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Security first peace later – creative thinking to shake up the status quo

This week the Commanders for Israel’‎s Security (CIS) – a non-partisan movement of former senior security officials – published a 55 page diplomatic-security working plan titled ‘Security First peace later’. It doesn’t detail specific positions on security or other final status issues like borders, the Old City or Palestinian refugees. But it does list a series of steps that Israel can take before final status talks that would strengthen its diplomatic and security position. And its unilateral gradualism to strengthen the two state paradigm reflects creative thinking that an international community – seemingly focused on more conferences and negotiations – could learn from.

One doesn’t need a Palestinian partner to make progress.

The authors suggest that instead of arguing about whether there is a Palestinian partner or not Israel can take an independent initiative in implementing security measures that will improve its standing in the world, and create security quiet.

What’s notable about a plan that calls on Israel to make significant concessions – relinquishing territorial ambitions over 90% of the West Bank and setting up infrastructure for future Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem – is it doesn’t require a Palestinian partner willing to sign an end of conflict agreement with the Jewish state exists. In fact many of the authors doubt one exists.

This approach represents an interesting de-coupling of the idea of land for peace (in which Israel would withdraw from the West Bank in exchange for an end of conflict peace agreement with the Palestinians). Instead we seem to have a diplomatic initiative in exchange for strengthening the two state reality and maintaining international legitimacy. While this has nowhere near the same ring to it as land for peace, this approach may reflect a more accurate reading of what is currently required.

Moving away from Bilateral Negotiated Final Status talks

The CIS document is one of a series of recent Israeli policy ideas which assumes that, at least for the time being, the paradigm of a bilateral, negotiated path to a final status agreement died with Kerry’s failed peace push in 2013-14. (for more details on these new ideas see Toby Greene’s article in Fathom).

The common denominator of many of these plans is their focus on gradualism rather than Permanent Status. These strategic ideas focus on either the regional angle (incorporating Arab states into negotiations to increase potential peace dividends for Israel and to provide greater diplomatic cover for the Palestinians) or the unilateral angle (in which Israel makes several steps on its own to help strengthen the two state paradigm).

These tracks aren’t necessarily exclusive and the CIS paper tries to integrate them by both calling for unilateral Israeli steps while simultaneously recognising the Arab Peace Initiative (with adjustments in light of changes on the ground).

Other interesting components to the CIS plan include:

Clarifying Israeli territorial ambitions, completing barrier and compensating settlers willing to voluntarily relocate

The CIS plan doesn’t specify final borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Nor does it resolve the arguments over territorial percentages previously displayed between the sides in negotiations. Rather, by suggesting Israel make a foreign policy declaration relinquishing its territorial ambitions to the east of the security barrier the plan helps to erode the growing slide towards binationalism and may also restore much of the international community’s trust in Israel’s commitment to a ‘two states for two peoples’ framework.

Suggesting that the security barrier be completed in order to provide greater security to the 260,000 Israelis living in the settlement blocs seems a logical move although it would force the government to make tough decisions in leaving some settlements outside the barrier. Most notable in this context is the large settlement of Ariel (approximately 20,000 inhabitants) which, according to the maps CIS provide in their plan, seems to be on the ‘Palestinian side’ of the barrier.

Meanwhile, a Voluntary Evacuation package revolves around offering those Israeli settlers living to the east of the barrier (on the ‘Palestinian side’) financial compensation to leave their homes. Research carried out by Blue White Future suggests that as many as 30% of the 110,000 Israelis living in these more isolated settlements would move, with the possibility this number would increase as voluntary relocation gets underway. It would be fascinating to see how many of the so called ‘obstacles to peace’ would be happy to simply move given appropriate compensation.

Learning from Gaza Disengagement: Unilateralism without the coercion and with the IDF.

Many in Israel see unilateralism as a dirty word due to the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and the subsequent Hamas takeover of the Strip and rocket fire onto Israeli communities. The plan deals with this in two ways. The first is to steer clear (at this stage) of any coerced settler relocation. The second is to keep the army in the West Bank until a permanent agreement is reached. Even if thousands of settlers are ‘unilaterally’ relocating, the IDF is not.

Settlement freeze outside the blocs.

The plan also calls on Israel to announce the freezing of settlement growth in the 90% of the West Bank to the east of the security barrier. Many in the current Israeli government and the international community make no distinction between areas over the 1949 armistice lines. For the government all building in East Jerusalem and in West Bank settlements is legitimate. For the international community, none is – regardless of whether it’s in an eastern Jerusalem neighbourhood or an isolated settlement. The CIS plan returns to the informal agreements between the Israeli Government and the Bush Administration which distinguish between areas likely to remain part of Israel in a future agreement (Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs) where Israel can build and those likely to become part of a Palestinian state (where Israel will cease building). The current government may be interested in such an informal arrangement although it’s unlikely to be agreed with the Obama Administration. In any event, the CIS suggestion seems like a much wiser course of action than the current situation.

Calev Ben Dor is Director of Research at BICOM