Brig Gen (res.) Michael Herzog has been a participant in nearly all Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since 1993. In his important essay, published in Fathom Journal , he argues that Israeli unilateral actions could later have a two-state solution as outcome.
According Herzog the bilateral Israeli-Palestinian arena looks as bleak, the last effort for negotiated peace – the Kerry-led negotiations in 2013-2014 – collapsed, adding despair on both sides to the prospects of a two-state solution. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is weak and divided between two political entities, one in the West Bank ruled by Fatah and one in Gaza ruled by Hamas, with the current situation in Gaza resembling a powder keg. On the Israeli side, there is a right-wing coalition, reflecting the reality of Israeli society increasingly turning to the right under the pressure of repeatedly failed peace efforts and Palestinian terror waves. Meanwhile the American role in our region has weakened and the upcoming American elections paralyse potential international initiatives.
Israel and some of the major Arab states have been drawn closer together by strong converging interests, namely the threats of extreme violent Islamist jihadism, an empowered Iranian-led axis, regional instability as a whole and the weakening US role; however, according Herzog, this should be regarded as an opportunity.
Multi-dimensional solutions to multi-dimensional challenges
After 20 years of failed peace efforts, the first thing to realise is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely complex. Simplistic black-and-white characterisations, such as blaming the failure entirely on one party or suggesting that it could be easily resolved if only the leadership were changed, are unhelpful in trying to reach a solution. While Palestinians point to continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and to Israel’s security heavy-handedness, Israelis point to repeated Palestinian rejection of Israeli peace offers over the years, the most recent example being the US proposal of parameters in March 2014, which to this day awaits a Palestinian response.
There is a natural tendency to single out one specific issue – Israeli settlement policy, Palestinian rejection of recognising Israel’s Jewish character, Palestinian incitement and terror, a return to negotiations, an imposed international plan etc. – and argue that if only that single issue was successfully dealt with, everything else would fall into place.
Herzog writes that
the challenge is multi-dimensional with inter-connected components and needs to be addressed as such. The pieces of the puzzle include the security situation on the ground and future security arrangements in a permanent status solution; Israeli settlement activity and practices; bottom-up processes of laying the foundation and infrastructure on the ground for future Palestinian statehood, including economic development as well as access and movement on the ground; the situation in Gaza and the relationship between Gaza and the West Bank; creating a top-down political horizon – either through negotiations or through laying out parameters on the core issues; and the regional dimension.
Herzog concludes that for now, further bilateral negotiations are not the answer – it is thus time to consider different paradigms. As an Israeli who cares deeply about the future of Israel as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people Herzog believes that
Israel should shape its own future and destiny, not just respond to other parties’ initiatives or external attempted dictates. Because the logic of separating the two communities is in Israel’s interest, the country should signal that direction and start moving towards shaping a two-state reality, preferably with Palestinian partners but also with regional and international actors. Even without a Palestinian partner at this stage, Israel should implement a policy of constructive unilateralism that improves its security situation, maintains the possibility of a two state solution and keeps an extended hand open to the Palestinians to renew negotiations at a later date.
According Herzog this policy should include the following components:
Security – Israel should complete the security barrier between the West Bank and Israel in order to reduce friction between the two sides. While taking security measures against terror attacks, Israel should continue to encourage authorised Palestinian labourers in Israel. Almost all perpetrators of terror attacks have been illegals, and legal Palestinian labour in Israel has proven a stabilising factor.
Cessation of settlement activity beyond the security barrier – Israel should not authorise construction in areas where we assume a future Palestinian state will be established. Israel should try and elicit some form of quiet understanding for strengthening the settlement blocs – areas which are essential to Israel’s security and which are widely acknowledged as being part of Israel in a future agreement (based on territorial swaps).
It is hard to envisage Israel unilaterally removing settlements in the West Bank. Following Israel’s unilateral pull out from Gaza in 2005, which included all settlements, it is highly doubtful that an Israeli leader could remove settlements outside the context of an Israeli-Palestinian comprehensive agreement and survive politically.
