A New Middle East Approach: Externally Directed Separation

Jerome M. Segal

[Reprinted from The Nation]

This article reflects the view of the author only and does not necessarily reflect the views of IPCRI.


The chance for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is not dead. A way to reach a just, secure and
internationally guaranteed compromise exists. Though the path forward
may not be easy, it is infinitely preferable to what otherwise lies
ahead: a complete unraveling of the Oslo Accords, the dissolution of
the Palestinian Authority and a massive escalation of death and
destruction on both sides.

We must start with a simple fact: The Israeli-Palestinian
final-status negotiations did not end at Camp David in July 2000. Nor
did they end when the Al-Aqsa Intifada started two months later.
President Clinton's framework for peace was presented only in
December 2000. Indeed, the negotiations in Taba in January 2001 were
viewed by the participants as having been distinctly productive. Had
Israeli Prime Minister Barak won re-election, it is quite possible
that a peace agreement would have been concluded. The new intifada
has been enormously destructive, but only after the February 2001
election of Ariel Sharon, to which it contributed, did the violence
itself become the dominating issue, ending the negotiations. This
has, of course, been reinforced by the events of September 11, 2001.

The American approach to the collapsed peace process remains firmly
rooted in the Mitchell report, which was issued last spring: Achieve
a cease-fire, undertake confidence-building measures and renew
negotiations. It seems eminently sensible. Yet the extraordinary
American effort made to achieve even a brief cease-fire suggests that
this policy will not work. Indeed, even if a cease-fire takes hold,
chances are very high that it will break down long before
confidence-building measures have been undertaken. Moreover, even if
negotiations are renewed, with the vast gap on final status between
the PLO and the present Israeli government led by Sharon, the
likelihood for negotiations deadlock, on every central issue, is very
high. And such total deadlock will inevitably disintegrate into
renewed violence, at ever higher levels of intensity. Indeed, even if
the proposal discussed by Shimon Peres and Abu Ala for immediate
Palestinian sovereignty in the limited areas from which Israel has
already withdrawn were to be adopted, it would provide only a short
respite before the reality of total deadlock reasserted itself. It is
time for the United States, exercising leadership through the UN
Security Council, to pursue a wholly different approach.

With the failure of efforts to re-establish meaningful bilateral
negotiations, and with the delegitimization of Arafat as a
negotiating partner, Israelis are increasingly looking for decisive
unilateral solutions. In particular there is strong public support
for unilateral separation: the idea that Israel, without
negotiations, should withdraw from some or all of the territories and
establish a physical barrier, with the Palestinians on one side and
Israelis on the other.

While unilateral separation resonates well with the public, it has
only limited support among the Israeli leadership and security
establishment. There are several reasons for this. First, with the
current Israeli government in power, any unilateral separation would
only be partial, leaving almost all the settlements intact and
substantial areas of the West Bank under Israeli control. It would
not result in a viable territory for the emergence of a Palestinian
state. Thus it would produce only a new line of conflict. Second,
unilateral withdrawal would serve to confirm among Palestinians the
belief that it is possible to drive Israel from the territories
through violence. Thus it would bring fresh recruits to that effort.
And third, even if it were possible to withdraw to a truly viable
line-some version of the 1967 border with adjustments to accommodate
some of the settlers-unilateral withdrawal would mean that Israel was
giving up territory without having gotten anything in return. Even
for the advocates of land for peace, to give up the land without
having secured the peace is wrongheaded.

In what follows I lay out a new alternative. It seeks to achieve a
separation of the two peoples, but not through unilateral action.
Rather, it proposes that the United States use the UN Security
Council to achieve a kind of coordinated separation, but one in which
the Council will not take no for an answer. In this, it represents a
radical departure from previous US policies. But the proposal is far
from radical in its objectives. It leaves for later the issues of
Jerusalem and refugees; instead, it focuses on the issues of
territory, statehood and settlements. Here it seeks to be decisive,
to achieve an end to the territorial dimension of the conflict
through the emergence of a Palestinian state living at peace with
Israel. The territorial specifics are little different from what
Clinton proposed and what is now an international consensus: the near
complete withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories.

The Plan

First, the UN Security Council would assert its legal authority over
the territories and East Jerusalem. This assertion of authority would
be justified on several grounds. Except for its recognition/admission
of the State of Israel in 1949, the UN never relinquished the
territorial authority it possessed over Palestine at the end of the
British Mandate. While Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338
called for bilateral negotiations to achieve Israeli withdrawal from
"territories occupied" during the 1967 war and respect for Israel's
right to live in peace, thirty-five years have passed without
resolving the status of the territories. In taking this new
initiative, the Council would explicitly acknowledge that the
prospects for achieving, through bilateral negotiations alone, the
peace agreement envisioned in Resolution 242 are not promising.
Noting that the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem were
not, in 1948 or in 1967 (or at present), under the recognized
sovereignty of any state, the Council would assert that it is the
ultimate legal authority for the disposition of these areas.

