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

By June 26, 2017

Minister Zeev Elkin, Dr. Yossi Beilin, and Prof. Ruth Gavison Debate General Amidror’s New Study.

To mark the jubilee of the Six Day War, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies has released a major study by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror that takes a fresh look at Israel’s options in Judea and Samaria and seeks to chart a path forward that will secure its national security while leaving the door open to peace.

Amidror, who was national security advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and director of the Intelligence Analysis Division in Military Intelligence, is today the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

He 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 the West Bank and the creation of a bi-national state (in practice). Amidror finds both approaches to be flawed, posing significant challenges to Israel’s future.

“Alas, 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.”

“The truth is that no good solutions exist. 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.”

The 50-page study by General Amidror, entitled Israel’s Inelegant Options in Judea and Samaria: Withdrawal, Annexation, and Conflict Management is available online in English, Hebrew and Arabic at www.besacenter.org

On June 26, the center held a symposium to discuss General Amidror’s study, with commentators from a range of perspectives, including the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Minister of Environmental Protection Zeev Elkin MK (Likud), former deputy foreign minister Dr. Yossi Beilin, (Labor), and Prof. Ruth Gavison. The discussion was moderated by Ari Shavit, former Haaretz columnist.

Minister Elkin argued that the demographic challenges highlighted by General Amidror have led to a change in right-wing policy:

“Even Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett isn’t advocating for the extension of full Israeli sovereignty over the entire Judea and Samaria territory,” he noted. “But the Israeli demand for rights in the historic Land of Israel means that there isn’t room for full-fledged Palestinian rights in this area. We are in a conflict of rights, and I want to win.”

Dr. Beilin spoke wistfully about the aborted London agreement between Shimon Peres and King Hussein of Jordan, which was scuttled by Yitzhak Shamir:

“That might have been a solution that didn’t involve total Palestinian statehood, and would have removed the demographic danger from Israel. It is this demographic danger that is my main concern, not the moral issues of occupation,” Beilin said. “I want to leave a Jewish and democratic state for my grandchildren.”

Prof. Gavison decried the lack of leadership in the Palestinian Authority, and called for the building of a national consensus in Israel towards a long-term vision for resolving the conflict.

General Amidror echoed Gavison’s call for consensus-building in Israel:

“Inevitably, this will mean the relinquishing by the Israeli right of some of its ideological-geographical dreams, and concessions from the Israeli left about the character of the Jewish state. Or, to put it another way: If the left wants the right to forgo some of the Land of Israel in order to protect the Jewish character of Israel, the left will also have to accept that the Jewish character of Israel is going to be more traditional and less liberal. That is the double-edged sword of the ‘demographic’ argument.”

Amidror also argued that 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 improve relations with the important Sunni states, 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 argued that at the center of Jewish society in Israel there is a large majority, which desires a solution and is quite ready to compromise on its historic 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.”

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 territory. Unilateral moves, he says, would entail a very high domestic price for Israel, while earning Israel very few gains in diplomatic and defense terms.

“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.”

“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.”