Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the regrettable passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 with counterproductive diplomatic moves. Unfortunately, we expect his right-wing coalition partners to follow his lead, and also counter Secretary of State Kerry’s speech on Wednesday, by promoting new initiatives, such as advancing settlement construction in the most provocative areas in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in order to create additional impediments to a two-state solution.
That solution is now in “serious jeopardy,” Kerry correctly noted. “Trends on the ground — violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation — are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.”
With President-elect Donald Trump soon to take office — and intervening via tweet before he enters the White House that US policy will be different after Inauguration Day, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing partners seem confident that their actions will be consequence-free. They are dangerously wrong.
Israel cannot remain static in the pursuit a two-state solution, let alone openly hostile to that goal, without others filling the void, as we witnessed at the UN last Friday.
Israel repeatedly dismissed and even ridiculed the Obama Administration’s repeated pleas for constructive measures that would have demonstrated Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution. Just weeks ago, the Prime Minister boasted about his strengthening the settlement enterprise, and his government advanced legislation to legalize unauthorized outposts deep inside the West Bank. The response was an otherwise completely avoidable US abstention at the United Nations on an imperfect resolution that could open up Israel to new waves of international isolation.
If prospects for a future two-state solution continue to fade –- amidst new counterproductive steps promoted by Israel’s right-wing lawmakers seizing an opportunity in the wake of UNSCR 2334 -– the response could be a renewal of Palestinian violence.
Recently, the head of IDF Intelligence warned at a private conference at Tel Aviv University that 2017 could be a year of instability in the West Bank as a result of the uncertain future facing the current Palestinian leadership. Meanwhile, a recent poll by the respected pollster Dr. Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicated that a majority of Palestinians now support a return to armed intifada.
Rather than take actions in response to UNSCR 2334 that could serve to spark and inflame such tensions, the Israeli government should be aiming to improve Israel’s security, enhance Israel’s international standing and credibility, and preserve the possibility for a negotiated two-state solution in the future, even as political conditions make one impossible today.
These are the objectives that underpin the recommendations of Commanders for Israel’s Security, an unprecedented network of over 240 generals who have served at the highest echelons of the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Mossad and the police forces.
Among many ideas, these security experts recommend that Israel:
• Declare its preparedness to consider the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for future negotiations, pending discussion of its terms with the Arab League Follow-Up Committee.
• Complete Israel’s security barrier (only 60 percent complete), particularly in the Gush Etzion bloc, in a manner which enhances Israel’s security while minimizing the encumbrance on Palestinian towns and villages.
• Renounce Israel’s claims to territory east of the barrier and freeze all settlement activity there. Israel could continue to build in the major blocs and would maintain the current IDF deployment, pending a future negotiated agreement.
• Increase the amount of security-vetted worker permits issued to the Palestinians by as many as 50,000 (a position that IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot has endorsed).
• Open up portions of Area C for Palestinian economic development and security / police patrol, including removing the threat of demolition from approximately 11,000 unauthorized Palestinian homes.
These are the kinds of measures that, had they been taken, would have been welcomed by the Obama Administration and could have prevented an American abstention at the United Nations one week ago. They remain the kind of steps that should be advanced in order to prevent further undesirable outcomes – such as a surge in international isolation campaigns and Palestinian violence – in the coming year.
Prime Minister Netanyahu can no longer claim to support two states merely because he calls on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. This is simply not credible - not when a majority of the members of his own government openly oppose a two-state solution and are actively seeking to undermine it, and not at a time when the Palestinian leadership is deeply divided, increasingly discredited, and in no position to negotiate or implement a final-status agreement.
The Prime Minister now must choose: promote constructive steps or counterproductive ones. If he forgoes the former in favor of the latter, he will risk Israel’s security, its international standing, and its future as a Jewish and democratic state. He will be plunging into an abyss from which even President-elect Donald Trump will be unable to extricate him. The Israeli people will suffer the consequences, while Jews around the world who look for Israel to be a secure homeland for the Jewish people will have their faith in Israel profoundly shaken, and, we fear, their support for it diminished.