Proposal would split Israel from Palestinians – but don’t call it a peace plan
Interview'There’s a window of opportunity that never existed before'

Proposal would split Israel from Palestinians – but don’t call it a peace plan

Amos Yadlin and the INSS think tank urge Israel to take independent action to remain ‘Jewish, democratic, secure and ethical’ and prevent ‘existential threat’ of binational state

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Amos Yadlin speaks at an IsraPresse event for the French-speaking community at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Jerusalem, February 22, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Amos Yadlin speaks at an IsraPresse event for the French-speaking community at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Jerusalem, February 22, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Following two years of research and consultation with figures throughout the Middle East, a leading Israeli think tank on Monday presented a comprehensive plan of action to separate Israel from the Palestinians. The plan could ensure that Israel remains a “Jewish, democratic, secure and ethical state” — if it acts fast enough — one of the plan’s main authors, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, said.

The primary assumption in the 121-page proposal is that Israel, through inertia and a lack of political will, is on track to becoming a binational state without a clear Jewish majority, which could mean the end of Israel either as a Jewish state or a democratic one.

A major assumption of the plan is that Israel is the strongest it’s ever been and that the “stars have aligned” to give Israel an unprecedented ability to sculpt its future.

“There’s a window of opportunity that never existed before,” Yadlin, who leads the Institute for National Security Studies, which produced the plan, said.

US President Donald Trump (right) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on March 5, 2018, in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

That window of opportunity has been formed by a weakened Palestinian Authority, a lessening of antipathy toward Israel in Arab countries around the Middle East, and an American administration that is seen as supportive of Israel and that is due to present its own peace plan at some point in the future.

However, Yadlin cautioned, that window of opportunity could close within two to six years, with the election of a different US president or other geopolitical shifts around the world. So Israel should take advantage of the situation while it can.

According to Yadlin, Israel has two existential threats on the horizon: a nuclear Iran and a binational state.

“For the nuclear Iranian threat, Israel has a strategy. But for the threat of a single state, Israel does not have a strategy,” Yadlin told The Times of Israel in his office at the INSS on Tel Aviv University’s campus ahead of the proposal’s presentation.

“I’m not hysterical like [former US secretary of state] John Kerry, saying that if we don’t solve it this year or this week, there will be no other time, but I think we need to set the goal and start working toward it,” he said.

The INSS document, called the “Strategic Framework for the Israeli-Palestinian Arena,” takes a deliberately one-sided approach to addressing the conflict, looking solely at Israel’s best interests and proposing only steps that Israel could take — regardless of the cooperation of the Palestinians.

“We can’t wait for a Palestinian messiah to come and make peace with us, because that won’t happen. And we can’t wait for the messiah who will give us a clear Jewish majority from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. We’re doing it ourselves. That’s Zionism,” Yadlin said.

Muslim worshipers pray near the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem, during the first Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan on May 18, 2018 (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

The plan ignores the Gaza Strip and looks only at the West Bank. It also does not address the issue of Jerusalem, whose eastern neighborhoods, which the Palestinians claim for their future capital, Israel refuses to give up.

Under the proposal, Israel would create a contiguous Palestinian “entity” under the control of the Palestinian Authority, comprising approximately 65 percent of the West Bank. Significant economic incentives would be granted to the PA, preferably from Arab nations and the international community, in order to keep it afloat by improving the lives of Palestinians.

Large Israeli settlement blocs — those around Jerusalem in the central West Bank and the settlement-city of Ariel in the north — would remain part of Israel and building there would thus continue unobstructed. However, construction in farther-flung settlements would be halted in order to leave open the option of a two-state solution, Yadlin said.

The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service would retain unfettered access to Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank in order to fight terror and prevent violence.

Palestinian Authority security forces touring Israeli-controlled Hebron in uniform (Credit: Wafa)

The Palestinians would also not be able to have a freestanding army or other significant military, and Israel would continue to control the airspace over the West Bank. Israel would also maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley in order to prevent Palestinians from being able to smuggle weapons into the country through the eastern border.

Asked how the Palestinians were expected to accept a situation in which they did not have the full sovereign rights of other countries, Yadlin said the INSS “is meant to address how the State of Israel would look, less so how a Palestinian state would look.”

He acknowledged that it would “by definition mean a less-than state” but said the alternative was simply “unacceptable” to Israel.

The right fell in love with the status quo. The left fell in love with an unachievable peace

Of course, the INSS plan presupposes an Israeli government interested in advancing it, which would require compromise and change from parties across the political spectrum.

“The right fell in love with the status quo. The left fell in love with an unachievable peace, which I’m not against — I’m very much for it — but it will never happen. So let’s do what we think we can and should do,” Yadlin said.

“But I think that most Israelis accept my view,” he added, citing a poll that found an approximately 80 percent majority of Israelis who support splitting from the Palestinians and approximately 60% who support a two-state solution.

Heavy hitters

The authors of the study were Yadlin, who previously served as the head of Military Intelligence and was tapped to be the Zionist Union’s defense minister in 2015 had the center-left faction won the election; Udi Dekel, a former IDF brigadier general and chief negotiator in the 2007 Annapolis Conference peace talks under then-prime minister Ehud Olmert; and research assistant Kim Lavi.

Ten other INSS fellows are acknowledged as contributors to the proposal, and dozens of outside researchers, ex-negotiators and former defense and foreign policy officials were interviewed and assisted in the creation of the plan.

Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference, in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

They included former IDF chiefs of staff Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, former national security adviser Giora Eiland, former minister Dan Meridor and former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. Their names do not appear on the document, nor do those of a number of other ex-officials who asked not to be named.

