Resuming Israel-Palestine talks now would fail, backfire

Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo by Reuters

Current political realities make an Israeli-Palestinians peace agreement unattainable now. Even in the unlikely event that President Trump’s visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem leads to new talks, resuming negotiations now would almost certainly fail – or, worse, backfire. Every previous attempt at direct, bilateral negotiations has failed, often followed by violence. And each setback intensified the deep mistrust and misunderstandings between the leaders and peoples on both sides, further diminishing confidence among Israelis and Palestinians that peace will ever be attainable.

As lifelong supporters of Israel, we have to acknowledge – though it pains us – that the peace process is broken. Yet, only a two-state solution will safeguard the Zionist dream – a state that is Jewish, democratic, and secure.  A one-state reality would either lead to a majority Arab population in control, whereby Israel would no longer a Jewish state, or to a Jewish minority ruling an Arab majority, which would clearly not be a democracy.  Either scenario would be a recipe for prolonged civil war.

Therefore, the goal of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement needs to be set aside for the time being. Instead, preserving conditions and hope for a two-state solution should become the goal, and it is up to Israelis to reach it. The immediate objective should be a realistic interim arrangement that could reduce resentments and increase prospects for an atmosphere on both sides that would be conducive to a two-state deal in the future.

The  Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), a network of 280 retired Israeli generals who have served at the highest echelons of the Israeli army, police and intelligence forces, has developed a pragmatic set of proposals  that would attain this objective. The generals’ plan would also immediately improve Israel’s security and enhance its regional and international standing, while improving living and economic conditions for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.  Moreover, it can be implemented now.

Israel would acknowledge that the 92 percent of West Bank land east of Israel’s security barrier would be included in a future Palestinian state, and construction beyond built-up areas in the major settlement blocs, where 80 percent of settlers reside, would be prohibited.

Israel would close gaps in that security barrier but also reroute sections of it to minimize disruption to Palestinian lives.

Because Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation has been so successful, the Palestinian Authority’s police force would gradually expand its coverage to include some 700,000 Palestinians who currently have no police protection. This would be achieved by re-designating segments of the West Bank now under full Israeli civilian and security control (about 10 percent) and bringing them under Palestinian civil and administrative control.  This step would also lead to greater Palestinian territorial contiguity.

To take advantage of the current alignment of regional interests among Israel and moderate Sunni Arab states, Israel would accept the Arab Peace Initiative offered in 2002, with appropriate reservations, as a basis for future negotiations.

These and other steps can be taken independently by Israel today. They do not involve moving any settlers, dismantling any settlements, or evacuating any Israeli soldiers before a final agreement is negotiated.  They would improve Israel’s daily security, while halting its downward slide towards a one-state nightmare.

The commanders’ proposal, which our organization, Israel Policy Forum, endorses, would not bring about a final settlement now.  But it would enhance hope for the possibility of reaching a two-state solution in the future by freezing the expansion of Israeli settlements.  Moreover, it would increase public confidence among Israelis and Palestinians that a lasting peace is attainable, by tangibly enhancing their daily lives. For Israelis, it would reduce border infiltration that enables terrorism. For Palestinians, it would improve their economy as well as their daily life by expanding the role of their own police in guarding their security and making their land more contiguous.

The resultant improved atmosphere for talks could ultimately facilitate negotiations on two tracks – between Israelis and Palestinians to separate into two states, and between Israel and Arab countries to achieve normal relations and a regional security arrangement.

This will not be easy; provocateurs on both sides strive to prevent a two-state solution. However, an extended period of calm and a diminution of points of friction would reduce the ability of these spoilers to influence policy and public opinion. Gradually, a new atmosphere would enable leaders to defy provocation and advance toward a negotiated final status agreement, empowered by their publics’ desire to live in two separate states and their confidence that it is possible.

The United States should support the Israeli generals’ plan, encourage Israel to implement it, and call on the Palestinians and moderate Arab states to reciprocate toward Israel with equally constructive actions.

This pragmatic program is an achievable way forward to preserve an Israel that is Jewish, democratic, and secure. The vast majority of American Jews – indeed, all Americans – should support it, as should all Israelis.

Charles R. Bronfman is Advisory Council chair and Susie Gelman is Board chair of Israel Policy Forum, a non-partisan American organization that supports a two-state solution consistent with Israel’s security.