Israel’s Plan B

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, May 9, 2014.

Alarmingly, I sense an undercurrent of growing support for the misguided and dangerous left-wing withdrawal plan nonsensically called “constructive unilateralism.” Netanyahu should reject this risible, risky and irresponsible plan. Conflict management may not be as satisfying a “solution” as a supposedly-heroic withdrawal (or a defiant annexation), but it is Israel’s best Plan B. 

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Knowing in advance that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s nine month long diplomatic effort was unlikely to succeed, all sides had to be thinking of their Plan B – their next step following the failure of negotiations.

For the Palestinians, Plan B was clear from the outset: Sue for further unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood in international organizations, and use global legal forums to criminalize, isolate and pressure Israel. 

In fact, it’s quite clear that all along this was Mahmoud Abbas’ intention. He was in the negotiating game for a while just to satisfy Kerry and obtain the release of Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails.

But what is Plan B for Israel? What was Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he went into these negotiations? He knew that Abbas’ was a flight risk, given that Abbas has repeatedly run way from negotiations each time a decision-making juncture approaches. 

He must have understood that Abbas was incapable and unwilling to make any true compromises for peace with Israel. 

So after engaging in the Kerry talks to ‘prove’ that Israel is serious and to ‘unmask’ Abbas, then what? Does the Government of Israel have a Plan B?

Netanyahu hasn’t given us any indication of where he might go next, except to hold open the door for further negotiations if the Palestinians come their senses by disconnecting from Hamas and dropping their outlandish conditions for renewal of talks.

Others are jumping into vacuum, however, with multiple “Plan B”s involving unilateral Israeli moves in Judea and Samaria. The Right wants to annex about 60 percent of the territory, and the Left wants to withdraw from 80 percent or more of the territory.

Alarmingly, I sense an undercurrent of growing support for the left-wing withdrawal plan nonsensically called “constructive unilateralism.” Essentially this involves the withdrawal (i.e., destruction) of many settlements in remote areas, and some realignment of the IDF presence, without any peace agreement. I view this as misguided and dangerous.

Israeli withdrawal from much or most of the West Bank in the absence of a full peace agreement with the Palestinians won’t bring security to Israel, even if it is “constructively” coordinated with America and supposedly matched by indirect, reciprocal Palestinian promises to Israel. 

After an Israeli withdrawal, how are we going to be able to prevent the fall of Judea and Samaria to Hamas? If we reserve the right to regularly raid the territories in order to root out Hamas cells, how is that any different from the situation today? And if we keep a significant troop presence on the hilltops and at key junctures, who will really consider this an end to the Israeli “occupation”?

Moreover, can you imagine what would befall Israel’s rump troop presence in the West Bank once our civilian settlements were unilaterally torn down and out of the area? Remember just how badly Israel’s “security zone” in southern Lebanon worked out? Our forces there had no legitimacy whatsoever, brought us sustained international opprobrium, and suffered heavy casualties. Do we want to turn the West Bank into southern Lebanon?

Nor will a unilateral move provide Israel with diplomatic breathing room, as the plan’s proponents claim. Withdrawing from one part of the territories won’t convince anyone that Israel has a right to keep other parts. On the contrary: A partial Israeli pullout will intensify the illegitimacy of our remaining presence in the territories. Every Israeli retreat is taken as proof that the territories are all stolen property that must be returned to their rightful Palestinian owners. Unilateral withdrawal will bolster Palestinian maximalism. 

Worst of all, a unilateral withdrawal will unnecessarily and unjustifiably tear the internal fabric of this country asunder. It’s unforgivable and simply indefensible to drag Israelis out their homes in Judea and Samaria – if at all – without any hope for real peace in the offing.

In short, unilateral Israeli withdrawal will not increase Israel’s international diplomatic position or its moral standing, nor will it enhance our security or our internal cohesion. And as the Lebanon and Gaza precedents proved, a unilateral Israeli withdrawal will only guarantee continuation of the conflict and even its escalation, not its de-escalation. 

Yet in the Left’s newfangled political parlance, unilateral withdrawal is being giving a heroic shine. It’s absurdly being called “brave Zionism.” “I would supplant the word unilateralism with Zionism,” gushes former Ambassador to the US Michael Oren in support of the plan. “One good definition of Zionism is Jews taking their destiny in their hands… We do not outsource our fundamental destiny to Palestinian decision making.”

Such over-the-top and fallacious salesmanship of the leftist Plan B – unilateral withdrawal in the “best traditions” (sic) of Zionism! – has me very worried.

Former IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, and Ehud Barak’s former bureau chief, Gilad Sher (both of whom are now ensconced at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies), are leading the drive for unilateral Israeli withdrawal. This will “advance Israel towards a two-state situation, even if there is no two-state solution” and “help take the wind out of the growing BDS movement,” they have speciously written.

With Abbas now embracing Hamas and the negotiating track effectively shut down, it’s not too hard to see Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, Hatnua head Tzipi Livi and Labor Party chairman Bougie Herzog jumping on the unilateral withdrawal bandwagon, soon, too. 

I say that Israel needs perseverance, not impatience, from its diplomats, generals and politicians. Israel should sit tight and wait out the Palestinians until they crawl back to the real peace negotiating table with mature leaders and realistic expectations. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu should publicly dismiss the risible, risky and irresponsible ideas for unilateral Israeli withdrawal. Instead, he should adhere to the one course that has best served Israel for many years: manage the conflict and continue to build where it suits our strategic interests.

This may not be as satisfying a “solution” as a supposedly-heroic withdrawal (or a defiant annexation), but it is Israel’s best Plan B.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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