Israel and the United States maintain that there won’t be any significant progress in the peace negotiations unless we make a major effort to change the Palestinian narrative, since it is the main obstacle to a final status agreement. According to this narrative, there is no Jewish nation and there was no Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, and therefore there is no justification for the existence of a Jewish nation-state in the region where the only native people are the Palestinians.
According to them, Zionism is a colonialist movement established by the Europeans in order to get rid of the terrible Jews, and there’s no reason why the Palestinians should tolerate them when they continue to behave in a shocking manner and create an apartheid state in Palestine.
All means of fighting Zionism are legitimate, and therefore the Palestinians pay exorbitant salaries to imprisoned terrorists and to families of terrorists who were killed; the Palestinians are the only victims of the conflict, and therefore the status of the refugees should not be undermined until Israel recognizes the right of return. The Palestinians should not be held accountable for their deeds; the Palestinian struggle, which is both national and Islamic, is for all of Palestine, and that’s why the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
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The economic part of the U.S. peace plan is the carrot to induce the Palestinians to change the narrative. The stick is composed of reducing American assistance and the revenues of the Palestinian Authority, as long as it continues to pay salaries to terrorists; the U.S. administration’s determination to base its policy on the reality on the ground (which led to the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the transfer of the American Embassy to the city); and an attempt to make it clear to the Palestinians that time is not on their side – which includes the removal of the Palestinian version of the two-state solution (one that doesn’t recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people) from the agenda.
It also includes the expectation that the pragmatic Arab countries will stop conditioning progress toward normalization with Israel on Israeli concessions, and above all – absent the possibility of advancing a peace process – imposing Israeli law on the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. (The Americans are not making any effort to counter the impression that they would accept such a move.)
The Palestinians are sticking to their positions, one reason being the hope for political change in Israel and the United States. If they persist, it is possible that even before the 2020 U.S. election a plan will be put in place that is centered around maintaining the status quo and improving it: For the settlers by imposing Israeli law on the settlements, and for the Palestinians through additional work permits for those working outside the West Bank and economic development in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Those who have warned of this policy’s ostensible dangers for Israel are activists in the Israeli center-left, including the so-called Commanders for Israel’s Security. In a document they produced together with the Israel Policy Forum (an American Jewish organization with similar views), they claim that imposing Israeli law on the Jewish settlements, which they call annexation, will almost certainly lead to the annexation of all the territories occupied in 1967, to turning Israel into a binational state that is either not Jewish or not democratic, and from there to the end of Zionism.
This in addition to serious consequences for the security situation (a renewal of the intifada), Israel’s international and regional status, its ties to Diaspora Jewry and its economic situation, especially if the Palestinian Authority ends its security cooperation and later ceases to exist. That’s why it is preferable to accept the Palestinian demands, or the Commanders’ proposals for unilateral concessions, beginning with dismantling the settlements as a first step toward separation from the Palestinians, because it is apparently impossible to reach an agreement with them.
This perception suffers from many deficiencies, but because the messages it contains have already become mantras of the left wing, it’s worth setting the record straight.
Referring to the imposition of Israeli law on the settlements as annexation is misleading. There is a significant legal difference between imposing laws and annexation. Imposing Israeli law won’t change the situation on the ground and will grant the settlements the sovereign status enjoyed by Israeli areas within the Green Line (the 1967 border) and in Jerusalem. It does not change the basic idea embodied in the Oslo Accords, that this is disputed territory awaiting negotiations to determine its final status.
The probability that the developments foreseen by the writers of the Commanders’ document will take place is not at all certain. The vast majority of the Israeli public does not support annexation, not even of the entire Area C (full Israeli civil and security control), and Israel has no intention of annexing areas densely populated by Palestinians, first and foremost areas of the Palestinian Authority itself (Areas A and B), or imposing Israeli law on them. Furthermore, the existence of the PA is the Palestinians’ greatest achievement, and they do not intend to give it up.
Security cooperation with Israel is also crucial for the PA in its dealings with its internal rivals, and the Palestinians will not easily embark on a large-scale terrorist struggle when in their national memory the second intifada is seen as a terrible failure.
It is likely that some of the worrisome forecasts described by the document will come to pass to some degree, and in particular that the liberal component of U.S. Jewry will level even harsher criticism against Israel’s policy. But in light of the views of the U.S. administration and the pragmatic Arab countries, it is possible that proper preparation for such a step, while making it clear that it is not equivalent to annexation or to closing the door on negotiations, would mitigate the severity of the reactions, and allow for leverage in order to illustrate to the Palestinians that time is not on their side.
Today’s pessimists thought at the time of the Oslo Accords that they would bring about a new Middle East, and when their hopes, which were based on ignorance and willful blindness, were dashed, they failed to understand the root of the problem. Almost certainly, this time, too, they will refuse to understand that it is illogical to make dangerous unilateral concessions in order to achieve an impossible separation, and will not join the effort to change the Palestinian viewpoints, or alternatively to preserve and improve the status quo, rather than making things even worse.
Yossi Kuperwasser is a project director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a former head of research for Israeli Military Intelligence and a former director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry.
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