Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former national security adviser argued Monday that Israel must cease new construction in settlements outside of the so-called blocs, or risk losing its ability to uphold both its Jewish and democratic nature.
Yaakov Amidror, who served under Netanyahu from 2011 to 2013, said at a panel at Bar-Ilan University that while he thought the current Palestinian leadership and the volatility of the current Middle East do not present the conditions for a peace deal, Israel must preserve the possibility of a two-state solution in the future.
That means only building in areas Israel hopes to keep via land swaps in a final status deal with the Palestinians.
“Israel should limit settlement building to the blocs or the boundaries of existing settlements and reserve the remaining area for discussion at a time when there might be a different Palestinian leadership,” he wrote in a study he was presenting at the conference.
There are six major blocs commonly seen as being held by Israel in any future deal: Givat Ze’ev, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel, Modiin Illit and Karnei Shomron
The settlement watchdog group Peace Now released a report in May that said some 70 percent of settlement construction in the West Bank last year took place outside the so-called blocs. However, the report relies on the definition of the blocs as outlined on the 2003 Geneva Initiative, which is rejected by the current government.
Last week, Israel began construction on the first new settlement since 1993. The new settlement, to be known as Amichai, is to accommodate residents of the illegal Amona outpost, which was evacuated in February in line with court orders because it was built on private Palestinian land. Amichai is located near the settlements of Shiloh and Eli, north of Ramallah.
Amidror, who is now a fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, was presenting the findings of his recently published study, entitled “Israel’s Inelegant Options in Judea and Samaria: Withdrawal, Annexation, and Conflict Management.”
Panelists at the event included Environment and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), former minister and veteran peace activist Yossi Beilin — a key architect of the Oslo peace process — and Professor Ruth Gavison, an Israeli law expert and Israel Prize laureate. All agreed that demographics posed the greatest challenge to the future of Israel.
Amidror said he had yet to hear a legitimate solution from those on Israel’s right wing who favor annexation of the West Bank on how the Jewish state might swallow the entire Palestinian population — several million people — while still remaining both a Jewish and democratic state.
“I’ve never heard a logical argument from the right about the demographic issue,” he said. The other panelists agreed.
Elkin argued that given the current turbulence in the Middle East, in which he doesn’t know what will be the “names of states that border Israel” in a year, finding a solution to the demographic problem will have to wait.
He also said he was sure Mahmoud Abbas — who he accused of “killing” Palestinian politics — would be the last president of the Palestinian Authority. As for who would govern the Palestinians in the future if the authority were to disappear, he said Palestinians might live in “small islands of sovereignty.”
Beilin passionately argued for setting Israel’s borders as soon as possible. He said that safeguarding Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature was his primary reason for wanting to end Israel’s 50-year military rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank. The moral argument that the occupation harms both the Palestinians and Israel, he said, was only of secondary importance to him.
“What is important for me is to leave to my children and grandchildren a democratic and Jewish state. I need a border,” he said, to some applause in the room.
Criticizing Elkin, Beilin argued that those who say conditions aren’t ripe for a solution are intentionally dithering in order to perpetuate the status quo.
Beilin also said it was time to “think seriously about an Israeli-Palestinian confederation.” He argued a confederation would could solve the demographic threat by allowing Israeli citizens to live among Palestinians, as well as a number of other issues including the demilitarization of a Palestinian state and environmental and infrastructural issues.
Gavison, who said she considered herself a centrist, said the divided Israeli political landscape could unify around the goal of ensuring a “strong and stable Jewish majority.”
Settlements have long been one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the Palestinians and much of the international community saying that their expansion threatens the territorial continuity of a future Palestinian state.
The Palestinians and much of the international community do not recognize any settlements in the West Bank as legal.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.