Seeking to delineate sovereignty within the territories, the Council
would then specify conditions that, if met, would result in Security
Council authorization of the PLO to establish the government of a
Palestinian state, and subsequently for Security Council recognition
of that state. If, along the lines of the Peres/
Abu Ala proposal, a truncated Palestinian state already exists, these
would be preconditions for directing Israel to undertake a fuller
withdrawal. These conditions would include:

The State of Palestine will recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The State of Palestine will (Jerusalem excepted and postponed)
recognize Israel as sovereign within the borders established by this
plan, and further agree that such borders are final, constituting the
end of the territorial dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinian state will not enter into any defense or assistance
treaty with any state not at peace with Israel, and until a bilateral
agreement with Israel is achieved will not import weapons.

The State of Palestine will accept international inspectors,
appointed by the Security Council, under US leadership and including
Israeli participants, to insure that such conditions are carried out
faithfully.

The State of Palestine will demonstrate, as a prior condition of
international recognition, its capacity to exercise control over acts
of violence emanating from its territory.

If the PLO/State of Palestine accepts these conditions, the Security
Council would then direct Israel to submit to the Council, within
ninety days, a plan for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and
the West Bank. Specific requirements would be:

Israel must withdraw from all of the Gaza Strip.

Israel must withdraw from a minimum of 95 percent of the West Bank,
and must provide, on a one-for-one basis, a territorial swap for
areas it proposes to retain.

Within the West Bank area, there must be territorial contiguity for
the State of Palestine, with access to Jordan.

Within evacuated areas, Israel will provide for the full evacuation
of Israeli citizens.

Evacuated settlements will be transferred to the State of Palestine
in good condition, with the understanding that the value of the
housing and infrastructure will count as a credit in any ultimate
plan for compensation of Palestinian refugees.

Upon receipt of the Israeli plan, a committee formed of the five
permanent members of the Security Council and chaired by the United
States, would either accept the Israeli proposal, modify it or return
it to Israel for specified amendments. Once the committee agreed on a
final plan and received from the PLO its acceptance of the conditions
detailed above, the Council would direct Israel to carry out the
withdrawal. It would further announce that (Jerusalem excepted) the
resulting border between Israel and Palestine fulfills UNSC
Resolution 242 and constitutes the permanent international border,
with Israel recognized as a sovereign Jewish state within that
border. Thus the Council would foreclose any future effort to
challenge Israeli sovereignty over those areas of Israel that exceed
the original lines of the UN's 1947 partition plan. If the PLO does
not accept the conditions, there would be no directive to withdraw.

While this would end the territorial dimension of the conflict
(Jerusalem excepted), other vital issues would remain. Here the
Council would call upon the two states, at the earliest date, to
undertake bilateral negotiations on the remaining issues, including
Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, refugees, security arrangements and
economic cooperation. On Jerusalem, the Council would endorse the
Clinton parameter that what is Arab should be Palestinian and what is
Jewish should be Israeli. On refugees the negotiations would be based
on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Council would further
specify that if the two sides reach agreed modifications in the
Security Council separation plan, the Council will accept those
modifications.

Why This Approach Can Work

As noted above, from an Israeli point of view one of the problems
with unilateral separation is that it turns land over to the
Palestinians but gets nothing in return. In particular, it leads to a
Palestinian state that has made no commitments with respect to
security issues. By contrast, this proposal, which I call externally
directed separation/end of territorial conflict (EDS/ETC), extracts
from the PLO in advance major concessions on a variety of issues:
Israel as a Jewish state, the finality of borders, demilitarization,
alliances and international inspectors. Other security considerations
could be pursued through bilateral negotiations, using economic
cooperation as an incentive.

Like the proposals for unilateral separation, EDS/ETC results in
Israeli withdrawal and a Palestinian state, and leaves for the future
negotiations on other issues. Because both approaches result in a
Palestinian state, they share the important benefit of moving
Palestinian nationalism toward normalization. If Israel's long-term
security vis--vis the Palestinians is to be attained, it will come
about not through crushing popular movements and terrorists with
popular support but through the evolution of Palestinian nationalism
into the familiar pattern of a nation-state with national interests
to protect, and thus with a susceptibility to the familiar logic of
deterrence between states.

