual $3 billion in security assistance, encouragement of the army in fields such as anti-ballistic defense, and support of systems such as Iron Dome that Israel receives from the United States.

“In 2013, Israel proved that it is the strongest military, intelligence and operational power in the Middle East, and its deterrence was very strong,” Yadlin said. “Despite the actions that were attributed to Israel, calm was maintained,” he said, seemingly referring to reported Israeli air strikes on Syrian weapons caches possibly meant for Hezbollah.

Yadlin saw a point of light in how Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting in Syria affects its legitimacy. “Hezbollah is sending its best fighters to Syria, so it is less available to fight against Israel. Hezbollah has lost its status and legitimacy on the Arab street and in Lebanese society. Once seen as Lebanon’s protector, Hezbollah is seen today as a group that participates, together with Assad, in the massacre of tens of thousands of Sunnis in Syria.”

AP
Alon Ron