Current mainstream thinking on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians rests on a significant fallacy. Those arguing for talks with the Palestinians based on the 1967 Green Line as the future border between Israel and a State of Palestine do not take into account that as far as the Palestinian side is concerned, this position only fuels their desire to continue the conflict.
Israel’s traditional position, held since the days of the Oslo Peace Agreement in the 1990s, is that a Palestinian state would be established in Judea and Samaria, and Israel would withdraw to the 1967 borders in exchange for Palestinian recognition and a cessation of all claims and hostilities.
Yet the prevailing view on the Palestinian side is that Israel is offering them land that already belongs to them. Israel’s past attempts to negotiate for recognition, as well as the encouragement by the international community and the Obama Administration for further talks on this basis, is a recipe for continued conflict.
A failure to understand the national ambition of regional actors, including the Palestinians, is what lies at the heart of this doomed effort. Just as Turkish President Recep Tayiip Erdogan refuses to recognize the old 20th century boundaries of Turkey, and is seeking to expand into the old Ottoman role (his attempt to send forces to Mosul, Iraq being a case in point), the Palestinians too are not prepared to really cease their ambitions in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
In the world of Middle Eastern national ambitions, every agreement is, in actuality, a stepping stone that leads to the next stage. Today’s ‘solution’ is an entrance ticket to tomorrow’s problems. In fact, this axiom extends beyond the Middle East, to every status quo situation. They are in actuality temporary balancing acts, open to change. The Schengen Agreement, for example, which ensures open EU borders, is due for revision in light of Islamic terrorist attacks, such as the Berlin Christmas atrocity. Zooming out further, cities in Europe have changed hands in the past, and could do so again.
Figures on the world stage like outgoing US Secretary of Defense John Kerry do not comprehend this, because they are adherents to ‘solutionism’ – the idea that any solution reached will be both permanent, and the new status quo. His view is not shared by the actors of the Middle East.
UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed in December 2016, which condemns Israeli settlements as illegal, will also serve to further fuel the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
The resolution has emboldened Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to push on with his campaign to attack Israel in international institutions. Abbas long ago realized that suicide terrorism and armed conflict harm the Palestinians even more than Israel, so he opted for diplomatic conflict instead.
The latest resolution will empower the Palestinian to conduct more attacks, and as Abbas himself recently said, his campaign is not just against settlements. It is a battle over the image of Israel and the Palestinians, and an attempt to strengthen the anti-Israel BDS movement.
Ironically, the resolution will also serve to strengthen the settlement movement, as it has placed far flung settlements like Yitzhar in the same category as Jerusalem suburbs like Gilo.
In the past, the Israeli left and center attempted to drive a wedge between large settlement blocs and outlying settlements, and they did so effectively. The non-binding Beilin-Abbas agreement (1995) recognized Israel’s right to keep Gush Etzion but sacrificed outlying settlements, like Bet El, and this created deep divisions within the settlement camp. Resolution 2334 undid some of that division by lumping all of the settlements together. Suddenly, Gilo and Kiryat Arba near Hebron were viewed through the same lens.
Looking ahead, the recent diplomatic developments are bound to have a negative influence on the ground.
The wave of stabbings launched by attackers over the past year and a half, which was not officially linked to the Palestinian Authority, enabled the Palestinians to continue to maintain economic stability, and channel friction with Israel in a way that does not lead to Palestinian society paying a high price. This was a big achievement on their part.
The outbreak of violence and series of attacks by a relatively small number of Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem led to a de facto division of Jerusalem due to security measures. The lesson here is that Palestinians do not need to invest in a big way to secure achievements and threaten Israel. The UN Security Council resolution affirms this logic.
With the Trump administration now in place, the time is ripe for Israel to create a consensus over where it really wishes to go.
This is paramount now, as the international system undergoes major changes.
Is Israel still interested in a two-state solution? Those on the Israeli left and center view Judea and Samaria as burden that must be gotten rid of. But no one should expect Palestinians to reciprocate this approach with a willingness to end the conflict.
The most suitable approach for now would be to enable the Palestinian Authority to continue to operate in Areas A and B, and keep Area C under Israeli control.
If Israel projects stability, it will receive cooperation from those around it, and that means strengthening the settlements, while also working to improve the Palestinian economy. This would, contrary to the accepted wisdom, prevent further escalation.
Similarly, in Jerusalem, working with Palestinian residents of the eastern half of the city, rather than seeking to ‘get rid of them’ by giving away part of the capital, is the way forward, towards cooperation and stability.
Currently, many in Israel do not, unfortunately, understand that this is the type of commitment that will boost its security.
The empires of history that lasted for centuries did understand this principle. To maintain continuity, one must first be a stable structure.
A failure to understand the logic of the regional eco-system will lead to further, dangerous errors.
Edited by: Yaakov Lappin
Co-Edited by: Benjamin Anthony
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author. Visit www.oursoldiersspeak.org .