Published in Israel Hayom, June 30, 2014.
Amos Yadlin’s plan for unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria will lead to a dangerous security vacuum, and won’t buy Israel any legitimacy for its self-declared and re-jiggered borders.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin is one of Israel’s most important strategic thinkers. His background in the air force and military intelligence, along with the non-conventional and non-political positions he has staked out over the years, have earned him a reputation for fairness. Unlike many of his peers, he has backed the Prime Minister on the Iranian issue, and admirably avoided snarky attacks on Mr. Netanyahu.
This explains why Netanyahu agreed to speak yesterday at Yadlin’s security studies center, even though Yadlin is now dangerously peddling unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. Yadlin’s “Plan B” – the alternative he is proposing to a negotiated peace with the Palestinians, which Yadlin correctly understands is basically impossible – would have Israel take “independent action” to “stabilize” its own borders.
Yadlin refuses to call this “withdrawal.” “We would not be withdrawing. We would be advancing towards a more legitimate and secure, Jewish and democratic state, with defined borders,” he avers. “This is what the fathers of Zionism intended,” he ambitiously claims.
Yadlin wants us to believe that the unilateral withdrawal mistakes of Lebanon and Gaza can be avoided by a. getting international support and legitimacy for a unilateral withdrawal by first putting a peace plan on the table (that when rejected by the Palestinians will “expose” their mendacity to the world), b. maintaining military control of the Jordan Valley, c. keeping settlement blocs, for now, as “bargaining cards” for a future negotiation with the Palestinians, and d. avoiding national discord through an election or referendum on the withdrawal.
This all sounds very smart and sweet, except that it isn’t. Yadlin’s “Plan B” – which essentially is about the destruction of many outlying settlements – is risible, risky and irresponsible. It will lead to “balagan” – a dangerous security vacuum in the territories which will be filled by radical Islamic actors. Moreover, it won’t buy Israel any legitimacy for its self-declared and re-jiggered borders.
After an Israeli withdrawal, how are we going to be able to prevent the fall of Judea and Samaria to Hamas or one of the other jihadist groups now swarming the Mideast? If we reserve the right to regularly raid the territories in order to root out Hamas cells (which Yadlin correctly insists on), 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.
Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t do so yesterday, but he should publicly dismiss calls for unilateral Israeli withdrawal. Instead, he should adhere to the one course that has best served Israel for many years: manage the conflict and “actualize” our claims to key parts of Judea and Samaria, though carefully directed building and gradual annexation of settlement block areas.