The Real Solution for Israel

In 1988, I wrote in that bastion of left-wing radicalism, Commentary magazine, that the best peace option for Israel was unilateral withdrawal. At the time, the right-wing in Israel still clung to the hope of turning Jordan into the Palestinian state and the left maintained its never wavering messianic view that the Palestinians would accept Israel and live peacefully next door in a demilitarized state. Virtually no one supported a unilateral move.

The failure of Oslo and the Palestinian rejection of the Barak offer at Camp David dramatically shifted opinion in Israel. Growing numbers of Israelis came to the realization that the Palestinians were unlikely to ever accept Israel, that the status quo was untenable because of the psychological and physical cost of maintaining control of the territories, and that the birth rate of the Palestinians made “Greater Israel” unviable. By this time last year, significant majorities in Israeli public opinion polls favored unilateral action and I wrote last January:

“Today attention is focused on war with Iraq, but it will turn again to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon enough, and the American Jewish community needs to begin to prepare the American public and, more important, public officials for the possibility that Israel may take unilateral steps to maximize the amount of peace for its citizens and minimize the danger to them.”

Unfortunately, my suggestion went unheeded and now Israel is giving indications it is moving in exactly the direction I predicted. The clearest expression of Israel’s emerging policy came from Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is not calling for Israel to get out of the territories because it is the right thing to do (he continues to believe in the Jewish right to Judea and Samaria), but because it is the best option Israel has given the lack of a Palestinian negotiating partner and the demographic reality that the Palestinians will eventually become the majority in Israel if it clings to the territories.

I have believed, contrary to the views of virtually everyone else, that Sharon has always been inclined toward this solution, and his remarks in recent days bolster my contention. And now, once again, we have to play catch up with Middle East events, and first begin to make the case for why unilateral action may be the best course for Israel and the Palestinians.

Though the reason for needing a fence is definitely security, it is being built very close to the inevitable political border between Israel and Palestine. Remember official Israeli government policy since 1967 has been to withdraw to the 1967 border — with modifications. The envisioned modifications would incorporate enough land to make the border reasonably secure and defensible and to incorporate roughly 80 percent of the Jews living in Judea and Samaria. The route of the fence does both.

While controversies have emerged over the route, particularly as it relates to Ariel, everyone should understand that Israel will not dismantle what amount to large cities of thousands of people, and that the border will be drawn to incorporate these, and this would have been the case in a negotiated agreement as well.

Israel should rapidly complete the fence and then all Jews on the “wrong side” of the fence have to decide if they wish to be Israelis or Palestinians. I believe Jews have every right to live where they are — as citizens of Palestine. To say otherwise would be to be racist, and require the very transfer policy that is considered unthinkable when applied to Palestinians. Nevertheless, those who refuse to accept the choice of citizenship in Israel or Palestine may have to be dragged out of Judea and Samaria kicking and screaming, as were the 3,000 Jews in Yamit after Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt. The remainder can move inside the wall voluntarily or, perhaps, receive compensation to move.

Once Israel has unilaterally withdrawn, the Palestinians will be free to establish their state. Hopefully, it will be a democratic one that chooses to live in peace with Israel. If so, the fence could be moved, torn down, or opened to allow the movement of goods and people. If the Palestinians remain committed to violence, then Israel will have to make clear the wall is the final frontier and anyone who comes near it will be shot on sight.

Some argue that unilateral action gives the Palestinians no incentive for coexisting with Israel, but the opposite is true. Once they have their independence, Palestinians will want to keep it and refrain from actions that might provoke Israel to retake territory or otherwise undermine its newfound sovereignty.

Should the Palestinians attack Israel, then the conflict will no longer pit mighty Israel versus the stateless Palestinians, it will be a sovereign state that committed an act of war against another sovereign state that has every right to respond (not that the international community will be anymore sympathetic to Israel’s action). Just as Israel retaliates for attacks from Lebanon, it could do the same against Palestinian terrorists.

Unilateral action is still risky. Israel will be criticized by most of the world, though it should be applauded for doing what the international community has long demanded. Israel will give up millions of dollars worth of infrastructure and property. An irridentist state may arise on its border and present an ongoing security threat.

Hopefully, the U.S. will be willing to provide some military and economic aid to help cushion the blow. More important, the United States and, ideally, the rest of the world, must say to the Palestinians, “The conflict is over, you have your state, now we’ll support you so long as you build a peaceful, democratic nation, but we will oppose any attempts to build up a threatening army or to export terror.”

Unilateral withdrawal is not a utopian plan like the Geneva Initiative and similar ideas floated over the years. It is a hardheaded, realistic acknowledgment that Israel cannot enjoy perfect peace. So long as radical Muslims remain unwilling to accept a Jewish state, violence against Israel will continue. Unilateral withdrawal, however, allows Israel to maximize the amount of peace it enjoys and minimize the danger. And that is the best it can hope to achieve.