With President Trump’s impending arrival to Israel, a growing nucleus of former, senior, Israeli security officials, such as myself, are hopeful that the traditional call to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will finally be acknowledged as deeply flawed, and out of touch with reality. President Trump may bring the re-imagining required to seek out, and to implement, new, realistic alternatives.
Many two state proponents believe that the key to resolving the conflict rests on the 1967 Green Line border, suggesting that if the border is simply adjusted a kilometer in one direction or another, the endless conflict that has been plaguing the region for 100 years will be replaced by eternal peace.
Such thinking ignores the fact that the Palestinians are divided into two warring entities at the level of governance; Hamas in Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank. It also ignores the very essence that is at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The truth of the matter is that the conflict began as soon as Jews began setting foot back in the land of Israel. To focus on the 1967 lines is to miss the nature of the issue, which rests with the fact that parts of the Islamic world claim entitlement not to part of, but to all, of the land of Israel.
The perception that ‘all of the land is ours’ among Palestinians manifests itself everywhere. Hence, one cannot find a single map in Palestinian government ministries, schools, or online that features modern Israel.
Two million Palestinians reside in Gaza, under Hamas that has long had a charter calling for the eradication of Israel. Surface level revisions of that charter will do little to change such attitudes.
The Fatah charter is not very different. The difference between them lies merely in how they operate.
While Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, global jihad elements, and other terror factions among Palestinians are explicit and honest about their goal of eradicating Israel, Fatah plays a double game. The jihadists do not attempt to hide their essence, but Fatah says one thing in Arabic and another thing in English. In this manner, Fatah receives global legitimacy and prestige.
Yet every time there is a need to take a practical step forward and show any willingness to make peace, this situation usually ends with further demands from Fatah, and nothing else.
The only area where Fatah and Israel enjoy relatively good cooperation is in their common fight against Hamas, where their interests merge.
Unfortunately, this pinpoint cooperation is confused by many for something more than it really is. Fatah needs to cooperate with Israel to keep Hamas at bay, and it needs to issue pragmatic sounding statements to receive funds from the Western world. This is how Fatah ensures its survival.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, two million people are closed in from every side. Israel’s border with Gaza is closed because Hamas attacks Israel, digs tunnels, builds rockets, and promotes its agenda to destroy Israel. Egypt has kept its border with Gaza closed because of the terrorism that has claimed many lives from among Egyptian security forces – terrorism that has received assistance from Gaza.
Gaza’s very large population continues to grow, and it is clear that this constitutes a time bomb, waiting to explode. Gazans are also undergoing a level of indoctrination that is very extreme, from childhood. Since overthrowing Fatah in a violent Islamist coup, Hamas has run Gaza like a jihadist war fortress.
Nevertheless, the forces challenging Hamas in Gaza are ‘to the right’ of it. It is ISIS-linked groups, not liberal democratic forces, that pose a challenge to Hamas’s rule.
The Dangers of Withdrawal
With this assessment in mind, it is clear that an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria now would be disastrous. The Israel Defense Forces cannot withdraw from the Jordan Valley, which could be used by thousands of jihadists from collapsed neighboring states – or from Iran – to infiltrate the area.
Israel cannot entertain the idea of even one kilometer of the Jordan Valley lacking border controls and supervision. Shi’ite or Sunni jihadists would flow into the heart of Judea and Samaria.
This security reality means that the Palestinians cannot set up any state in the West Bank that will not be a besieged entity, with Israel continuing to fully control all exit and entrance points.
Even more significantly, the IDF cannot withdraw from the West Bank itself, for this would give terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah armed groups, or those elements under Iranian influences – a free hand to operate. The writing is on the wall: An Israeli military withdrawal would result in the mushrooming of rocket and bomb-making workshops across the West Bank. Projectiles would start raining down on central Israel, and terror cells would start making cross-border killing raids into central Israeli cities.
Today, with the IDF enjoying full freedom of movement to make nightly arrests, Israel still experiences regular acts of terrorism. What would things be like if Israel’s freedom of operation in the area were to be curtailed? One need look no further than what happened in Gaza, after Israel’s withdrawal, to find out.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The intention to set up a traditional two-state model will undoubtedly lead to hell, both for Israelis who would come under heavy attack, and for Palestinians, whose lives would disintegrate into violent anarchy.
When You’re Right, You’re Right…or Left
Yet the Israeli Left makes a valid point as well. Annexing approximately two million Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would severely compromise Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. Israel cannot give voting rights to two million West Bank Palestinians (Gaza is an extra territorial area and not included in this consideration).
The solution then is to find an out-of-the-box answer to both Israeli and Palestinian needs. Out-of-the-box means, in this case, outside of the land of Israel.
Enter the New State Solution
In order to provide the Palestinians with a state, which has territorial continuity and is linked to Gaza, the best solution is to create such a state in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, along the coastal area.
Sinai was not traditionally part of Egypt, and was only affixed to it under the British Mandate. In recent years, it has become a no man’s land, with the center and north of Sinai controlled mainly by Beduin tribes and ISIS.
Egypt’s attempt to reestablish sovereignty in Sinai have met with very limited success. The area spun out of control a decade ago in the central and northern regions.
Egypt itself is a very unstable state, having lost its hegemony and regional-global standing. It almost collapsed under the Obama years, and today, Egypt needs help. The financial assistance it had been receiving from Saudi Arabia has dwindled due to falling oil prices and Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Egypt is in real distress, and should it lose the ability to secure the Suez Canal, this could pose a colossal danger to the global economy.
Setting up a Palestinian state in Sinai is a real chance to offer Egypt assistance and bring it back into the center stage. This state and Gaza would become one; possessing an army, and open borders.
An Egyptian-Israeli-American initiative to topple Hamas in Gaza would be necessary at some stage to make this vision realistic.
Palestinians in the West Bank could move to the Sinai state, or remain where they are, holding citizenship in the New State. Their areas would come under Israeli control, and they would hold Israeli residency. They can live in good neighborly relations with Israel. There would be no forced transfer of any population.
The New State solution offers a fresh, more realistic solution to the situation than the doomed, traditional, two-state model; which would undoubtedly fail for all of the above stated reasons, and lead to misery for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Ultimately, if implemented, the New State Solution would still result in two states for two peoples living side by side in security. It requires a new set of eyes to see this vision clearly. Perhaps President Trump will bring such novel thinking with him when he arrives in the country I, and many like me, have spent our lives defending.
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.