Unilateral Withdrawal, by Consent

Cautious, incremental unilateral actions by Israel will pave the way for a two-state solution.

Gilead Sher
Gilead Sher
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Gilead Sher
Gilead Sher

Retired army officers and politicians have criticized the “land for peace” idea in general and unilateral action in particular. For example, in an opinion published in Haaretz on June 5, Moshe Arens argued, “Israeli leadership suffers from unilateral withdrawal syndrome."

The strategy of unilateral withdrawal combined with the “land for peace” paradigm has been used time and again despite the harm it has caused Israel, Arens argued.

But what is the alternative?

Last week, an exhibition of work by Israeli artist Larry Abramson called "1967" opened at the Gordon Gallery in Tel Aviv. Death notices of soldiers that fell during the Six Day War peer out from paint-smeared editions of Haaretz from the time. Alongside the death notices are headlines, such as “IDF Powerfully Strikes Arab Aggressor,” and ads calling for the annexation of the territories.

The exhibition leaves the impression that the 45 years since the Six Day War have brought us no closer to fulfilling the Zionist dream of a nation-state founded on the principles of equality and democracy. In the seventh decade since its establishment, Israel has neither recognized borders nor a constitution, both of which are vital to ensuring its identity as a Zionist and democratic state for the Jewish people.

The lack of recognized borders seeps like poison into all areas of our lives. The demographic situation developing west of the Jordan River is endangering our national identity and our internal solidarity, which have been fundamental to Israel since the first days of its existence. Our status in the international community has been eroded as well.

Even as we work to resume diplomatic talks and make the best possible use of them, Israel’s interests obligate us to implement a policy independently, on our own initiative. Such a policy needs to be coordinated well and in advance, with the international community, as a principal part of preparations for a two-state solution. Today, the fact that negotiations are stalled entitles extremists on either side to prevent the fulfillment of Israel’s purpose as a democratic state and a homeland for the Jewish people.

Despite the slogans against “unilateralism,” there is room for well-considered, controlled unilateral actions. Such actions, which are not dependent on the standing of negotiations, can mitigate the conflict by creating an evolving reality of two states. They should take place along with consistent efforts to negotiate a permanent arrangement, or at least diplomatic agreements that would ultimately result in a permanent arrangement.

One important unilateral action that could be taken is to prepare a national plan for absorbing residents who would return to live within the recognized borders of the State of Israel, with or without an agreement. This should be done regardless of other factors, such as the date of an agreement with the Palestinians.

Settlers who wish to move within recognized borders before an agreement is reached should be allowed to do so, with appropriate compensation. This is Israel’s moral duty to its citizens, who were once asked to settle in Judea and Samaria.

A law passed to this effect would also address all the more particular issues of resettlement, such as the issue of compensation for any residents of Givat Haulpana who chose to move inside the Green Line.

Without getting into the issue of forcible evacuation, it is clear that unilateral withdrawal must include dialogue with the settlers. Changing the discourse between the government and settlers would increase active support for this policy among most of the public, which is in favor of a two-state solution.

Early preparation would make it easier to cope with the complex challenge of the evacuation. And when the day comes, the absorption of the settlers who will have to move, as part of an arrangement with the Palestinians or after an independent decision by the Israeli government, must be carried out with consideration and respect for them. After all, these citizens will be paying a high personal and collective price for renouncing their lifelong ideological enterprise.

As for the issue of security, the Israel Defense Force will remain in inhabited and voluntarily evacuated settlements, and will reserve the right to act. We have learned our lesson from the disengagement from Gaza.

Instead of using tricks such as moving buildings and the ex-post-facto legalization of specific acts of land theft, the government must act with long-term vision to strengthen Israel’s security and prepare for the evacuation of the settlers in a fair and honest manner. It should not try to mislead the public with empty slogans. After all, an evacuation of this kind will be required when the time comes to separate into two states.

By forging a giant coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a chance to go down in history as the leader who set Israel’s borders and made sure that the Jewish majority living within them, together with solidarity and democracy, will be preserved for future generations.

By powerfully moving forward with preparations for a two-state solution, Israel would convey the message that it does not see the territories east of the separation barrier as a future part of the state, without endangering its security during and after the transitional stages. The approach of careful, incremental progress through unilateral action allows Israel to act in its long-term national interest without regard to the other side or its failures.

Gilead Sher is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies and co-chairman of Blue White Future.

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