Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are ready to engage in full-fledged peace talks, but in the meantime, the Israeli government should implement a series of unilateral interim measures to preserve the option of a two-state solution, Michael Koplow, the policy director of the U.S.-based Israel Policy Forum, told a luncheon in Toronto on May 17 hosted by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.
Koplow, whose organization promotes a two-state solution as a way of maintaining Israel’s status as a democratic Jewish state, said these measures could build goodwill, inspire trust and set the stage for bilateral peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the absence of a peace process, Israel should do the following:
First, Israel should finish building the security barrier, which runs along and into the West Bank. Ariel Sharon, the-then Israeli prime minister, ordered its construction in 2002 to thwart a massive resurgence of Arab terrorism, which erupted following the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000.
Israel needs to add 39 kilometres to the barrier to complete it, but has refrained from doing so due to objections from Jewish settlers in the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim and the cluster of settlements in Gush Etzion. The settlers covet the land on which the barrier would be extended, he explained.
Second, Israel must renounce territorial claims to the West Bank beyond the boundary of the barrier and declare it is not a political border.
Third, Israel must freeze settlement construction east of the barrier.
Fourth, the Israeli government should rezone the West Bank by transferring three percent of Area C, which is fully controlled by Israel, into Area B, which is partially administered by the Palestinian Authority. Rezoning is required because some 250,000 Palestinians in Area B have built about 12,000 residential buildings in nearby Area C. Israel rarely grants building permits to Palestinians in Area C and has demolished Palestinian structures there. Demolition has rendered homeless thousands of Palestinians, who might resort to terrorism. Israel should defuse this potentially volatile situation, he said.
Koplow acknowledged that his plan is promoted by the Commanders for Israel’s Security, a non-partisan Israeli organization whose membership consists of ex-senior security officials from the Israel Defence Force, Mossad, Shin Bet and Israeli Police.
Founded nearly three years ago, its objective is to resolve Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians and to normalize relations with moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It was established after a number of senior reserve officers, in vain, urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept the 2002 Arab League peace initiative as a basis to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Among the members of the movement are the former chief of staff of the armed forces, Dan Halutz; the former directors of the Mossad, Zvi Zamir, Shabtai Shavit, Danny Yatom and Meir Dagan; the former head of the Shin Bet, Ami Ayalon; two former commanders of the air force, Amos Lapidot and Aviv Ben-Nun, and former police commissioners Herzl Shafir, Yaakov Turner and Assaf Heftz.
Koplow held out little hope of a resumption of final-status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority any time soon, despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire to hammer out the “ultimate deal.” In an aside, he said Trump does not know “the first thing” about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In any event, he said, neither side is prepared for such discussions at this juncture.
Despite his rhetorical endorsement of a two-state solution and his realization that a one-state solution would be disastrous for Israel’s future as a Jewish state, Netanyahu has done precious little to advance the prospects of peace since his reelection in 2009.
As well, he added, the vast majority of ministers in his cabinet — the most right-wing in Israeli history — oppose Palestinian statehood.
The Israeli public, having been scarred by years of terrorism, believes that Israel has no credible negotiating partner in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and fears that a Palestinian state could well be a recipe for yet more bloodshed, said Koplow.
Abbas is sincerely interested in cutting a deal with Israel, but in the eyes of most Palestinians, he has little legitimacy. “There are serious questions whether he could deliver an agreement,” said Koplow.
In general, Palestinians over the age of 30 support a two-state solution, while those under that age demand full democratic rights from Israel within the parameters of a single state, assuming that demography is on their side.
Koplow hailed security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, saying it has dampened Hamas’ profile in the West Bank and prevented rockets from being fired into Israeli cities along the coastal plain.
According to Koplow, the peace camp in Israel has been almost completely discredited due to the failure of the 1993 Oslo peace process.
Although Oslo was over sold as a perfect solution, it was really the best available option in the 1990s, he said.