With the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians at a standstill, an Israeli think tank is questioning the notion that you need two partners for peace. The Institute for National Security Studies, or INSS, an Israeli Think Tank associated with Tel Aviv University, released a new peace plan on October 8 centered around steps Israel can take regardless of Palestinian cooperation.
The status quo between Israelis and Palestinians began in 1995 with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signing the Oslo II Accords. This agreement created a Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority, called the Palestinian National Authority or PA, and divided the West Bank into three zones, Areas A, B, and C. These zones created Palestinian autonomy while allowing for significant Israeli political and security control in the West Bank. The PA maintains civil and security control over Area A and civil control over Area B while Israel maintains civil and security control over Area C and security control over Area B. Though this plan was intended to be an interim agreement succeeded by a full fledged two state solution, little progress has been made in recent years and this vision has been abandoned. In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an unprecedented deal with the creation of a Palestinian state encompassing 93.7% of the West Bank and 5.8% of pre-1967 Israeli territory. Since Abbas rejected the deal over differences on Palestinian refugees, no progress has been made in negotiations. This is best seen in the collapse of the 2014 US-lead negotiations and Abbas’s recent peremptory rejection of the soon-to be released Trump Administration peace plan.
A major challenge of modern peace initiatives is the fact that the status quo suites Israel very well. Israel has been thriving in the post-Oslo era. Since 2010, Israeli GDP has grown by 50%. Israel is now widely seen as the “start up nation” and nine billion dollars were injected into the Israeli economy through startup exits in 2015 alone. Even though the economy is soaring, security stills remains an issue. As such, any peace plan proposed by Israel would likely focus on improving the Israeli security situation over incorporating Palestinian interests. To understand how the INSS plan improves the security situation, we need to look back to the Second Intifada.
On September 28, 2000, Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. Despite PA assurances that the visit would cause no issues, Sharon’s visit caused a violent uproar. Rioting at the Temple Mount ignited tensions that had been building since Oslo II and morphed into a four year popular Palestinian uprising called the Second Intifada. From September 2000 to April 2008, 719 Israeli civilians and 2,204 Palestinian civilians were killed. The open border between the West Bank and Israel allowed terrorists to freely flow from Palestinian towns and villages to Israeli civilian targets. In this period, shootings, stabbings, and suicide bombings were frequently conducted, with 141 suicide bombings carried out in Israel from 2000 to 2005. By 2003, Israel developed a new tactic to fight this wave of terror. After Ahmed Qurei became PA Prime Minister, the Israeli Government abandoned hope for a diplomatic settlement to the Intifada and began unilateral action, construction of the security barrier, a physical separation between Israelis and Palestinians.
The barrier was built to surround Israeli populations, including the 400,000 Israelis living in the West Bank, most in major settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, and Modi’in Illit. Why is the barrier significant when it comes to peace? Among the many sociological, political, and even ecological effects of the barrier studied by Mideast experts, one stands above the rest: construction of the barrier starting in 2003 changed the status quo. 83% of the Israeli settlements population and 9% of West Bank land is now physically tied to Israel proper and separated from a future Palestinian state. The direct motivation behind the barrier was security, a legitimate and dire need at the time due to the unthinkable civilian death occurring in the Second Intifada. A secondary effect of the wall, however, is the normalization of settlements as Israeli territory. With the new INSS peace plan, we now see this secondary effect being exploited towards the possible benefit of Israel.
This is a translation of the INSS plan summary:
- While Israel remains committed to a two state solution and is ready to enter direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority at anytime, Israel will simultaneously begin action to terminate its control over a majority of the West Bank.
- Israel will finish the construction of the security barrier in order to demarcate the physical boundaries of Israel for the future.
- Israel will freeze the construction of settlements East of the security barrier.
- 20% of land East of the security barrier will remain under the security control of Israel until satisfactory security arrangements are agreed upon.
- Israel has an interest in the existence of a functioning, stable, Palestinian state. As such, it will transfer security control of Area B to the Palestinian Authority to create a contiguous territory encompassing areas A and B that will serve as the foundation for a Palestinian state. This will span 40% of the West Bank and contain 98% of Palestinian population.
- 25% of Area C will be allocated for infrastructure projects and economic development of the Palestinian economy.
- A transportation system will be constructed in the West Bank to reduce the daily friction between Palestinians, settlers, and the Israeli Defense Force.
- Together with international recognition and aid, these steps will allow for the establishment of an independent, demilitarized Palestinian State on 65% of the West Bank.
