Unilateral Withdrawal

October 17, 2013

In response to “Analysis: Our Time To Lead” (Oct. 4): A Palestinian state will eventually be established, but not in the framework of a peace agreement or by negotiations, but rather as a result of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the large majority of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel will not object to a Palestinian declaration of independence and will most probably even offer the establishment of diplomatic relations, although it is not likely the Palestinians will agree to such a step, as they will claim that Israel still occupies its territory. The unilateral Israeli withdrawal will come about if and when a center-left government is established in the Jewish state and is headed by a figure of national stature who has the political strength to make such a far-reaching move. This may take many years, but it will eventually happen.

Outspoken MK Avigdor Lieberman of the ruling Likud-Beiteinu party, and a former foreign minister, is right when he says that peace will not be achieved with the Palestinians in this or in the next generation. A center-left government will thus be continuing what was started by Ariel Sharon, who unilaterally withdrew from all of Gaza and likely intended to continue this move in the West Bank before falling into a coma. His successor, Ehud Olmert, probably had the same thing in mind, but he lacked the political stature for such an act, which would involve the uprooting of tens of thousands of Israeli settlers who live beyond the separation fence, as well as a ceding of large parts of the Biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria and most of East Jerusalem. … The basic premise for such a unilateral Israeli move would be the assumption that the abysmal gaps between the sides cannot be bridged and that Israel, in order to preserve its Jewish and democratic stature, must give up control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians. …

To be sure, such a unilateral move has serious drawbacks for Palestinian statehood. Israel will be determining its borders without Palestinian agreement and will maintain control over the border crossings and other key strategic areas of significant size such as the Jordan Valley. … And there is no chance that Israel will totally pull out of any part of the Old City of Jerusalem or from the part of Hebron it controls and the Kiryat Arba settlement, the cradle area of Jewish civilization. But nonetheless, the Palestinians will have a demilitarized state with East Jerusalem as its capital and will have diplomatic missions from virtually the entire world. Hopefully, this, and the fear of once again losing everything, can be a recipe for maintaining a reasonable quiet with Israel. The Palestinians will continue to make demands from Israel, but once a state is established with 90 percent of the West Bank, it will be much more difficult for them to gain international support for action against Israel.

The fact that there is no possibility of achieving a permanent status agreement, or even a meaningful interim agreement, doesn’t mean that Israel should sit idly by. … Israel should work to deepen economic and security cooperation with the Palestinians and take steps to facilitate life in the West Bank. This can certainly help to keep things calm. But the best that can be hoped for is “conflict management,” as Lieberman says. That is until the big unilateral withdrawal to behind the separation fence and from the large majority of East Jerusalem.
Richard Bell
Israel

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