Apartment housing in the Ma'ale Adumim settlement (Photo/Wikimedia-Gilabrand CC BY-SA 3.0)
Apartment housing in the Ma'ale Adumim settlement (Photo/Wikimedia-Gilabrand CC BY-SA 3.0)

A unilateral solution to the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate

There is little question that a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is the best way to end that protracted conflict — in theory. The failure to bring about such an agreement, however, after decades of effort, means that Israel and the global Zionist community need to look elsewhere.

The idea of a unilateral solution has been discussed more in Israel than in the diaspora, and more on the right than on the left, but it needs to be taken more seriously.

A unilateral move by Israel has one great advantage: It does not necessitate the involvement of any other entity. The negotiations, and there would have to be negotiations, would take place among Israelis and the global Zionist Jewish community; no agreement from Palestinians or Arab nations or Europeans or Americans would be required.

Under what might be called the “our state, not our state” proposal, the Knesset would declare, both in terms of legal claim de jure, and effective control de facto, what constitutes the borders of the State of Israel. Naturally, debate would have to take place among Israelis and Zionists in the diaspora, over what would be annexed and what would be renounced. When one eliminates the political and religious extremes, there is a great deal of agreement on where the borders should lie.

That Jerusalem, including the Old City and East Jerusalem, is not only Israeli, but is Israel’s capital, is accepted by virtually all Zionists regardless of party. Suburban settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim should also be part of Israel, though the decision might be made not to include some non-Jewish eastern suburbs or villages, such as Abu Dis. Along most of Israel’s present eastern border, the separation wall already broadly follows what is considered a relatively secure border that excludes most of the large Palestinian population areas in the Central Hills.

In a unilateral declaration, the number of Jews who would have to be uprooted from their homes should be minimized. Of course, isolated Jewish communities far from the border would have to be abandoned.

Secular and liberal Jews, however, need to recognize the importance of holy sites for the religious. For this reason, annexation might include the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and the site of ancient Hebron. It would be possible to draw a border around a “Hebron finger” extending from Gush Etzion to Kiryat Arba and the area around the tomb. Other settlements that could be included in a contiguous border should be considered, such as Modi’in Illit, which is densely populated with haredi Jews.

The most difficult issue to be worked out is the status of the Jordan Valley.

While most people look to the adjusting of the Green Line as the key to Israel’s security, professionals know that the most vital border is that with Jordan. The Israeli right would like to keep complete control of that border, but we must avoid completely surrounding the Arab population with Israeli territory. Whatever the legal structure might intend, this would make Israel responsible for that population, which is something to be avoided.

It might be decided to annex the western and northern shores of the Dead Sea, including or excluding Jericho, and the Allenby Bridge. Other parts of the valley might be included, as long as a corridor, parallel to the border of Gaza with Egypt, remained.

It has always been possible that in a negotiated settlement, some parts of what is now Israel would be traded back to the Palestinians. Parts of the Eastern Galilee, especially the so-called “Little Triangle” with its close to 300,000 Israeli Arabs, including 50,000 in Umm al-Fahm, have been mentioned as a possibility.

There is a tension, of course, between wishing the border to be as far east as possible, for security reasons, and wanting to avoid incorporating a hostile population, also for security reasons. Working out this tension and agreeing on other details would necessitate the left and the right making compromises and negotiating not a perfect, but a good, settlement.

Legal residents of those areas that are annexed, and those that have already been formally annexed, such as Jerusalem, should automatically become Israeli citizens. Those Palestinians who are not legal residents of Jerusalem might be returned to their homes of residence. If Arabs or others in annexed areas do not wish to live as Israelis, they would be free to leave, perhaps with compensation paid by the Israeli government. Israeli Arabs living in areas ceded, or rather beyond the declared borders of the state, might move into Israel, again, possibly, with compensation.

What would happen to the areas not within Israel’s declared borders? Here Israel would declare: “This is not our state.” Whether those territories became a Palestinian state or part of Jordan would not be Israel’s concern.

Clearly this “solution” would involve risk. There is the possibility that a terrorist organization would gain control of the area once Israeli security forces left. This is exactly what happened in Gaza. Nevertheless, the benefits of unilaterally declaring borders outweigh the risks. Israel can respond and has responded to aggression from foreign entities, including Hamas-run Gaza, in ways it cannot now in the West Bank: with counter-attacks.

What does Israel and Zionism gain from unilateral declaration of borders?

The IDF would be able to focus on what it does so capably: defending Israel’s borders. Jews, and indeed all of Israel’s citizens, would be free to purchase land, live in and feel safe in all parts of Israel, without the need to consider the impact on some hypothetical future peace process.

Terrorists in Israeli jails would not have to be freed in “confidence-building” measures. Other nations would find it easier to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel when it is off the table as a matter of negotiation. Foreign aid would be given not to Palestinians in “occupied” territories or “refugee” Palestinians, but to needy people outside Israel.

The suggestions made here are only that — suggestions. The point is to put an end to the constant waiting for an increasingly unlikely negotiated settlement.

Jonathan P. Roth
Jonathan P. Roth

is the interim coordinator of Jewish Studies Program at San Jose State University, where he is a professor in the history department.