Additional Israeli measures towards political separation – There is a public debate in Israel on whether to implement measures separating the two communities in Jerusalem. Tthe current situation in which there is no overlap between the municipal boundaries of the city and the route of the security barrier has bred instability and chaos and should be altered. Herzog would seek to amend the municipal boundaries and adjust the barrier accordingly.
Strengthening the PA’s economic and security capacity – Israel, regional actors and the international community should offer and facilitate (with proper auditing) a significant economic package to boost the PA. Israel should further improve access and movement for Palestinians in the West Bank and upgrade all existing fixed passages. It should also seek to expand its current policy of limiting incursions into area A to security threats the PA cannot or will not deal with.
Area C – In the context of enhancing the PA’s capacity, Israel can and should transfer powers and responsibilities to the PA in Area C (which constitutes about 60 per cent of the West Bank), such as planning, zoning and building adjacent to Area A – even without changing the territory’s legal designation, a task which falls within the purview of the bilateral political negotiations. This was already discussed between the parties and Israel recently announced initial steps in this direction. Israel has also allowed the PA’s police forces to function in Palestinian population centres in Area C and could further expand this.
Palestinian governance – Hand in hand with enhancing the PA’s economic capacity, the international community should pay much greater attention to Palestinian governance. Particular focus should be paid to encouraging a smooth transition to a post-Abu Mazen era, with an eye to preventing it from being chaotic and endangering the stability of the PA.
Establishing a long-term ceasefire in Gaza – Based on the deterrence achieved in the last round of armed conflict in Gaza (2014) Israel should try to achieve a long-term ceasefire arrangement with Hamas in Gaza, involving the PA with an active role in Gaza.
Greater investment in the regional dimension –conditions are now ripe for working together with major Arab countries in order to generate progress between Israelis and Palestinians. Egypt is ready to sponsor such a move. To facilitate such a regional process, Israel has to relate positively to the Arab Peace Initiative, which it has begun to do. Moreover, both Egypt and Jordan could definitely play a role in the security arrangements in Gaza and the West Bank respectively.
While pushing the parties to negotiate currently serves little purpose, creating a political horizon is crucial and should not be neglected. Based on Herzog’s experience, the initial focus should be on defined parameters for negotiating and resolving the core issues that separate the parties. Israelis and Palestinians failed to achieve this bilaterally and are unlikely to succeed in the foreseeable future. Ultimately out of all the existing initiatives currently on the table, the regional approach has the most potential. The parties should be willing to invest in it and the US and Europe should support it.
Michael Herzog’s view to solve Israeli-Palestinian conflict is vell based on his +20 years experience about negotiations between these to parties. Also from my perspective a new framework is needed, even if some apparent negotiations start the outcome probably will be a placebo to status quo. I also agree with establishing a long-term ceasefire in Gaza as well with regional approach: The best possibilities to develop negotiated peace process might be in a regional peace track proposed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in which Egypt would facilitate direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians as well as between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Earlier I have referred two new leftist initiatives in my article Constructive Unilateralism: Leftist Approach to Israel-Palestine Conflict – ‘it’s in our hands’ by Omer Bar-Lev, an MK for the Zionist Union and ‘Constructive unilateralism’ by Blue White Future, leftist think tank – which both in my opinion are steps forward and also to the right direction as well including required new roadmap for better future.
On January 2016, the leader of Israel’s opposition and head of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog, unveiled an alternative approach to the issue of Israel’s nearly 49-year old presence in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The main point of Herzog’s plan is, that Israel will complete the security barrier around the major settlement blocs. “We will be here and you, Palestinians, will be there,” Herzog said. “Live your lives, improve your economy, create employment. The blocs under Israeli sovereignty will be part of the permanent solution. They will serve as recipients of settlers from outside the major blocs.” (more in Herzog’s Plan: Security Barrier Around the Major Settlement Blocs of West Bank )
Michael Herzog has doubts about removing settlements from West Bank behind the security barrier while Isaac Herzog and leftist initiatives see it necessary and I agree with them.
From Israeli side unilateral withdrawal and unilateral annexation are the main strategy options related to West Bank. I think that unilateral withdrawal is both feasible and doable; its main benefit might be that Israel can deside it individually.
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