Published in Israel Hayom, January 28, 2014.
Strategists associated with the political Left, such as Amos Yadlin, are now promoting “constructive unilateral withdrawal” from the West Bank as Israel’s only real diplomatic option – “advancing Israel towards a two-state situation, even if there is no two-state solution.” Israel should reject such desperate, perilous and illogical proposals for unilateral withdrawal, which only teach the Palestinians not to compromise on any issue. Unilateral Israeli withdrawals won’t bring security or peace.
Former IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, who now heads Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, says that if peace talks with the Palestinians fail – and he assesses that they will – Israel should nevertheless withdraw unilaterally from 85 percent of the West Bank.
Such a withdrawal is preferable to the status quo, Yadlin and his “strategic” colleagues argue in their annual assessment released yesterday, because it will “advance Israel towards a two-state situation, even if there is no two-state solution.” Even if there is no peace, and even if there is no end of Palestinian claims against Israel.
Such a withdrawal will improve Israel’s demographic and international situation, Yadlin contends, and will supposedly gain Israel “the ability to be firmer on the Iranian subject and get the United States on board.” As for Israel’s previous very bad experiences with unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza, Yadlin cavalierly dismisses these as “bad images” in the public mind that can be overcome by keeping the IDF on key West Bank ridges and valleys, and by “coordinating” the withdrawals “constructively” with the US and Europe – hence his new name for this escapade: “constructive unilateralism.”
The bottom line is this: The political Left is dangerously impatient. The same people who once sold us Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas as peace partners are now telling us that peace is impossible yet the existing situation is unacceptable, and therefore the unilateral route is the only remaining course of action for Israel.
In this newfangled political parlance, unilateralism means to “make peace without (Palestinian) partners;” to “act boldly to set Israel’s borders without being hostage to the Palestinians;” to tear down settlements in the distant reaches of the West Bank in order to “signal” to the world that the Netanyahu government is “serious” about compromise; to “show” America that Israel is not interested in “forever being an occupying power”; and so forth.
There is, in fact, a groundswell of “elite” (read: Leftist) opinion building in favor of unilateral Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank. At previous INSS conferences, former defense ministers Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz also touted unilateral Israeli action. “We are on borrowed time,” Barak said in June 2012. “We will reach a wall, and we’ll pay the price. If it isn’t possible to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, we must consider an interim arrangement or even a unilateral move.”
Last year, Barak’s former bureau chief, Gilad Sher (who is now head of something called the ‘Center for Applied Negotiations” at the INSS), presented a team report entitled “The Palestinian Issue: Toward a Reality of Two States” which also advocated unilateral Israeli withdrawal. Aware of the disastrous security consequences of the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the INSS team did not suggest a full military withdrawal from Judea and Samaria but only a civilian one. In other words, many Israelis living beyond the 1949 armistice line would be deported, but the IDF would retain its presence beyond that line. Or to put it another way, the settlers would shafted, even though the military “occupation” of the West Bank would continue and no peace would ensue.
Sher is, coincidentally, also co-chairman of an organization called “Blue White Future” which is pushing a “compensation law” that would provide payment to tens of thousands of settlers for leaving their West Bank homes.
This, then, is the time and place for Prime Minister Netanyahu to make it clear that Israel is not headed down a slippery slope towards another imprudent “disengagement” or a unilateral withdrawal from the territories – for all the known, sound, and still-relevant reasons.
Unilateral Israeli withdrawals don’t bring security or peace. Rather, as the Lebanon and Gaza precedents prove, they guarantee the continuation of the conflict and even its escalation. Remember: Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are the heartland of Israel, situated in the closest proximity to our two biggest population centers: greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The West Bank is not the relatively isolated and distant Gaza Strip. Withdrawal from the heights of Samaria without real peace and security would be a desperate and dangerous move.
Moreover, talk of unilateral Israeli action to re-draw the map of settlement in Judea and Samaria (i.e., to expel Israelis from their homes), only encourages Palestinian maximalism. The Palestinians learn that there is no reason to compromise with Israel on any issue (borders, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, recognition), since Israelis will anyway tear themselves down and out of the West Bank, eventually. All the Palestinian Authority has to do is sit tight and remain intransigent.
Thus, it is irrational to dangle before Mahmoud Abbas the hope that Israel will, out of desperation, unilaterally withdraw.
Netanyahu should resist the temptation to buy fleeting international approval and purchase short-term domestic political gain by sacrificing the country’s long-term strategic needs and most fundamental diplomatic principles. Instead, Israel should sit tight and wait out the Palestinians until they crawl back to the negotiating table with mature leaders and realistic expectations. Israel should reject Yadlin’s warnings of diplomatic tsunami and his impatient and dangerous proposals for unilateral withdrawal.