haaretz Opinions

Deal of the Century: The Good, the Bad and the Dangerous

Tamir Pardo | 02.07.2020 | Haaretz

It was, perhaps, a less than auspicious occasion at the White House last Tuesday when the “Deal of the Century” was unveiled – a deal with only one party to it. The United States, ostensibly the honest broker, joined Israel at a private affair, leaving the Palestinians outside the door.  It is hardly worth examining the prospects of a peace plan that only has one partner.  Still, we should not underestimate the significance of what transpired:  This was an historic step for an Israeli prime minister, one without precedent since the 1949 cease fire agreement.

Back in 1967 I was a child in eighth grade. Until the six day war, we drew maps of Israel in every civics class: borders, cities and towns. That soon ended.  After the war we became the only country without defined boundaries. Israel’s government declared the new territories it had acquired to be “administered,” while others considered them “occupied.”  With the exception of Jerusalem and, later, the Golan Heights – over both of which Israel declared sovereignty – these lands have remained administered ever since.

Over the past 53 years, during 13 of which Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minster, he and his predecessors – Menahem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and others – refrained from establishing Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.  Israeli governments deliberately left the country’s eastern border undefined, on the assumption that any line they drew would only serve as the starting point for negotiations, resulting inevitably in further territorial compromise.  Leaving the border undefined also allowed Israel to expand settlements while acquiescing in controversial moves by settlers.

All this has now changed. On January 28th, 2020, Israel’s prime minister agreed to finally set the country’s eastern boundary, transfer 70% of Judea and Samaria and another 14% of Israel proper to a future Palestinian state.

By publicly declaring that Israel has no territorial claims beyond what was agreed with the president of the United States, Netanyahu in effect marked the starting point for any future negotiations, whether they begin tomorrow, next year or a decade from now. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he agreed, will be a single, political entity.

When the cabinet votes on this plan, each minister will be asked to approve the entire package: on the one hand, the “sticks,” such as territorial compromise, a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem, relinqishing soveirgn Israeli territory in the Negev; on the other hand a bounty of carrots, including the annexatoin of the remaining territory, sovereignty over most of Jerusalem, and far reaching security arrangements.

To approve the carrots alone would be an act of chicanery, putting Israel in the position of having deceived a president that it calls Israel’s best friend ever. The prime minister, therefore, must make clear to his ministers that establishing sovereignty is tantamount to approving the entire plan.

I should point out, by the way, that neither the prime minister nor his government alone have the authority to relinquish sovereign Israeli territory in the Negev. By law this requires approval either by a two-thirds majority in the Knesset (80 MKs) or a plebiscite.

Offering the Palestinians four years to begin negotiating based on the current plan is a misrepresentation. Supporters of annexation assume, with no small degree of justification that the Palestinians will inevitably pass up the opportunity. The way will thus be paved to establish Israeli sovereignty over the entire West Bank, and the transformation of Israel from a Jewish and democratic state to a single country for two peoples will have been completed.  We will have plenty of land, to be sure. Our Zionist, national identity, on the other hand, will be lost.

All this raises the following question: What urgent security or political need demands such a dubious maneuver, an abrupt annexation that could destabilize the area, undermine our relations with Jordan and put a break on the process of diplomatic warming with other actors in the Arab world?  After all, Israel already controls the territory, and this control will remain unchallenged as long as conditions do not justify a modification and the Palestinians refrain from entering into negotiations.

Just consider the damage to Israel’s vital strategic interests that would be caused by undermining Jordan’s stability. Military cooperation, after all, serves the interests of both sides. Declaring Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley would place Jordan’s royal house in an impossible situation, putting the very survival of the regime at risk. One must be strategically blind not to see that the collapse of the Jordanian government would bring Iran right to Israel’s doorstep.  And we will have brought this about entirely at our own initiative.

The plan itself may not be very feasible, but it does contain two dangerous precedents that cannot be overlooked. The first one, a striking combination of foolishness and risk, is the possibility of a land swap in the triangle region with its 250,000 Israeli Arab citizens. How are Israeli Arabs to understand this idea?  For decades, Israel’s Arabs have taken part in the life of the country and proven their loyalty, even during periods of crisis. Of course, stray weeds grow in every society – Arab as well as Jewish. But how should a young person in the triangle region react when he is compelled to choose where his loyalties lie: to Israel, where he was born and raised, and where he sees his future and that of his children, or to a Palestinian entity to which Israel seeks to transfer him. Creating this dilemma is not only immoral. It is patently irresponsible. We must correct this error forthwith in order to prevent irreversible damage to Israel’s security.

The second precedent is the idea of turning two groups of Israeli settlements with thousands of residents into isolated enclaves, surrounded by territory designated for a future Palestinian state.

The first of these groups is comprised of 15 isolated settlements located east of the security barrier.

The second includes communities located west of the green line that would be wedged inside Palestinian territory by the ludicrous idea of giving up the Arab towns of the triangle.

Routine, daily life in both enclaves will become almost impossible, and the task of defending them a veritable nightmare.

It is simply unacceptable to authorize one person, even if he is the prime minister, to decide by himself on an agreement that claims to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that could also exacerbate and perpetuate it.

Such an agreement, including dangerous, interim steps such as unilateral annexation, must be carefully evaluated by security officials and other government authorities, discussed by the cabinet and the government, debated by the general public, and brought to the Knesset or a plebiscite for approval.

There can be no short cuts.

Annexation, or the adoption of an overall peace agreement, are steps with major, long term implications. Skipping any vital stage in the process will compromise our vital national interests. To be sure, Israel is strong enough to survive even highly irresponsible initiatives. The results of precipitous action, however, will be felt for decades to come.

Tamir Pardo, former head of the Mossad, is a member of Commanders for Israel’s Security