An Israeli View 

A secure Israel within recognized Borders

In its sixtieth year of sovereignty, Israel has neither recognized borders for all of its territory nor a constitution. Both are vital to ensure Israel's identity as the state of the Jewish people, a Zionist and democratic state that reflects the spirit of its declaration of independence. Every serving government in Israel must ask itself what steps would guarantee a solid Jewish majority within the territory of the state.

At Annapolis, three parallel processes that could serve this goal were seemingly initiated: Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over final status, implementation of phase I of the roadmap and the creation of an opportunity for a broader Arab-Israel dialogue. While it may appear, based on the negotiations of 1999-2001, that the general shape of a final status agreement is known, I assume that agreement on most final status issues will not be reached in the current negotiations. To agree on most of these core issues requires considerable depth at the working level, detailed, integrated and extended negotiations and a readiness to make historic decisions at the leadership level. The political weakness of all the relevant actors, the domestic circumstances in Israel, in the Palestinian Authority and in the United States as well as the nature of negotiations all combine to render this practically impossible.

Under these circumstances, pursuing the comprehensive ("package") approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, dragged down by inertia and without new thinking, means an "all or nothing" approach. The collapse of the process is liable to precipitate serious and conceivably irreversible deterioration.

The danger that the entire process will fail points to the need to find an available alternative--the territorial alternative. In other words, for the time being let us disregard the most loaded issues, with their symbolism and ethos, of Jerusalem and refugees, while the security issues will apparently sort themselves out; what remains and can be achieved is a territorial agreement. This is seemingly logical: it is certainly feasible to sketch a reasonable map according to which Israel annexes some 5-6 percent of the territory containing the large settlement blocs, against a swap of identical-sized territory to be awarded to the Palestinian state. Based on informal talks held recently with senior Palestinians and settlers, I have concluded that this is possible.

Yet we must not be tempted to adopt this approach outside the broad regional political context. Therefore, if Israel attempts reaching territorial arrangements that precede an overall settlement in the hope that the latter eventually will be achieved, it must effect a rapid and fundamental reorganization of its diplomatic strategic thinking. Were I asked to advise our decision-makers, I would consider the need for an additional and separate agenda to be implemented in parallel with the negotiating process, in coordination with the US and on the basis of the following components:
  • Establishing a Palestinian state within provisional boundaries at an early stage of the process by means of unilateral and coordinated recognition not based on an agreement. This would enable negotiations to proceed with a state rather than an amorphous entity. It would probably weaken Hamas, strengthen the Palestine Liberation Organization and dilute the final status package.
  • An energetic effort to obtain the active and binding involvement of a third party and/or international force in order to stabilize ruling institutions and establish a solid democratic regime, toward the goal of Palestinian independence.
  • In this context, the only stable, serious and extended effort currently being undertaken in the region is that of the team headed by General James Jones. It focuses on the security aspects of possible agreements and on formulating a practical security plan that advances a solution of two states for two peoples. This effort should be supported and linked to the Arab peace initiative; the territory in which the security plan is implemented should be expanded on the basis of performance on the ground.
  • Realizing that ending its control over the Palestinian people is vital for Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state within secure borders. Hence, parallel preparations at the national/inter-ministerial level for coordinated unilateral disengagement must be undertaken. As noted above, it is almost certain that the current negotiations and perhaps those in the coming years as well will not generate a stable and comprehensive agreement that could actually be implemented. Our future as Israelis and Jews in our own country must not be dependent on the Palestinians. In the context of an unconditional but orchestrated disengagement, Israel should consider involving a third party and inviting the international community to assume security responsibility over the territory that is evacuated. The process of moving settlements and settlers will be based on comprehensive, long-term national planning that will take at least three years to carry out. Disengagement will be effected only after Israel has minimalized the physical capacity to perpetrate violence and terrorism against it and found an effective response to rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.

Let there be no misunderstanding: unilateral disengagement is not the preferred option and is not a substitute for negotiations. Yet we must prepare for unconditional disengagement in parallel with our effort to withdraw within the framework of a permanent status agreement.

Gilead Sher, an attorney, is former Chief of Staff and Policy Coordinator for Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. He was co-chief negotiator with the Palestinians in 1999-2001, including at the Camp David summit and the Taba talks.

The articles was published in, May 26, 2008