The Alternative to Paralysis

Daniel Levy
Daniel Levy
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Daniel Levy
Daniel Levy

If Tzipi Livni becomes Israel's next prime minister, she will bring to that office a belief in the urgency of reaching an extensive, two-state solution with the Palestinians. This in itself distinguishes Livni from her two main rivals. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu disputes the very framework of two viable, independent states, while Labor leader Ehud Barak parts ways on how pressing the need is to get there.

Livni will inherit the Annapolis peace process - and that is where her problems begin. Annapolis is constructed on a flawed logical edifice; it is broken. But because Livni is heavily invested in these latest peace talks, she may not recognize their shortcomings, and her inclination will be to continue on this path.

She is also unlikely to view favorably the other options available - to maintain the status quo or return to unilateralism. The reasons for rejecting the status quo are obvious: The ongoing occupation undermines Israel's interests and its future, and is unsustainable. The issue of unilateralism - and rest assured that it will be revived - is more complex. Unilateralism has become deeply unpopular, a hard public sell, and for good reason. But consider this scenario: Talks with the Palestinians are stuck or they unravel, the threat of a unified Palestinian call for a one-state solution looms, Israel needs to act and wants to do so on terms that it alone dictates. Welcome back, unilateralism.

The current panic being spread about the danger of a one-state campaign may even, in part, be designed to pave the way for unilateralism's return. The Reut Institute has gone so far as to circulate a plan in which Israel attempts to impose a Palestinian state with provisional borders in part of the West Bank. Livni instinctively opposes such unilateralism, and these plans are indeed a very bad idea. Palestinian opposition is almost guaranteed, prospects for sustainability are low, broad international support is unlikely, and Reut's own authors, demonstrating intellectual integrity, acknowledge that their plan could approximate the unsuccessful (and ugly) South African Bantustan model.

Does that mean the Annapolis process is Livni's only option? Livni, her chief negotiators, and their Palestinian counterparts are serious, they are discussing real substance and even making progress, but they will not succeed. The approach itself is flawed.

The Palestinian interlocutor now lacks the internal legitimacy to either cut or sell a deal. Israeli talk of strengthening the partner only makes that partner appear weaker and more beholden, especially when set against a reality of expanding settlements, entrenched closure and restrictions on freedom of movement, as well as a domestic perception that the PA is beginning to resemble an Israeli security subcontractor. Israeli officials openly declared that any agreement reached would in any event not be implemented without preconditions being met that are wholly unattainable. Many in Fatah, let alone Hamas, are revolting against this paradigm.

So is Livni doomed to a premiership of paralysis? Not necessarily. There is an alternative - let's call it the "Livni Initiative."

It can be considered an Israeli response to the Arab League peace initiative and would lay out a new challenge of its own. Under the Livni Initiative, Israel would announce its readiness to withdraw to borders based on the 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem, to evacuate settlements accordingly, and definitively end the occupation. The Initiative would move beyond the vague language of "painful concessions" and "two states," and be explicit, including a commitment to actually implement "de-occupation" according to a proposed timetable. Israel would call for reciprocal, one-to-one minor modifications to the '67 line (to incorporate a majority of settlers), special arrangements for Jerusalem's Old City, and reasonable security modalities (not a wish list that empties the future Palestine of its sovereign status), and while displaying understanding for the plight of Palestinian refugees, Israel would insist on an international rehabilitation and compensation program in which practical resettlement is focused outside of Israel and in particular in the new Palestinian state.

There would be no single recipient address for the Initiative. Israel would set the gauntlet down before the Palestinians, the U.S., Arab states, the Middle East Quartet, and the entire international community. Israel would not dictate nor wield a veto over the identity of the partner, only stipulate that an acceptable response is required on three levels: one, an empowered and legitimized counterpart with whom to define and delineate the exact final border and arrangements for Jerusalem; two, a detailed implementation plan to address Israel's legitimate security concerns and to provide a predictability of security and governance outcome in the de-occupied area; three, recognition of the legitimacy and finality of the outcome.

An effective response would probably entail overlapping alliances of a variety of actors. A reconstituted PLO agreed upon by Fatah and Hamas could be a major factor, the Arab League might address key elements, as could the United Nations and even the European Union, and some components would require heavy U.S. lifting. Such an offer would probably trigger keen debate among Palestinians and their political leaders in Gaza, the West Bank and beyond, but even absent that, Arab parties or the UN could temporarily fill the void and, along with others, be part of both solutions on the ground and a legitimacy-granting process.

And Israel of course would have to accept a reasonable yes as an answer.

The Livni Initiative would serve one additional and important goal: It would prove that Israel can still display bold and courageous leadership despite its dysfunctional and increasingly discredited political system. Over to you, Tzipi.

Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New America and Century Foundations, was previously an adviser in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative.