Incredibly — or so one might have thought — a pernicious policy proposal is re-gaining prominence in the political discourse in Israel.
This is the notion of renewed unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, i.e. "neo-unilateralism."
Given the appalling results that past unilateral concessions have produced, one might have imagined that any future initiative to implement anything remotely resembling such a fatally failed policy would inconceivable. However, in the topsy-turvy realities of Israeli politics the inconceivable is regrettably commonplace.
A Grim Reminder
Readers will no doubt recall that two previous unilateral withdrawals have precipitated (to date) four wars — one in the North (2006) with Hezbollah in South Lebanon; and three in the South (2008, 2012, and 2014) with Hamas in Gaza.
In South Lebanon, it was the precipitous unilateral IDF withdrawal, ordered by then-prime minister, Ehud Barak in 2000, that surrendered the territory abutting Israel’s northern border to the Iranian terrorist surrogate, Hezbollah. In Gaza, it was the 2005 unilateral evacuation, instigated by hitherto ultra-hawk, Ariel Sharon, that facilitated the 2007 takeover of the coastal enclave by the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist affiliate, Hamas.
In both cases, the areas abandoned by Israel were subsequently converted into fearsome arsenals, bristling with a daunting range of weaponry capable of wreaking havoc on virtually all major Israeli population centers.
In Gaza, for example, the terror organizations have vastly enhanced their offensive capabilities since Israel’s withdrawal — from primitive rockets with warheads of 5 kg and a range of 5 km in 2005, to missiles with warheads of 100 kg and ranges of over 100 km — this in addition to the excavation of an extensive labyrinth of underground trans-border attack tunnels for the purpose of murdering and/or abducting Israeli personnel — both civilian and military.
In the North, “Hezbollah's augmented arsenal has transformed it, from an Israeli perspective, from a manageable border menace to a strategic threat.” Indeed, since the 2006 Second Lebanon War Hezbollah has allegedly amassed over 100,000 rockets and missiles, all aimed at Israeli urban centers and other strategic targets. This prompted one well-known strategic studies center to issue the following ominous warning: “Hezbollah remains the most serious conventional threat Israel is facing, more than Hamas or Iran.”
Neo-Unilateralist Dogma Impervious to Facts
Yet despite its glaring defects, the new unilateralism has attracted a good number of well-placed and well-funded adherents, both organizations and individuals. Even more astonishing is that one of the major sources of this support originates from a bevy of former senior officials who served for many years in Israel’s military and/or security establishment — precisely people one would expect to be most alive to the perils such neo-unilateralism entails.
These include the well-endowed Institute for National Security Studies (INSS); the public advocacy group, Blue and White Future, which works closely with INSS personnel; andCommanders for Israel Security, an organization reportedly comprising over 200 former high-ranking officers in the IDF, intelligence services and police.
Significantly, today’s neo-unilateralists seem aware of the deep suspicion the Israeli public harbors against any future experiments in unilateralism. Accordingly, they have come up with a new and deceptive twist.
The new formula involves Israel’s a-priori and unreciprocated forswearing of any sovereign claims to all territory beyond a line that approximates the route of the current security barrierin Judea-Samaria (a.k.a. “West Bank) and removing all Israeli civilian presence from this territory. However, in light of the disastrous results similar measures led to in Gaza, neo-unilateralists attempt to assuage public concern by stipulating that the IDF will remain deployed in the areas over which Israel eschews sovereignty — "until a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians ushers in alternative concrete, sustainable security arrangements.”
Creating an Untenable Political Configuration
So clearly, if adopted, the neo-unilateralists’ formula would, in a stroke, convert Judea-Samaria from “disputed territory” to “occupied territory” and the IDF from a “defense force” to an “occupying force.” Worse, it would do so by explicit admission from Israel itself.
After all, for anyone with a modicum of foresight, it should be obvious that any prescription for deploying the IDF for an indeterminate period in territory over which Israel lays no sovereign claim — and hence, by implication, acknowledges that others have such claims to it — creates an unsustainable political configuration. Indeed, it replicates precisely the situation that prevailed in South Lebanon prior to 2000. Accordingly, just as it did then, this will, sooner or later, generate irresistible pressure (domestic and international) on Israel to evacuate it — leaving the country exposed to precisely the dangers the IDF deployment was intended to obviate!
Of course, it might be possible to conceive a policy more blatantly self-obstructive than the neo-unilateralist blueprint. However, truth be told, none come readily to mind… (To be continued.)
Dr. Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, dedicated to the preservation and propagation of joint values shared by the USA and Israel as embodied in the U.S. Constitution and Israel’s Declaration of Independence. He served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment and acted as a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government. Sherman lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations, and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees — B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), MBA (Finance), and PhD in political science/international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and has authored two books as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. He was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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