A Unilateral West Bank Solution?
In a recent interview, Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said that Israel should consider unilaterally withdrawing from parts of the West Bank and declaring its own borders if the current peace negotiations with the Palestinians fail. This idea has often been raised, and rejected, by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum
“I’m aware there’s no perfect solution here,” Oren concluded. “Every option involves risks, untold circumstances. But I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having what I refer to as the Zionist option: We do not outsource our fundamental destiny to Palestinian decision making.”
With that rationale he proposes that Israel announce a Plan B that Israel would implement in the event the Palestinians act on their Plan B, namely to go to the international community for recognition as a state “Their Plan B includes international sanctions, targeting our economy, completely delegitimizing us in the world.” he said.
In essence, he is arguing for unilateral withdrawal from parts of Judea and Samaria, which he says will differ from the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in that no settlers would be uprooted nor would the IDF be removed from the remaining land. He thereby fortifies the idea that PM Netanyahu mooted about leaving 150,000 Israelis behind in Palestine. Everyone knows that it would cost $150 billion to remove them and no one is talking about where the money would come from. So they are trying to avoid the cost by leaving them there.
He refused to discuss in detail where a unilateral border should be drawn if Israel were to withdraw from the mostly Palestinian areas of the West Bank. Nor would he specify what exactly would happen to Jewish settlers who would find themselves on the Palestinian side of such a line.
He stated his rationale for withdrawing:
“If we declare our borders, that creates a de-facto situation of two nation states recognized by the UN -- we may not recognize one another, but they’re already recognized by the UN -- that have a border dispute. And we would be one of dozens of pairs of countries in the world that have a border dispute.”
Even after Israel unilaterally declared its borders, it could still say that it was interested in reaching a final peace deal, under which border adjustments could be possible, he added.
That being the case, why does he not say we should declare the Jordan River our eastern border?
He does say that such a plan is being discussed.
“There are number of guidelines that are being discussed. I’m not the only one discussing it. This will determine what are [Israel's] defensible borders, what are the borders that encompass the maximum number of Israeli settlers. What would enable us to reduce, to the greatest possible extent, our control over the Palestinians? In any such move, Israel would of course maintain its military presence in crucial areas. And it would also ensure the continued unity of Jerusalem.”
He won’t commit himself on where the borders should be but says, “the principle is maximum number of Israelis within the State of Israel and maximum protection of Israel’s security.” But the framework is all about the minimum of land we keep. As I pointed out in a recent article, we should design the border that would maintain our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and reduce the number of Israelis that had to be remove by 100,000. This would save $100 Billion.
Last Friday, the Maariv newspaper reported that Yoaz Hendel, a former media adviser to Netanyahu, is also working on a plan that calls for unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank. These ideas originally found expression in Kadima’s Convergence Plan and Netanyahu is obviously entertaining them.
As for maintaining the status quo he said:
“I don’t know if remaining in the entire territories, with control over a great number of Palestinians and being exposed to increasing international sanctions -- boycotts and delegitimization -- I don’t know if that brings you to peace, either. It actually endangers Israel.”
In this regard, I fail to see how his plan differs. We still have to maintain the same restrictions on the Palestinians living in what we leave behind. How are Israelis better off?
Withdrawing unilaterally from parts of the West Bank also “won’t end” the pressure from European Union and others in the international community pushing for a final-status agreement, Oren added.
But argued, it would help take the wind out of the growing BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, particularly in Europe. “The goal is helping to maintain our integrity as a Jewish and democratic state, one whose security is preserved.”
The last quote is a non-sequitur. I don’t see how unilateral withdrawal helps this goal. Nor do I think that Israel’s integrity as “a Jewish and democratic state” is in peril. That is simply a meme of the Europeans and the left. Speak to anyone on the right and you will learn that they aren’t the slightest bit concerned and are not concerned with the threat of Israel turning into a Bi-National state. They believe that their majority, even if Judea and Samaria would be annexed in totality, would afford them sufficient protection.
Gadi Baltiansky, the director-general of the Geneva Initiative, a nonprofit promoting a two-state solution, said that the conflict would continue, and “no international body will recognize the borders that you drew unilaterally. You will not get international legitimacy, or recognition of Jerusalem.”
Uri Avnery, a former Knesset member and veteran far-left activist, went even further. “It’s stupid,” he said bluntly. “It’s considered a symptom of insanity when you do something and fail, and then try to do the same thing again and again,” he said, citing the Gaza pullout. “You can’t make peace on terms of continued occupation. What these people call unilateral withdrawal is continuation of occupation by other means.”
Oren dismisses these arguments as irrelevant. “The irrelevance is that we’re talking about what happens if we can’t make peace,”
I would imagine that Israel is attempting to cut a deal with Obama wherein Israel unilaterally withdraws with the agreement of the U.S. on borders more its liking then what is in the Framework discussions.
That aside, I fail to see how Oren’s Plan B differs from Bennett’s plan to extend Israeli sovereignty to Area C as described in the Oslo Accords. Both plans require a new fence to delineate what we claim from what we leave to the Palestinians. It seems to me that both would keep parts of Area C and some of Area B in order to produce a viable border. The only difference being how much land each plan keeps.
Bennett is under no illusion that Israelis can be left on the other side of the fence, so he wants to minimize the number to be evacuated by keeping more land than Obama would agree to. Oren and Netanyahu, in order to keep less land and comply with the Obama dictates, argue that Israelis can be left on the other side.
That idea gets little traction among Israelis.