Constructive Unilateralism - Israel's Insurance Policy

Relocating 100,000 settlers would both complement peace talks and set the foundation for a two-state solution should talks fail.

Lolita Brayman
Lolita Brayman
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Lolita Brayman
Lolita Brayman

The ball is already rolling on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a major accomplishment on the part of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who has managed to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to disagree, just enough, to actually sit down at the negotiating table.

Both sides have been here before, negotiating to negotiate, but in this high stakes, agenda-setting, quid pro quo atmosphere, it is difficult to predict how this round of negotiations will be different from the last twenty years’ worth of attempts. Israel cannot afford to sit back and wait for a final status agreement and should be proactive with constructive, practical, and gradual steps in order to ensure its future as a Jewish and democratic state.

John Kerry has staked his political legacy on a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the only viable path towards a two-state solution. He has also rather hastily and out of context rejected the idea of any Israeli unilateral moves, citing the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the 2005 disengagement from Gaza as unsuccessful examples. His reasoning is that these moves were not part of a negotiated peace treaty that included guarantees for Israel’s security.

Kerry is assuming - mistakenly - that previous blunders cannot be remedied and that the only way to ensure Israel’s security is through negotiations. But what if negotiations fail again?

There are long odds to attaining a permanent status agreement. Moreover, the reality on the ground, where skeptical public opinion dominates, promises many difficulties the two groups will have to face when debating on the core issues. Artificial and real obstacles will be presented by both parties during the negotiations, all of which emphasize a need for a different course of action on Israel’s part.

Israel must avoid depositing its fate into the hands of the notion of negotiations alone, because the fragile nature of the conflict is susceptible to collapse or to become hostage to extremists from both sides, as it has been in the past.

The Israeli people and the international community need to warm up to the idea of constructive unilateralism as an independent contingency plan that will complement the environment of a renewal of negotiations, laying the groundwork for a two-state solution to be implemented.

Constructive unilateralism in 2013 is not the unilateralism of 2000 or 2005

Independent and coordinated moves make up the character of constructive unilateralism – a proactive and assertive prescription that allows Israel to research and plan for a two-state reality even in the absence of an agreement. It does not negate negotiations or the desired outcome of negotiations, as previous Israeli unilateral moves did in the past.

Israel’s current national security interests and fundamental values of being the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people cannot be achieved while the state occupies the majority of the West Bank. Nor can it be achieved with a simple disengagement from the Palestinians.

According to the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) policy recommendations, Israel must apply a top-down and bottom-up approach to the conflict, two efforts simultaneously: 1) Continue to pursue negotiations; and 2) Preparation of a viable, national-scale plan to relocate up to 100,000 settlers - currently living outside of the settlement blocks and in areas Israel will eventually withdraw from - within Israel proper in a compassionate, well organized way.

Solidarity and respect from the international community is imperative during this two-fold process whose planning stages must be characterized by dialogue and transparency.

Israelis must take charge of their own future while continuing efforts to end the conflict through negotiations, says Gilead Sher, who co-founded and co-chairs the non-partisan political movement Blue White Future, which has put together highly researched plans detailing unconditional and sovereign proposals for the absorption of settlers – either following a negotiated agreement or an independent Israeli decision – and promoting empathetic communication throughout the entire process.

First, the state must legislate a law for the voluntary evacuation of roughly 100,000 settlers, disregarding the absence of an agreement. Blue White Future holds regular meetings with settlers and has found that tens of thousands would move voluntarily if appropriate compensation and absorption packages would be ready for them, as well as a supportive Israeli public. The number of 100,000 settlers is based upon the assumption that under any agreement, the boundaries will reflect annexation of 4-8% of the West Bank to Israel, encompassing 450,000 settlers in the main settlement blocks, Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and probably Ariel, Maale Adumim and a special arrangement for Kiryat Arba.

Second, Israel has to research and feasibly plan a way to absorb those that are to be relocated. This prerequisite to withdrawal differentiates with Ariel Sharon’s 2005 Gaza disengagement, which left settlers homeless and allowed Hamas to move into the power vacuum and launch rockets into Israel. A simultaneous evacuation of military and civilians must be avoided to circumvent the failures of previous Israeli unilateral withdrawals.

Third, a security regime should be set in place following relocation so that Israel’s security can be ensured. The IDF would continue to operate in the West Bank, where Israel withdraws, until a reliable force – Palestinian or international – can replace it. Israel should not physically force its citizens to leave until an agreement was reached, even though preparations would begin well before such an accord.

The territorial end game of the annexation minus land swaps will amount to the 1967 territorial ratio: 22% of the Mandate territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea to Palestine, 78% to Israel.

According to Gilead Sher, if Israel follows the three principles above, it would be much better equipped for either a two-state negotiated agreement or an independent, unilateral move to design its boundaries, albeit temporarily.

The relocation of settlers is necessary for either a two-state formula or as a result of a unilateral decision. The planning ahead of time serves both options and follows Netanyahu’s statements expressing the need to realize that not all settlers will remain where they are. Israel should be candid about any proposed plans involving the people and discuss settler’s concerns. The need for a participatory process of internal discourse between settlers, the government and the rest of society about what Zionism means for future generations is necessary.

Alternatives: Occupation does not assure Israel’s security

The option of binational statehood, consisting of Jews and Palestinians, but under Israeli sovereignty, is not in Israel’s best interest because it would become an apartheid state based on discrimination with two different sets of rights and obligations for Jews and non-Jews. This is far from the ideals and values of Judaism as well as the vision of Zionism’s forefathers.

The status quo cannot remain and does not benefit the state in any way, especially if Israel seeks legitimate international relations with other states.

U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should support these unilateral moves as a way to build momentum to implementing a two-state solution.

We know what the solution looks like

Sitting on the shelf collecting dust is the hoped-for outcome, a contour of a permanent agreement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - two states for two peoples. The draft agreement is one we have seen before and will see again, if and when negotiations produce an agreement. The solution exists: It is former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s offer to Abbas in 2008, which resembles former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s Parameters from 2000 and Bush’s 2003 Roadmap. There is no need to reinvent a new formula, we simply need to pick it up off the shelf, dust it off, and incorporate Kerry’s relentless efforts into the promising semantics.

As the INSS assessments emphasize, the lessons of unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005 have been learned and the collective experiences analyzed. We must not repeat the same mistakes.

Constructive unilateralism is not mutually exclusive to negotiations but instead is both complementary and alternative to one another, assuring Israel that in case negotiations fail, the process for the solution will not collapse or deteriorate. A coordinated and negotiated step towards two states will have been, at the very least, advanced and the possibility of violent hostilities curtailed. In case the Israelis and Palestinians don’t have the capabilities to reach permanent status, Israel has the critical option of taking steps that lead to a two-state solution becoming a reality instead of a yellowing document on a dusty shelf we occasionally refer to but mostly ignore.

Lolita Brayman is an editor at Haaretz.com and holds a Juris-Doctorate degree from Brooklyn Law School. She is concluding her master’s degree in conflict resolution and mediation at Tel Aviv University. Follow her on Twitter @lolzlita

A settler looks at the West bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim.Credit: AP

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