by Zach Silberman
A former senior Israeli security official is advocating for coordinated unilateralism by the Israel government in order to achieve a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Former Shin Bet (Israel's domestic security agency) director and commander-in-chief of the Israeli Navy Ami Ayalon highlighted a six-point plan of Israeli unilateral steps that could potentially achieve peace during a discussion sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center on Thursday of last week.
Ayalon, who is also the co-founder of the nonpartisan political organization Blue White Future, noted that the steps would allow Israel to respond to what he thought was its most threatening situation: the disappearance of a Jewish-majority state in Israel.
"We will not be a majority in our state unless we find an agreement for two states," Ayalon said. "We say that the status quo is a great danger to the idea of Israel as a Jewish democracy."
The former Shin Bet director emphasized that negotiations between the two parties cannot work until Israel understands that a coordinated unilateralism is the best method for achieving a two-state solution.
"The idea of negotiations does not exist anymore. The question for us is what can we do in the absence of a negotiated process?" Ayalon said. "What we are offering is a third approach or a new paradigm. ... We Israelis need to understand that nobody will save us from ourselves. So it is in our hands."
Ayalon appeared on a panel with Robert Malley, the International Crisis Group's program director for Middle East and North Africa, which was moderated by former State Department Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller.
The program was part of the Wilson Center's Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Middle East Forum series of the Middle East Program.
Prior to the panelists' remarks, Miller, a Distinguished Scholar at the Wilson Center, offered a skeptical view of the current situation with the peace process, an opinion he continues to express publicly.
"A return to the negotiating table would be futile, but could be disastrous and destructive," Miller said. "Having seen failed negotiations too often, too many times, failure creates a consequence and it's not cost-free. Trying and failing rather than not trying at all is a wrongheaded ... way in my judgment to look at the American side of this."
During his remarks, Ayalon presented the Blue White Future plan for a two-state solution, which is based on the Clinton Parameters or guidelines for a permanent status agreement advocated by President Bill Clinton in 2000.
Ayalon, along with Gilead Sher, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Israeli entrepreneur Orni Petruschka, authored an April New York Times op-ed that highlighted the Blue White Future proposal.
First, the plan calls for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians based on the 1967 borders and a territorial swap. Second, the plan notes that the Israeli security fence will serve as the provisional line and that any annexation of land beyond the eastern side of the fence is not in Israel's interest. Third, the Knesset shall pass a law enabling settlers residing on the eastern side of the fence in the West Bank to return to the western side of the fence if they wish to.
Fourth, the Knesset shall create a strategic plan to relocate the 100,000 settlers in the West Bank back into Israel's borders should the situation require such an action. Ayalon explained that a strategic plan could prevent a recurrence of mistakes that were made during the Gaza Strip disengagement of 2005.
Also, the plan will request the Israel Defense Forces to monitor the eastern side of the fence in order to prevent potential threats. Last, the plan will call on the Knesset to pass a law that requires a national referendum by the Israeli populace for any peace agreement between the Palestinians.
Ayalon indicated that this final piece of the plan was important in achieving a two-state solution because the Israeli public should decide its own fate.
"It should not be the decision of few politicians. It should be the decision of the Israeli people in order to reduce the level of animosity and potential violence among Israeli citizens," Ayalon said.
Malley, former special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, agreed with Ayalon's assessment noting that "the best thing one can do is take the kind of steps that Ami has outlined."
"My bet right now is that the most likely path will be coordinated or uncoordinated, but parallel unilateral steps that both sides are going to take for their own benefit. Hopefully, they will be done in ... a two-state friendly way. In other words, not steps that are hostile to the outcome of the two-state solution, but steps that are down payments on a two-state solution," Malley said.
Miller also agreed with Ayalon's plan because it "seeks to occupy space between doing everything and doing nothing."
"Ami's approach has the virtue of being inner-directed because it does force certain decisions within the Israeli polity and policy community unhinged to what Palestinians do or not do. Whether it will work or not is another matter," Miller said.
Negotiations between the parties have been at a stalemate since 2010, which was the last time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas officially sat down together at the negotiating table.
Recently, Palestinian leaders rejected a letter written by Netanyahu to Abbas that called for a return to the negotiating table without preconditions.