Top Security Experts Redraw West Bank Map for the Trump Era
By Andrew Tobin
January 3, 2017
TEL AVIV (JTA) –
Israel’s leading security think tank has published a plan to redraw the map of
the West Bank in a bid to consolidate major settlements and prevent the
spread of others.
The plan, presented Monday to Israeli President Reuven
Rivlin as part of the Institute for National Security Studies’ yearly
strategic survey, calls for the government to allow construction in
West Bank settlement blocs and Jerusalem. At the same time, it recommends a
halt to construction in the 90 percent of the territory outside the major
In laying out the plan, researchers Assaf Orion and Udi
Dekel argue that negotiations with the Palestinians are unlikely to lead to
a final-status agreement. With relations deadlocked, they warn, Israel is
drifting toward a single binational state with the Palestinians, which threatens
its democratic and possibly Jewish identity.
It is an analysis that echoes one put forth in a speech
last month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, although unlike Kerry’s plan
it would proceed without direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians
intended to reach a final-status agreement and without resolving what Kerry
called “all the outstanding issues.”
To preserve Israel’s options, including the possibility
of a Palestinian state, the researchers say, the government should implement
their plan in coordination with the incoming administration of U.S.
President-elect Donald Trump, which has already signaled that it will not
pressure Israel on the settlements or negotiations.
Amos Yadlin, the director of the institute and a former
head of Israel’s military intelligence, told JTA that he endorsed the plan,
saying Israel had a “window of opportunity” with Trump.
“Israel should take this chance of a new administration
with a new approach to promote the bottom-up independent shaping of its borders,
even if the Palestinians are still holding their extreme position,” he said.
The main changes under the institute’s plan would be to
Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control per the 1993
Oslo Accords. Besides carving out 17 percent of the area for the settlement
blocs, where 86 percent of settlers live, Orion and Dekel suggest using up to 42
percent for development on behalf of the Palestinians and up to 33 percent for
protection of “vital” security sites, including the Jordan Valley.
The rest of Area C would keep its current status, and
settlers would be encouraged to relocate to the settlement blocs.
The Palestinian Authority would administer the major
Palestinian population centers in Areas A and B, which comprise 40 percent
of the West Bank and are home to 99.7 percent of Palestinians, as it already
largely does. But the Israeli military would retain the right to act as
The status of Jerusalem, which Israel governs as its
capital but the Palestinians also claim as theirs, would not change. Most of the
world considers all Israeli building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem
illegal, but Israel disputes this.
Orion and Dekel recommend that Israel and the world promote security
and development in the West Bank. This could bolster the
Palestinian Authority’s declining legitimacy on the West Bank street and help
prepare the society for eventual final-status negotiations, they say. An
alternative, they say, would be for Israel to take “independent steps” to
politically separate from the Palestinians.
The Hamas-governed Gaza Strip would be handled separately,
ideally with a combination of military deterrence, border security and
Yadlin said the Institute for National Security Studies had
long preferred a negotiated final-status agreement with the Palestinians, but
this year concluded that the prospects for success had gone from “very
low” to “zero.”
The plan has elements that could appeal to the
political right and left, said its architects.
Despite a rightward shift in recent decades, Yadlin said,
the Israeli public was “ready to consider” the institute’s plan because
the left had given up the “illusion” that there was a Palestinian partner
for peace and the right no longer supported the status quo. He cited Education
Minister Naftali Bennett’s proposal that
Israel annex Area C as an example of new thinking on the right, but said
the Palestinians would need part of that territory to create a viable political
Israelis “basically want to see a two-state solution,
with a Jewish, democratic secure country, but not according to the Palestinian
parameters,” Yadlin said.
Ideally, he said, the Palestinians would cooperate with the
institute’s plan and eventually return to negotiations for a two-state
solution. The government should leave open that possibility anyway to fend off
international condemnation like the United Nations Security Council’s
anti-settlement resolution that the U.S. allowed
to pass last month, he said. But if the Palestinians would not budge,
Yadlin said, Israel could unilaterally draw its borders to exclude most of them.
“I’m not among those who are terrified by the
demographic threat [of Jews being outnumbered by Palestinians in a single
state]. I think this is the biggest mistake of Kerry,” Yadlin said, referring
to the Kerry speech, in
which he warned that without relinquishing control of the Palestinians,
“Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both.”
Shlomo Brom, the head of Israeli-Palestinian research at
the Institute for National Security Studies, told JTA that he saw no chance the
current Israeli government would accept the plan backed by Yadlin. Every
right-wing government since 2000 has avoided drawing a line around the
settlements, he said, and “none were as right wing as the one we have now.”
Nor would the Palestinians be likely to cooperate if the
plan were carried out, Brom said, since they would see their potential future
state shrink with no real gains. He added that it would be problematic from the
point of view of international law for Israel to change the terms of the Oslo
Accords without Palestinian consent.
The best hope to shake up the status quo and save
the two-state solution, Brom said, was the rise of a viable centrist alternative
to Netanyahu’s government and increased international pressure on Israel.
The simplest option for a government that wanted a
two-state solution would be to make the security barrier Israel’s provisional border
— allowing settlement building to the west and prohibiting building to the
east of it, Brom said. Israel could then begin taking steps toward a Palestinian
state, unilaterally and in coordination with the Palestinians, hopefully
culminating in a final-status agreement, he said. Brom recommended trading the
Oslo principle of “Nothing is agreed until everything agreed” for
“What is agreed and can be implemented will be carried out.”
Like Yadlin, Brom said he did not think the end of the
two-state solution would spell demographic disaster for Israel. But he said
terrorism would probably force the state into indefinite militarily rule
over a stateless Palestinian population, which the world would view as a form of
Unfortunately, Brom said, this was the most likely outcome.
In about two weeks, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman,
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and other senior
security officials are expected to lay out their national security assessments
at an international conference hosted by the institute.