Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen addressing the Knesset last year, has not taken a position on a unilateral strategy to end the stalemate in negotiations with the Palestinians. | Sebastian Scheiner~AP
Updated: July 6, 2012 9:44AM
It was bound to happen. The Israelis, growing weary of looking for a Palestinian leader actually committed to negotiating a two-state solution, are starting to consider laying down their own parameters for an interim situation and then waiting for Palestinians to come to the negotiating table.
No less a figure than Ehud Barak, the current defense minister and a former prime minister, this week floated the idea of Israel adopting “a provisional arrangement or even unilateral action” setting borders.
He’s not the only one. In forming a national unity government a few weeks back, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu elevated to deputy prime minister Shaul Mofaz, a former paratrooper who saw action in three of Israel’s wars and who favors establishing a temporary Palestinian state on about 60 percent of the West Bank. And in April three prominent Israelis, including Ami Ayalon, a former official of the Mossad intelligence agency, advocated “unilateral actions” in an op-ed in the New York Times. They argued the Jewish state can transform the stalemate, writing, “Israel can and must take constructive steps to advance the reality of two states based on the 1967 borders with land swaps — regardless of whether Palestinian leaders have agreed to accept it.”
Netanyahu has signaled no support for a unilateral move. Still, he ceaselessly urges Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the bargaining table and “not to miss this unique opportunity” to negotiate a two-state solution. Yet the Palestinians cling to a discredited stance of demanding an end to all construction in Israeli communities in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria as a precondition for talks. Palestinian criticism of Israeli unilateralism overlooks the inconvenient truth that last year Abbas tried but failed in a unilateral bid to get United Nations recognition of “Palestine.”
Now, said Barak, “Israel does not have the luxury to remain in stalemate” with a growing Palestinian population in the West Bank threatening Israel’s future as a Jewish state. Also prodding Barak toward an independent course is his firsthand frustration in trying to deal with someone who feints toward peace but in the end rejects it. In 2000, Barak offered the late Yassir Arafat what every reasonable observer called a fair, even generous, deal to create a Palestinian state. But Arafat preferred waging a bloody terror war. In 2008, Israel made another far-reaching offer only to see Abbas walk away.
Also motivating Israel toward breaking the stalemate is the dangerous instability sweeping the Middle East. The “Arab spring” revolutions have called into question the reliability of Egypt’s and Jordan’s commitments to the peace pacts they made with Israel. The Syrian civil war threatens to spill over into Lebanon and other countries. And Iran doggedly pursues nuclear weapons.
A unilateral withdrawal from huge swaths of the West Bank carries its own potential dangers. The Israelis left the Gaza Strip on their own in 2004 only to see a Hamas terror statelet installed there, thousands of rockets fired from there aimed at Israeli civilians and Israel forced into a brief war.
But count of the always inventive Israelis to learn from that experience. No one is offering specifics for a unilateral strategy but bet on it to include smart security measures to protect Israeli civilians from terrorism. With the Palestinians just saying no to talks, going it alone may be the way to go.