Emanuel Shahaf

Taking off with a unity government

With regard to resolving the Palestinian question, Israel is stuck, the Palestinians are stuck, the US are stuck and the Arab world is stuck. Everybody is stuck because the international agenda has changed dramatically, a right wing government is about to be formed in Israel and people have gotten used to the occupation. It’s not so bad after all, only 3-5 Palestinians are getting killed every month. Those casualties don’t compare to the mass killings Muslims inflict on other Muslims in Syria or Iraq, not to talk about the civil war in Yemen so there’s no real rush. Presently the international agenda is Iran, Iran and again Iran. The Palestinian issue only sneaks in every once in a while when President Abbas releases some soft or some strong words, when Palestinian’s are decimated in Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp or when US President Obama contemplates if it’s at all possible to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians under the present circumstances.

Let’s briefly recap the political reality which is quite forbidding with regard to a resolution of the Palestinian problem: Israel’s minimal security requirements are way beyond what the Palestinians would be willing to compromise on, nevertheless the Palestinians are encouraged and energized relentlessly through international support to hold out for better terms. Due to Israel’s tight control on the ground that support has given them hardly any benefits so far. As long as the US and major European nations remain reluctant to go beyond castigating Israel and will not actually start putting on pressure, the Palestinians can wait till hell freezes over and their situation won’t improve.

Meanwhile the Palestinian leadership has, for all intents and purposes become  irrelevant as an element that could determine the Palestinians’ future. It has not been able to unite their factions, the split between the West Bank and Gaza is deepening and they appear to be neither willing nor able to embark on another intifada in the near future. At the same time support for them by moderate Arab nations and Iran is waning because there are too many other serious issues that need to be addressed rather than worry about the Palestinians who are comparably well off, despite Israel’s occupation or possibly because of it. And with the advent of the Iranian nuclear issue, Israel has become almost popular in the Sunni world which further erodes the Palestinian bargaining position.

Rather inconveniently, just as things are going downhill for the Palestinians, the Israeli electorate has voted in a government, which, once it gets a coalition going (the obvious one includes Likud, Kachlon, Benett, UTJ, Shas and Lieberman, 67 mandate strong) will in all likelihood try to implement a strong national agenda leaving little if any room for negotiations with the Palestinians. Despite the incoming government’s clear mandate for such an agenda it is unlikely to be implemented in earnest because of international pressure. Israel’s new government will be, by and large, a do nothing government with regard to a peace process, just like the previous one.

Another feasible governing coalition, one that would include the Zionist Union (Likud, Zionist Union, Kachlon and whoever wants to join, 64+ mandates) or one that could conceivable even be lead by it (Zionist Union, Kachlon, Lapid, Shas, UTJ and Meretz, 63 mandates and the 13 from the United List supportive from outside the coalition) could only join forces under one condition: If it agreed on a truly revolutionary agenda with regard to dealing with the Palestinians. Any agenda resembling “more of the same” would lead to a split in the Zionist Union/Labor party and would be counterproductive.

What could that revolutionary agenda look like? One could contemplate a proactive political plan that would incorporate the West Bank into Israel (via annexation) giving all Palestinian inhabitants there immediate permanent resident status which would turn to full Israeli citizenship as an individual option and/or through a plebiscite to be conducted 3-5 years from now. In the meantime, Israel would invest massively in WB infrastructure for all inhabitants, once and for all clear out the refugee camps and build adequate housing for the local population. In this way there would be an immediate improvement in the quality life for the Palestinian population in the WB, the occupation would be over in one fell swoop and people would be busy building their economic future. The enfolding economic boom would have to include the Gaza strip where refugee camps would be similarly dismantled in favor of proper housing and the strip would be recognized as a separate entity, a city state.

Such a scheme which should also include a federal division of the enlarged Israel into 30 cantons, 20 Jewish and 10 Arab with increased regional autonomy would likely get political backing in the Knesset from both sides of the spectrum because it obviates the need to withdraw 100,000 settlers. The Palestinians would get a national entity in Gaza (a city state) and those in the WB would get proportional representation in Israel’s Knesset, leading to a 60/40 distribution in favor of the Jews. Furthermore there would be regional autonomy in the different cantons. The 60/40 electoral balance would make it almost impossible to form a government without the participation of Arab/Palestinian MKs nor would it be possible to neglect a minority that has now become 40% of the population as a result of this political move.

The advantage of the above approach, other than that it would be acceptable to a large part of the Israeli electorate because there would be no withdrawal to within the green line, is that it can be implemented immediately, even unilaterally, that it stops the occupation right away, that it will likely result in an economic boom and increased stability and last not least, that it improves the quality of life of everybody in the country, keeps Jerusalem united, leaves Israel’s security border along the Jordan river untouched and doesn’t preclude implementing the 2 state solution at a later stage should the Palestinian population in the WB not be interested in their new status once they vote on it as they must.

Looks to me like one hell of an opportunity. Who will act on it ?


About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".