Opinion

Netanyahu Just Set the New Starting Point for Future Israeli-Palestinian Talks

Tamir Pardo
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Trump and Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020Credit: AFP
Tamir Pardo

The United States, in its efforts to broker peace in the Middle-East, joined forces with Israel and left the Palestinians out of the festivities. Analyzing the chances of success of the White House's one-sided peace plan is hardly worth the effort – but we should not overlook the momentous character of the occasion. This is a historic step, one which neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his predecessors dared to take since the 1949 Armistice Agreements.

In 1967, I was in eighth grade. Up until the Six-Day War, in every social studies lesson, we drew a map of Israel showing its borders, cities and villages. Once the war ended, we stopped: We had become the only state in the world with undefined borders.

Netanyahu's 'annexation nation' is ready to strike again. ListenCredit: Haaretz Weekly Ep. 60

The Israeli government declared all the territories that were added in wake of this defensive war “held territories.” Others viewed them as “occupied territories.” With the exception of Jerusalem and, later, the Golan Heights, to which Israel applied its sovereignty, all the rest have remained “held territories” to this day.

For 53 years, 13 of them with Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm, the Israeli leadership has refrained from applying Israeli sovereignty to the territories of the West Bank, arguing that it would then become a benchmark for future talks, which would see Israel compelled to make further territorial compromises. This made both settlement expansion, and the containment of controversial moves by settler groups, possible.

The Israeli barrier running along the East Jerusalem refugee camp of Shoafat (L) as the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah is seen on the right, February 15, 2017Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

And then, lo and behold, on January 28, 2020, an Israeli prime minister agreed to define the eastern border, to transfer 70 percent of the West Bank and 14 percent of sovereign Israeli territory to a future Palestinian state, and to making the West Bank and Gaza into a single political entity. History could remember Benjamin Netanyahu as the statesman that set a starting point for negotiations.

When the plan is brought to the cabinet for a vote, the ministers will be asked to accept it as a single unit, a package deal. They will be asked to swallow both "sticks" and "carrots," and swallow them whole. On one hand, there will have to concede a majority of the "held" territory, to establish a Palestinian state with a capital on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and give up sovereign territory in the Negev, and more. On the other, their appetite will be wetted by the prospect of annexing the remaining territory, gaining sovereignty over most of Jerusalem, creating elaborate security arrangements and so on.

The part of the proposal that gives the Palestinians four years to negotiate is a fool’s trap laid out for the annexation devotees, so they’ll embrace the plan in the hope that the Palestinians will refuse. Israel could then exert its sovereignty over the entire West Bank and complete the process of transforming Jewish and democratic Israel into one state for two peoples. We'll have plenty of territory then, but not much in the way of a Zionist national identity.

What is the imperative, then, of immediate annexation, liable to cause major unrest, undermine our relations with Jordan and possibly even put a stop to the trend of improved relations with the Arab world? Israel already controls the entire area, and no one is truly challenging this situation.

Harming Jordan's stability, a major Israeli strategic interest, and our peace treaty and security cooperation with the Hashemite kingdom, should be enough to curb the rush. Applying Israeli law to the Jordan Valley would place the Jordanian royal family in an impossible position and threaten the regime’s capacity to survive. The collapse of the ruling authority in Jordan would bring the Iranian threat right to our doorstep – and we would only have ourselves to blame. Only strategic blindness could account for such disregard for danger.

Despite the basic impossibility of its implementation, the plan does set two dangerous precedents. The first, an extraordinary combination of risk and foolishness, is the possibility of territorial exchanges in the Triangle. For decades, Israel’s Arab citizens have integrated in Israeli society and proven their loyalty even in times of conflict and crisis. What is a young man from the Triangle supposed to do when compelled to decide whom to be loyal to: To Israel where he was born and raised, and where he sees his future and his children’s future, or to a Palestinian entity Israel forces upon him? This dilemma is not only morally reprehensible, it is irresponsible. And if not immediately corrected, it will cause irreversible security damage.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu during a tour of the Jordan Valley, West Bank, June 2, 2011Credit: Daniel Bar On

The second precedent is the willingness to turn two groups of Israeli communities, home to thousands of people, into isolated enclaves within the territory designated for the Palestinian state. One group includes the 15 West Bank settlements located east of the security barrier. The second group includes communities west of the Green Line, which the ludicrous idea of “concession” of the Triangle communities would also isolate within Palestinian territory. Normal life for both groups would become untenable and the task of protecting them would be a security nightmare.

We cannot sit back and accept a situation in which one man alone decides on an agreement that is supposed to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that will in fact likely exacerbate and perpetuate it.

The agreement and the dangerous interim steps of unilateral annexation must not only be thoroughly scrutinized by Israel's institutions, but also be the subject of a discussion in the cabinet, and to a national debate. It must be brought to the Knesset, or to the country as whole for approval.

Taking any shortcuts, skipping any stage of study for the implications of such a far-reaching move, clearly endangers Israel’s interests. We will pay the price of this haste for many years to come

Tamir Pardo is a former Mossad chief and a member of Commanders for Israel’s Security

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