Ami Ayalon, Orni Petruschka and Gilead Sher took to the New York Times op-ed page to outline a set of unilateral steps Israel should take toward a two-state solution. It is, to state the obvious, sharply at odds with the record of the Netanyahu government.
Their package includes major unilateral steps in the West Bank. Israel would declare “it has no claims of sovereignty on areas east of the existing security barrier” – that is about 90% of the West Bank. Israel would then end settlement construction east of the barrier (wall, if you prefer) and “in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.” Given the nationalist real estate battles going on in Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and the like, that would be a serious shift in East Jerusalem.
They also support a new law, “a voluntary evacuation, compensation and absorption law for settlers east of the fence, so that those who wish can begin relocating before there is an agreement with the Palestinians.” In other words, get the ball rolling and begin to sap the strength of the settler movement. Or, as they might prefer, reverse the tide. Sap the strength sounds a bit negative and the authors, as leaders of Blue White Future, are trying not to demonize the settlers. (By working with the settlers, not against them, BWF hopes to make evacuation more likely and more successful).
The IDF would not leave – unlike Gaza in 2005. Settlers would not be required to leave – yet. Interestingly, the authors praise the PA’s unilateralism:
The Palestinian Authority has already taken constructive unilateral steps by seeking United Nations recognition as a state and building the institutions of statehood in the West Bank. Neither action contradicted the two-state vision. Although many Israelis and the Obama administration objected to the bid for statehood, it could have moved us closer to that outcome had Israel welcomed it rather than fought it.
The last line is particularly important. Whether a suggestion or policy becomes a diplomatic opportunity is partly determined by how the target reacts to that initial move. Treat it as an offensive step and the potential for positive, reciprocal moves dissipates.
That is all well and good but here is the political challenge: “We recognize that a comprehensive peace agreement is unattainable right now.” That recognition is the very reason the authors, as outsiders to the current Government of Israel, need to be proposing this plan in the first place. The Netanyahu government would not embrace this proposal. But if Israel had a government that was open to such ideas, you would not need to move unilaterally because that government would also be open to genuine negotiations with Abbas/Fatah/PA along these lines. A catch-22. Needed but not politically feasible now. Feasible but not needed under a center-left Israeli government.