As part of the Annapolis process (2007-8), which called for negotiations toward a permanent status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, some 300 meetings were held between the sides. As chief of the negotiations team, I sat for dozens of hours with my Palestinian counterparts. I told Saeb Erekat, who headed the Palestinian delegation, that he had what was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to receive 97% of the demands he placed on the table, and thus to bring a dramatic and historic change to the status of the Palestinians. He consistently replied: “All or nothing.”
Israel has been chained to this reality since the start of the political process almost three decades ago: the de facto Palestinian veto neutralizes the ability to reach substantial achievements in the political process. At the same time Israel continues to establish itself in the West Bank, and its leaders are in the grip of delusions supported by a comfortable environment that does not require them to make weighty decisions. We do not recognize that under the cover of this impasse, we are slipping into a one-state reality, and do not understand the implications.
A study at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) examined a variety of future possible scenarios and strategic alternatives for Israel to achieve its overriding goal of preserving a Jewish, democratic, secure, and moral state. The consensus we reached was that Israel must change direction and take immediate steps toward separation that are intended to create in a gradual and responsible fashion a reality of two separate national entities: Israel and Palestine. Headlines and empty slogans notwithstanding, most of the Israeli public supports separation: 75% support separation and 58% support a two-state solution.
The idea is not to wait for negotiations toward the desired end state that will resolve all disputes in one fell swoop, as this is not possible now, and we are not prepared to wait. It is to Israel’s advantage to lead the process and not be dragged by others. In this spirit, over the past year we at INSS drafted a political-security framework toward for the Israeli-Palestinian arena. It rests on four pillars: 1) initial separation steps implemented independently to prove Israel’s commitment to create a two-state reality; 2) transition arrangements, or at least cooperation with the PA, in order to establish it as a responsible, stable, functional, and cooperative partner; 3) enlistment of the Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan to provide guarantees and assurances to the PA, encourage it to be a constructive actor, and assist it in building Palestinian state infrastructures; 4) retention by IDF of the keys to security and the freedom of operation in the battle against terrorist infrastructures throughout the area, in tandem with an effort toward closer cooperation with the Palestinian security apparatuses, on the basis of the principle that the more they do, the less we do.
After presenting the framework we received varied responses, including many helpful comments. The framework was presented to senior officials in Arab nations and world capitals. It was difficult to convince them of the imperative to replace the paradigm of a comprehensive permanent status agreement, which is currently not feasible. Only when we presented an active alternative to create a national, territorial, and demographic separation between Israel and the Palestinians that would leave a two-state solution possible and break the stalemate did we find broad support for the principles of the framework.
We held discussions with senior Palestinian officials, and they did not rule out the idea of transitional arrangements to create a two-state reality. This is the first time that sitting senior Palestinian stakeholders have shown flexibility and willingness to accept less than a permanent agreement. They understand that Palestinian stock is falling and the conflict with Israel has lost its centrality in the international and regional communities, and they fear that after turning down President Trump’s “deal of the century” they will be left isolated and accused again of recalcitrance. So long as Hamas has a state in the Gaza Strip, Fatah and the PA will be left with principles, not results. Therefore, they are likelier to participate in the implementation of the framework.
We also presented the framework to the Israeli public and to heads of political parties who see themselves as Israel’s coming leaders. Many are willing to endorse the plan, but only after the elections. The problem is that in the reigning political atmosphere, and even more so in the runup to elections, politicians boast of their Zionist identity, but fear to present to voters their vision for a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. However, Zionism is based on creative foresight, action, and constant movement toward realization of the vision of a Jewish, democratic, and secure state that will be a light unto the nations. Waiting exacerbates the increasingly critical situation; only leadership, the strength to make decisions, and action without delay can allow Israel to breach the closing doors. It is time to restore initiative to the Zionist lexicon.
January 28-29 the INSS is holding its Annual International Conference, where this issue and more are being discussed.