The INSS is seen as one of Israel’s premier think tanks, with numerous former high-ranking officials serving as fellows and researchers.

Yadlin maintained that the plan was not connected to his or any of the other contributors’ personal politics. Nor, he said, were the proposals a form of advocacy.

“This research does not have anything to do with the fact that in 2015 I was the Zionist Union’s candidate for defense minister,” he said.

“The proposal being presented Monday is academic, investigative work. If some advocacy group or political party or, even better, the prime minister adopted this plan — that would be enough. But it’s our job to open it up to debate for the public and for decision makers. That’s what a think tank does,” Yadlin said.

Though it was only formally presented by the INSS on Monday, the plan has already been shown to senior government officials and the heads of the major political parties.

“Some of them loved it more, some of them loved it less, some of them said they would adopt it at one stage or another,” he said.

It was also shown to representatives of the US government, Arab leaders and Palestinian officials in order to gauge interest and receive input.

When possible, Yadlin traveled directly to meet Arab officials; in cases where Israelis could not freely enter the country, an American intermediary was used.

The ‘Waze’ model

The INSS proposal dispels the view that there is only one correct way to proceed toward the goal of an Israel divorced from the Palestinians, and instead adopts a Waze-like model, Yadlin said, referring to the popular navigation application.

“There are a number of different paths to the same goal. If one doesn’t work, then we move to another — like Waze,” he said.

According to Yadlin, that adaptive quality is one of the main differences between his plan and those proposed by others throughout the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, each of which eventually failed.

“We reviewed 12 proposals and we distilled them into one plan, which we think is the only realistic one to reach what we think Israel wants: a clear Jewish majority, a democratic country, a secure nation and a country that goes back to being the side that’s right and has the ethical high ground,” he said.

There are a number of different paths to the same goal. If one doesn’t work, then we move to another — like Waze

Yadlin said that although he is convinced that the plan will succeed in achieving that goal, he believes there is a low probability that it will yield a peace agreement with the Palestinians, at least in the short term.

“An agreement [with the Palestinians] is the ‘way of the king,’” he said, using a Hebrew term meaning the ideal option.

“But based on a deep analysis we conducted, the chances of reaching an agreement are low. This will be proved, I think, when Trump presents his plan,” Yadlin said, referring to a much-discussed proposal written by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and the president’s adviser on international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The US administration has said that its peace proposal — billed by Trump as the “deal of the century” — is written and ready, and will be presented in the coming months.

The former intelligence chief said he believes the US plan, which he expects to fail, will be presented after both the US midterm elections later this year and the Israeli national elections, which are currently scheduled for November 2019, but may be held sooner if the government is dissolved.

Though Yadlin anticipates the failure of direct peace negotiations, Israel “still has to try. And if that doesn’t work, we’d go for an interim agreement. And then we’d act independently,” he said.

“People think independent means unilateral. It’s not unilateral. It’s independent and coordinated with the Americans and the Arabs. And once the Palestinians understand that time is not in their favor, that they don’t have a veto on the proceedings, I assess that they will return to the [peace] process,” Yadlin said.

Settler in Netzarim accuses soldiers, who have come to evacuate him from his home, of betraying Jewish values during the disengagement from Gaza. August 22, 2005. Photo by Flash90.

He stressed that that would not mean acting unilaterally as Israel did in the 2005 disengagement, which saw the painful eviction of all settlements and military posts from the Gaza Strip, and which many in Israel see as a failed policy that gave rise to the current unrest in the Palestinian enclave.

“As opposed to the disengagement, security would remain in Israel’s hands, we would not leave the entire area, settlements would not be broken up and we would not retreat to the ‘Green Line,'” the INSS plan says, referring to the pre-1967 borders of the West Bank.

The stars align

Yadlin said his proposal was possible due to a convergence of events around the world that give Israel better standing than ever in its negotiations with the Palestinians.

“We should assume that the blessed Holy One will listen and give us what we ask for, so let’s ask for it,” he said, jokingly invoking the divine.

In the past two years, Trump’s administration has come out clearly on the side of Israel — moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and cutting funding to Palestinian causes — and generally “appreciates the Israeli narrative and Israeli interests,” Yadlin said.

This was in contrast with the previous administration, which Yadlin described as “very problematic” for Israel.

The Arabs are ready to go to places that they weren’t willing to go before

Meanwhile, Arab countries around the Middle East are also increasingly siding with Israel in order to fight Iran, and their decades-long support for the Palestinians is beginning to waver.

“It’s not that it’s not important to them, but it’s no longer the case that the Palestinians dictate and the Arabs fall in line,” Yadlin said. “The Arabs are ready to go to places that they weren’t willing to go before.”

In addition, the Palestinians are slowly realizing that they do not have the power that they once did, according to Yadlin.

“What we’re trying to explain to the Palestinians is that they listened too closely to John Kerry, who told them that Israel would be lost if it didn’t reach an agreement, and so they raised their price to a point that even someone like me, who’s associated with the Zionist Union, is not prepared to accept,” he said.

A Palestinian rioter uses a sling shot against Israeli security forces during clashes after in the West Bank city of Hebron on December 8, 2017. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

Yadlin also downplayed the concerns that Palestinians in the West Bank could restart active, widespread violence against Israel, saying that possibility already exists today without his proposal.

“I think they will have even less motivation for violence because they’re getting a lot out of it — territory, infrastructure development, economic incentives,” he said.

The INSS plan also prepares for the possibility that Trump will not be reelected in 2020 and a new, potentially more antagonistic administration will take its place and rescind the current US president’s policies.

“With this, we expect that there will be support from the administration, support from the US Senate, international support, Arab support and maybe quiet support from the Palestinians — it would be very difficult to reverse,” Yadlin said.

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