Though this plan grants Palestinians more land and more autonomy than Oslo II, it is certainly not as generous to Palestinians as Olmert’s 2008 proposal. Under the INSS plan, Israel recognizes that security is still a major concern but that the Palestinian Authority is failing to come to the table and negotiate a solution. As such, INSS proposes that Israel act independently, exploiting the secondary motivation behind security barrier. Instead of developing an amicable deal which balances the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, the INSS plan grants Israel what they need for security and tells the Palestinian Authority, you get what you get and you don’t get upset.
We need to examine three aspects of this plan to determine it’s merit. Will it actually achieve its security goals? Will unilateral action work? Will the “you get what you get and you won’t get upset” lead to long-term peace?
In 2018, six Israeli civilians have been murdered in Palestinian terror attacks. This compares to seventeen Israeli civilians murdered in 2000, prior to beginning construction of the barrier. Accordingly, completing the security barrier could be effective at further reducing Israeli civilian deaths. Protection from mass riots, however, would be limited. In the face of massive “march of return” protests held weekly on the Gaza border, we see that the military, not the fence, determines Israel’s borders. Without the IDF’s 143rd division maintaining the border’s integrity, Gazans would easily break through the fence and commit acts of violence in Israel. Thus, a fully constructed West Bank security barrier could stop the flow of individual terrorists but would provide little defense against mass riots like we see in Gaza. Further, the Gaza border currently poses a much greater security threat to Israel than the West Bank border. In 2018, 328 rockets have been launched from Gaza to Israeli towns and arson kites and balloons sent from Gaza have burned over 10,000 acres of Israeli land. Since the INSS plan does not address Gaza, these terror acts would go unhindered. On the contrary, the plan could elicit a violent response from the Hamas government in Gaza. In terms of security, the INSS plan would abate individual acts of terror but would be ineffective against mass riots and would ignore Israel’s major security threat, Gaza.
Will unilateral action work? In an interview with the Times of Israel, co-author of the INSS plan and former head of military intelligence Amos Yadlin insists that the plan is not unilateral. He states, “people think independent means unilateral. It’s not unilateral. It’s independent and coordinated with the Americans and the Arabs.” Though the peace plan includes many parties— Israel, Arab nations, and the US—there is one important player missing, Palestinians. Israel would be taking action to create a Palestinian state without the input of the Palestinian Authority. We saw similar “independent” action in 2005 when Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza. Pre-disengagement, the security situation for Israelis in Gaza was dire, exemplified by the need for armoured school busses. Ean Sternberg, a former spokesman for Israelis in Gaza recounts there being “almost no day that was clear of terror attacks on the buses.” While the Gaza disengagement brought the 7,500 Jewish residents from the Gaza Strip to safety, it also destabilized the Gaza strip politically and economically. Israeli farms in Gaza produced 120 million dollars per year in exports. Palestinian work on these farms and in Israel sustained the economy. After the withdrawal, unemployment in Gaza skyrocketed from 5% to 27%. Since Hamas took power of the strip in 2007, Israel has seen nearly nonstop violence from Gaza and full-fledged war roughly every two years. If this is what happens after “independent” withdrawal, the INSS plan would be disastrous. Yadlin stresses that this would not occur, stating that “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.’” In addition to security control preventing a similar security situation, the coalition of Arab, US, and Israeli economic investment in the Palestinian State could prevent a Gaza-like economic collapse. We see here that “independent” action might work in the short term, with no Gaza II being created in the West Bank.
Will the “you get what you get and you don’t get upset” model lead to peace? If peace is measured by reducing violence, the INSS model might be successful. Even then, the INSS plan fails to address possible mass riots in the West Bank or the ongoing situation in Gaza. However, peace is about more than just a lack of violence. Peace depends on coexistence and amicable relationships. Separating Israel from Palestinians with a barrier and limiting interactions through separate transit systems is no way to achieve this goal. A plan that Duke’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter calls “anything but ethical, unrealistic, and perpetuating Israel’s apartheid policies” will only face harsher backlash in the West Bank and Gaza. “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” might achieve a secure two-state solution but it will only foster hatred between the two peoples. Any final two state solution needs to create amicable neighbors than can co-exist in the Middle East.
In his press conference releasing the INSS plan, Yadlin announced that “Israel will almost certainly adopt [the plan] after the elections next year.” However, Israel will undoubtedly hold off on legislating this plan until the Trump Administration releases their plan. Further, politics will certainly get in the way of implementation. In 2015, Yadlin was the Defense Minister candidate for Zionist Union, a center-left party. Yadlin will face a tough challenge in getting the governing center-right coalition to support the plan.