Nearly 50 years after Israel gained control of the West Bank in the Six Day War, a nonpartisan movement of former Israeli senior security officials has joined with two American organizations to warn against the continuing presence of Israeli forces on land Palestinians claim for a future state.
“The status quo is an illusion, because the situation is getting worse every day,” said Susie Gelman, chair of the board of the Israel Policy Forum, quoting Amnon Reshef, founder of Commanders for Israel’s Security.
Israel Policy Forum, which promotes a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, is advancing two plans developed by Reshef’s CIS and the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that aims to address the concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians.
“Israelis need security, Palestinians need hope. There are steps that can be taken now that can provide both,” said Gelman. (Gelman is a member of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes Washington Jewish Week.)
The CIS plan, called Security First, offers actions Israel can take in the short term to ensure its security in the absence of negotiations with the Palestinians. It recommends that Israel complete its security barrier around the West Bank and stop construction of Jewish settlements outside the barrier.
The CNAS plan, Advancing the Dialogue: A Security System for the Two-State Solution, focuses on how Israel can withdraw from the West Bank without repeating the mistakes it made in its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
“Too often you hear from Israelis that if [they] walk out of the West Bank, it’ll just become Gaza. That’s sort of the shutdown [of the debate],” said Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East security program at CNAS. “We’re saying it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The plan includes elements that the Gaza pullout lacked: a regional and border security system, an internal Palestinian security system and a drawn-out Israeli redeployment. The redeployment would be overseen by a group of American, Israeli and Palestinian representatives.
He added that while Palestinians will not accept Israel taking unilateral action, a secondary deal can exist in which the United States would diplomatically support certain unilateral Israeli moves. However, the plan’s goal is to create enough layers of security that unilateral action would never become necessary.
Michael Koplow, policy director for IPF, emphasized the plans do not require a change in Israel’s government nor do they attempt to back any opposition political leaders.
“The current government has said it supports two states and we take the prime minster at his word on that,” said Koplow. “We think that the CIS and CNAS plans can be implemented with any government, left or right.”
But the dynamics between governments do matter, Goldenberg said. He believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas both support the idea of a two-state solution, but their versions of what it looks like don’t necessarily overlap enough to see it through.
“More than anything, you’re asking two risk-averse politicians who don’t trust or like each other to take this huge career and life risk, and they’re just not going to do it together,” said Goldenberg. “The dynamics do need to change.”
That, coupled with the strained relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, only adds to the challenge.
The unfavorable political realities, Gelman said, have caused some to question why Israel Policy Forum is promoting the two-state solution.
“I think anyone who cares about Israel has to do everything possible to preserve Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic and secure state,” said Gelman. “If you accept the premise that the two-state solution is the only solution, then we all have to do everything we can, despite the current political realities, to offer a different way forward.”