Externally directed separation, however, has a particular value for
Israel with respect to the internal problems it faces over settlement
evacuation. Whether through bilateral agreement, unilateral
separation or externally directed separation, extricating the
settlers from the West Bank and Gaza will be a traumatic experience
for Israeli society. Potentially it will pit the Israeli army against
armed settlers. Probably there will be experiences so scarring that
Israel will not recover for a generation. Of the three alternative
approaches to separation, externally directed separation will result
in the lowest level of national trauma. An evacuation from the
settlements that is forced upon an Israeli government by the pressure
of the entire outside world is one that is not optional. As such it
will engender the least amount of resistance and have the widest
level of popular support. Moreover, once it is accomplished, as
externally imposed, it will be relatively free from never-ending
charges of internal betrayal. In this way, it is even preferable to a
bilateral negotiated agreement.

In the plan presented above, the five permanent members of the
Security Council, led by the United States, would require a
withdrawal not to some interim territorial line but to a permanent
border between Israel and Palestine, recognizing Israeli sovereignty
within that border. Thus the plan seeks territorial stability. Under
the current political configuration in Israel, no proposal for
unilateral separation will be sufficient in territory to achieve a
stable border. Externally directed separation, just because it is
imposed, has the ability to go beyond the constraints of domestic
politics. In this case, imposition from the outside represents an
advantage for Israel, even though it will mean that more territory is
transferred to the Palestinians. By imposing final borders, the
Security Council will solidify an international consensus on the
territorial issue. As such, there will be virtually no international
support or sympathy for any further Palestinian territorial
ambitions. In international law, it will end the territorial
dimension of the conflict.

Political Dynamics

The reader may ask how this plan can surmount the political
opposition of territorial and religious absolutists on both sides of
the conflict. The answer lies in the political dynamic created by
such action by the Security Council.

First, by resolving the territorial dimension of the conflict
EDS/ETC removes the most fundamental motivation for violence among
those Palestinians prepared to live at peace with a Jewish state.
Thereby, it isolates the true maximalists from the bulk of the
Palestinian populace. And second, by giving rise to an established
Palestinian state, it removes from the various factional forces any
legitimization of their claim to be independent decision-makers on
issues of war and peace. Both factors will increase the capability
(and thus the accountability) of the new Palestinian government with
regard to preventing any continued violence. A Palestinian state can
act to achieve a monopoly over the means of violence not because of
Israeli or US demands but simply because that monopoly is a normal
constitutive feature of any state. While Hamas and Islamic Jihad may
hope to resist the authority of the Palestinian state, they will
find-as did the Irgun in its 1948 confrontation with Israel's first
prime minister, David Ben-Gurion-that once statehood is achieved, the
ability to do so is severely limited.

There is, of course, the possibility that the PLO will not agree to
the various conditions for statehood required by the Security
Council. In particular, it may resist recognizing Israel as a Jewish
state, because this would have relevance to the issues arising when
the question of refugees is negotiated. In effect, the international
community would be saying to the Palestinians that accepting Israel
as a Jewish state is a condition of their own statehood. With this
coming from the Security Council there is a strong chance it would be
accepted. However, were the PLO to refuse this, there would be no
directive to Israel to withdraw. Internationally, the situation
would, however, be transformed. The responsibility for continuing
occupation would rest upon Palestinian unwillingness to meet Security
Council conditions.

Similarly, there is the possibility that the Sharon government would
refuse to obey a Security Council directive to withdraw. Indeed, if
the Security Council directed unconditional withdrawal, there might
be widespread support in Israel for standing alone against the world.
But the above plan is conditional on the PLO (and the putative state
of Palestine) recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and accepting that
this withdrawal ends the territorial dimension of the conflict. On
territory, it is not radically different from what Clinton proposed.
Coming from the Security Council, under US leadership, it is unlikely
that Sharon would choose to disobey such a directive, but if he did,
a totally new dynamic would arise within Israeli politics. The Labor
Party would withdraw from the national unity government and would be
in a position to make the next elections a referendum on whether to
accede to the Security Council and end the territorial dimensions of
the conflict. Central to winning such a referendum would be the
demonstration by the PLO/State of Palestine that it exercises and
will continue to exercise a monopoly over the use of force within the
Palestinian polity. It will be the moment of truth for both peoples.

The real difficulty facing the EDS/ETC idea is that it can't succeed
without strong US leadership. Thus far the Bush Administration has
not been willing to play that role. There are three conditions under
which this might change. First, if an Israeli government were to
signal its desire for an imposed solution. Today this is, of course,
impossible. Second, if the conflict became so heated as to generate a
major threat to America's fundamental security interests. And third,
if there developed within Israel a substantial body of public opinion
calling on the United States to play this role. Such appeals would
have to be sufficiently forceful to win significant support within
the US Jewish community and the larger US public. It is with this
last option that hope resides.

Jerome M. Segal, a senior research scholar at the University of
Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies, is
president of The Jewish Peace Lobby. He is co-author of Negotiating
Jerusalem (SUNY).