Israel’s Inelegant Options in Judea and Samaria: Withdrawal, Annexation, and Conflict Management

Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 129

Executive Summary

In advance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror examines the two basic approaches to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and application of Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the creation of a bi-national state (in practice).

Amidror, the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow at the BESA Center, was national security advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and director of the Intelligence Analysis Division in Military Intelligence.

General Amidror sketches the arguments of all sides in this debate. He concludes that the political Right has no sound response to the demographic argument against annexation, while the Left has no serious solution to the security threat stemming from Palestinian statehood. Therefore, Israel must choose the lesser evil. “Israel’s choices are not a matter of right or wrong, but of electing to assume one set of risks over the other,” he writes.

Amidror utterly rejects the suggestions that Israel undertake unilateral initiatives – whether unilateral annexation of all or part of the West Bank, or unilateral withdrawals from all or parts of the West Bank. Unilateral moves, he writes, would entail a very high domestic price for Israel, while earning Israel very few gains in diplomatic and defense terms.

Amidror: “Israel should not make any unilateral moves at all, but rather manage the conflict until conditions improve for a renewed negotiating effort at an agreed-upon solution. When on the edge of the cliff, standing still is preferable to stepping forward.”

“In fact, the conditions that pertain in the Middle East today militate against dramatic Israeli moves. The Arab world is in a state of violent chaos which requires effective and complete Israeli control of the West Bank for what may be a very long time. At the same time, any move towards formal annexation will wreck the ability of Israel to enhance relations with the important Sunni countries, and might even lead to another bloody intifada. Nevertheless, the principled question of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it ought to be resolved should be discussed, to shape today’s policies in accordance with the preferred solution of the future.”

“Therefore, Palestinian statehood is not the real question currently before decision-makers. Rather, the question is whether Israel aspires to leave open the possibility of future negotiations towards a two-state solution, or it will act towards closing this option by expanding isolated settlements and entering an unstoppable process towards a bi-national state situation.”

Amidror concludes that all the approaches discussed in this study pose significant challenges to Israel’s future. It is therefore critical that a significant majority of Israelis – as large a consensus as possible – unite behind whatever approach is opted for by Israel’s leadership, to prevent a schism in the country.

“And the truth is that no good solutions exist. Most Israelis will end up having to choose the least-worst alternative; whether that is the demographic threat or the security threat.”

“The pro-settler Right, and the hard Left which denies Jewish rights in the Land of Israel, are two factions within Israeli society, on opposite sides of the spectrum. In between, at the center of Jewish society in Israel, is a large majority which desires a solution, and is quite ready to compromise on its rights over vast areas of the Land of Israel. But it will do so only in return for an agreement that will ensure the security and peace of the country; and in a situation where the Palestinian minority does not grow beyond its current share of the population.”

The only politically feasible way to act on this readiness in the future – which I repeat is unrealistic at present – is by limiting Israeli building to the settlement blocs (or to the existing boundaries of settlements, as was recently agreed between Israel and the Trump administration), thus reserving the remaining area for discussion at a time when there might be a different Palestinian leadership.

“At the same time, Israel must not jeopardize its existence by embarking on rash unilateral initiatives that would radically worsen its security situation – just to please proponents of ‘forward progress’ at any cost. This risk is not worth taking.”

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Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror

Former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel and the Head of the National Security Council. Served 36 years in senior IDF posts, including commander of the Military Colleges, military secretary to the Minister of Defense, director of the Intelligence Analysis Division in Military Intelligence, and chief intelligence officer of the Northern Command. Author of three books on intelligence and military strategy.