A Secret Solution to The Israeli-Palestinian Problem
Few Israelis have any illusions that the current process will result in peace with the Palestinians. The real Israeli aim, from the beginning, has been to rid itself of the albatross of the territories. Yitzhak Rabin used negotiations as a figleaf for what was essentially a unilateral withdrawal from the territories. This was the main reason he ignored all of the Palestinians’ violations of the Oslo accords. Rabin wanted out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and was going to get out whether Yasir Arafat helped him or not. Had he lived, Rabin would have continued negotiating, while at the same time completing the implementation of the Allon plan (which called for Israel to relinquish the main Arab-populated areas of the territories, but retain control of the strategically vital area along the Jordan River).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also knows the Allon plan is the inevitable conclusion of the peace process. He calls his version Allon “plus,” because Israel would retain more territory than the Labor Party intended; nevertheless, it still involves withdrawal from most of the territories, redrawing the borders to incorporate the majority of the settlements, maintaining a security belt along the Jordan rift and retaining control of Jerusalem. That’s the end game. Everyone knows it, so why inch our way toward that result when we can get there immediately?
Both Arafat and Netanyahu have to confront extremists within their own camps, so public diplomacy will inevitably give critics an opportunity to sabotage any dramatic initiatives. Consequently, the two men should secretly negotiate a final settlement.
The terms that could satisfy both sides might include the following:
Arafat and Netanyahu would agree that on some specific date, say June 1, Israel will annex the areas of the West Bank where 70 percent of the settlers live and announce a major building campaign. This would satisfy most Israelis on the right and left. The Labor government, in fact, proposed such a plan and therefore could not complain. Despite its commitment to the territories, the right was never prepared to annex the area. By doing so, Netanyahu would restore a significant chunk of “Greater Israel” to Israeli sovereignty. Most settlers would be under Israeli control, as would be strategically vital territory. Ariel Sharon would then be free to build and expand settlements to his little heart’s content in the territory now within Israel’s borders.
Simultaneously, Arafat will declare the establishment of a Palestinian state. The right can carry on all it wants, but this outcome became inevitable when Menachem Begin first proposed granting the Palestinians autonomy. Once they have control of most of their affairs, Israel can’t stop the evolution. Even today, they are close to statehood and, as the International Olympic Committee proved, global recognition won’t require a formal declaration of independence. Netanyahu’s focus should not be on semantics, but security and therefore must insure the annexation and security arrangements minimize any threat from the Palestinian-controlled areas. He will undoubtedly insist that the Palestinian state remain demilitarized, but the best protection against the Palestinians will be good relations with Jordan (which are now strained, but could be repaired by this strategy).
What happens to the other 30 percent of the settlers who remain in Palestinian-held territory? They became endangered when autonomy was first proposed. Netanyahu will force Arafat to promise to protect them, but this guarantee won’t be worth much. These Jews maintain that the land they live on is holy. It will remain so even under Palestinian rule. Their choice will be whether the ground is more sacred than their security. If not, they will move to the newly annexed areas.
Jerusalem is perhaps the most controversial issue on the agenda, but Labor’s Yossi Beilin actually arrived at a compromise that would allow the Palestinians to claim the city as their capital without Israel sacrificing sovereignty over its capital. Beilin’s idea was to allow the Palestinians to set up their capital in a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem — Abu Dis. If Netanyahu agreed, it would preserve the unity of Jerusalem and satisfy each side’s demands.
People who continue to harbor the delusion that the Palestinian issue is the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict should be satisfied with the result. Of course, Syria would still be technically at war with Israel, as would nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, which have no territorial disputes with Israel. A resolution to the Palestinian problem would, in theory, place greater pressure on Syria to reach an accommodation with Israel. As with the Palestinians, the end game in that negotiation is also clear. Israel will withdraw from a portion of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. Rabin put the deal on the table and it remains there. The only impediment is Hafez Assad’s refusal to normalize relations with Israel and accept something less than the entire Golan.
The sad reality remains, however, that Middle East peace will remain only a dream regardless of the outcome of the peace process. Terrorism, rogue states and Islamic radicals will remain threats to Israel and regional stability.