The Vanishing Peace Partner


Israelis have long argued that they lack a partner for peace. Now it appears they may be right. Take Yasser Abbas’s weekend photo-op, where he took the time while donating blood for Gaza’s wounded to tell a TV reporter that the IDF is a “Nazi army” and that “Palestine should be freed” to pave the way for a “Palestinians-only” state. Maybe we shouldn’t make too much of Abbas’s rant. Perhaps it’s only the bluster of a politically-minded prodigal son trying to distance himself from his famous father. Except that Yasser Abbas isn’t an outlier.

For years we’ve thought that a majority of Palestinians want what we want: two states existing side by side. Turns out we were kidding ourselves. A June poll showed that the “two-state solution” is now a minority position, with 60 percent of Palestinians preferring that their national goal be “reclaiming all of historic Palestine from the river to the sea.” Over 65 percent view any negotiated two-state deal as merely a temporary way-station for Palestine’s ultimate “liberation.” A measly 27 percent now think that the objective should be to end the occupation and achieve a two-state solution.

At a time when Palestinians are deserting the two-state solution in droves, it’s ironic that PM Netanyahu is the one being hammered for giving up on it during a now infamous press conference, where all he did was dare to state the obvious: Israel can’t afford to relinquish security control of the West Bank “under any agreement.”  Netanyahu’s remarks came four days into Operation Protective Edge and six days before thirteen Hamas gunmen infiltrated a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa, necessitating a ground operation.

Before 53 sons, fathers, and husbands in the prime of their lives were killed in combat defending their country from terrorists who used child labor and squandered millions of dollars to build an evil underground labyrinth. Before murderers burrowed into, and emerged from, the earth armed with handcuffs and tranquilizers to be used for only one purpose: to kill and kidnap. Before Palestinians in the West Bank rose up in violent pro-Hamas demonstrations. Before Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a cease-fire proposal that was so conciliatory to Hamas that even Israeli leftists refused to endorse it. Before their errant and misfired rockets landed on their own people, but brought the wrath of the world onto Israel.

Before all this, Netanyahu never said that Hamas’s murderous terrorism is proof that Israel can’t accept a Palestinian state. But given all that has happened since that fateful July 11 press conference, is it really too much to ask that the West Bank not become “another 20 Gazas”? Is it really fair to expect Israel to surrender the defense of its citizens to any military other than its own?

Let’s get some facts straight: a continued IDF presence in the West Bank doesn’t undercut Palestinian statehood. Sovereignty doesn’t require that states have standing armies, and newly independent states often admit the armed services of foreign countries to keep the peace. Consider Kosovo. After declaring independence in 2008, all it has today is a lightly armed 2,500 civil response force (similar to the American-trained, US taxpayer-funded Palestinian Authority security forces). It’s only now starting to create a national army, which would still have to work alongside NATO’s force.

In fact, Netanyahu said what Israel’s legal and security experts who are firmly committed to settlement withdrawal and to the two-state solution have been saying for years. Back in October 2012, Gilead Sher, who served as PM Ehud Barak’s chief of staff and was Israel’s co-chief negotiator with the Palestinians in 2000-2001, recommended that the IDF should remain in any “areas where Jewish communities are located and that have been voluntarily evacuated”. Amos Yadlin, chief of Israel’s military intelligence from 2006 to 2010 and now director of the Institute for National Security at Tel Aviv University, and Ami Ayalon, former director of Shin Bet, have also long warned that only after an extended period of quiet should Israel withdraw its forces from the Jordan Valley and other strategic locations, and only then should it consider an international force in the areas handed over to Palestine.

This week Sher, Yadlin, and Ayalon defended Netanyahu’s decision to intensify aerial and ground operations to cripple Hamas’s offensive capabilities, a war strategy overwhelmingly supported by the public according to new polls.  But they’re also calling on their government to unilaterally shape a new “political horizon” that begins the de-facto establishment of two states by renouncing Israel’s claim to territory east of the separation fence.

This plan to ensure Israel’s future as a secure, democratic, and Jewish state now merits full consideration. Implementing it would give the Palestinians hope for a state. And unlike any other pro-peace, pro-Israel blueprint it recognizes the Jewish people’s heritage, including the attachment to Jerusalem, and would treat settlers with the dignity that they deserve, acknowledging their enormous sacrifices. Best of all it would prevent the creation of a security vacuum in the West Bank, thus avoiding the dangerous blunder made in 2005, when Israel withdrew every last Israeli from Gaza only to see it become a terrorist bunker for Jew-hating Islamist jihadists.

Like it or not, it’s the only strategy Israel has left. Because with most Palestinians now rejecting the Jewish people’s right to any remnant of its ancient homeland, it’s unlikely that they’ll support a negotiated peace agreement. It’s time to abandon the paradigm of useless peace talks. Sher puts it well: “Israel must now take its destiny into its own hands”.

About the Author
Miriam F. Elman teaches and writes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from her hometown in New York. She is a political scientist and security studies specialist at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.