As the Trump Administration prepares to unveil its much-vaunted peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel must be prepared for any eventuality. President Trump and his peace team have already suggested that Israel will be forced to make concessions for Middle East Peace. The Israeli leadership, under pressure for decades from the United Nations, European Union, and Arab League to create a Palestinian state, knows that it must surrender some territory it holds in the West Bank/Judea & Samaria. As such, ending the status of “Area B” by militarily withdrawing from the region seems to be the best course of action.
Under the Oslo Accords, the West Bank/Judea & Samaria was divided into three pieces. Area A was to be solely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Area C was to be solely under Israeli control. Area B would be shared—Israel’s military would secure the region while the PA ran civil affairs. There are rumors reporting that the peace plan being advanced by the Trump Administration entails an Israeli withdrawal from only parts of the West Bank/Judea & Samaria. It is likely that in such a scenario, Israel would annex the remainder, which could be most of (or all of) Area C. Area C is where all Israeli settlements lie, and only about 50,000 Palestinians live there. There is also the high chance that the PA would reject such a peace deal, having already been offended by Trump’s numerous pro-Israel/anti-Palestinian moves.
Whether or not the Palestinians accept the peace plan offered by President Trump, it would behoove Israel to withdraw from Area B militarily. The reason is that there is no good reason to remain. Israel has an overwhelming military advantage over the Palestinians—and everyone else in the Middle East. If it surrenders control of security affairs to the PA Security Forces in Area B, this removes a significant economic burden on Israel, while reducing the risk of young soldiers being attacked. If there is some sort of military crisis in the region, Israel can enter anyways to eliminate such a threat—as it already does during military raids in Area A. But leaving Area B to full Palestinian control offers more benefits to Israel than the alternative—while giving nothing away.
Area B was planned in Oslo to eventually come under Palestinian sovereignty. If Israel withdraws from the area ahead of the release of the US peace plan, or as part of it, it will show that it is cooperating with US national interests in terms of securing a peace deal. It will also restore faith in the Palestinian Authority when it comes to negotiations. The PA may still go after Israel in international institutions or continue to incite against it, yet their case would be less compelling in the eyes of the world if Israel makes such concrete moves towards peace. Left-wing Israelis and diaspora Jews, aligned with pro-peace Arab groups and pro-Palestinian activists around the world, consistently demand an end to Israel’s presence in the West Bank/Judea & Samaria, and are starting to consider supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as a means to publicly shame and economically punish Israel for its presence in the region. The International Criminal Court, European Union, and United Nations all have continued to press on with making a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict on the basis of a two-state solution one of their biggest priorities. And Arab countries that are getting closer to Israel still demand “movement” on the issue prior to full normalization. Recently, there were rumors of some Arab countries agreeing to give Israel normalized economic ties and overflight rights in exchange for a partial settlement freeze. Already, Israel & many Arab countries have grown closer due to Iran’s regional aggression; concern over Sunni jihadists; and environmental & economic cooperation. Further normalization could be advanced by leaving Area B. Doing so would also undermine the international movement to isolate Israel, whether at the UN, on college campuses, or via cultural events.
Most significantly, leaving Area B is consistent with both left-wing and right-wing concerns on the Palestinian issue domestically. The Israeli Left wants to see progress on a two-state solution and a military focus away from the Palestinians and towards the Iranian axis. The Israeli Right does not want to cede Area C for security reasons, at least not until Palestinians make concessions of their own. Evacuating Area B provides options for Israel. If it adopts Dr. Mordechai Kedar’s “emirate plan”for Palestinians in the region, leaving Area B is a move on the right track. Alternatively, leaving Area B could also result in a traditional two-state solution that the international community has backed for decades. The Palestinian economy is likely to improve as well. That–coupled with fewer interactions with Israeli troops and checkpoints–means there is a possibility for at least a slight decrease in terrorism. Both sides win in this scenario, without any difficult concessions being made and without surrendering areas vital to Israel’s security, religious identity, or history.
Equally of great importance is the need for the Palestinian Authority to secure a political victory. There is growing regional, international, and local pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. Many Palestinians believe that the government in Areas A & B is a collaborator with Israel which has not freed them from occupation. Meanwhile, Israel has been facilitating humanitarian and economic aid to Hamas despite its rocket attacks. Gazans and others believe that Hamas’ use of force and terrorism is what produced the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, whereas settlement construction continues in Area C under the veil of negotiations. If Israel withdraws from Area B, it shows that negotiations—not violence—is what will secure peace and Palestinian independence. This gives a stronger hand to the PA rather than to Hamas. For all of its faults, the Palestinian Authority is less harmful to Israeli security interests than Hamas. Strengthening the PA means strengthening security & stability in the West Bank/Judea & Samaria, and weakening the appeal of radical groups such as Hamas.
In one recent episode of “Game of Thrones,” Tyrion Lannister advised Daenerys to let Jon Snow mine obsidian at Dragonstone. “Give him something, by giving him nothing. Take a step toward a more productive relationship with a possible ally.” Indeed, Israel can apply this approach to Area B. It loses nothing but a financial and military burden by leaving Area B. Regardless of the Trump peace plan’s outcome or whether or not Israel will annex Area C, it gives Israel options. It also helps solidify the emerging alliance between Israel and its Arab neighbors—along with Muslim countries outside the region. Most importantly, it leaves less justification for diplomatic or military aggression against the Jewish state.