The article was originally published in Ma’ariv, in Hebrew.

Israel’s normalization agreement with the UAE is an important diplomatic achievement we should all welcome.  With each passing day, however, it becomes increasingly clear that is not a case of “peace in exchange for peace,” as the spin would have it.  On the contrary:  not only did we shelve plans for annexation – something that we should have done in any event – but we also made the problematic concession of creating confusion about our firm opposition to the sale of F-35 fighter jets to any country in the region.

Normalization and cooperation with other states in the region are of vital interest to the State of Israel.  These alone, however, cannot free us from the stranglehold of the conflict with the Palestinians.  The test of leadership, then, is to exploit the potential generated by the establishment of relations with the Emirates, enlisting them in Israel’s efforts to separate from the Palestinians.

As noted, Israel has already reaped an important bonus from the normalization agreement by its contribution to taking unilateral annexation of West Bank territory off the agenda (at least for the time being).   This, however, will not suffice to reverse the continued slide towards a binational state – and the resultant dissolution of the Zionist enterprise.  Israel’s objective, therefore, must be a prudent and clear-sighted process of separation leading to a two-state solution.

Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) has already published a roadmap to such separation. Presently, that detailed plan is being updated in light of developments since its publication two years ago. Though dubbed Security First 2000, the forthcoming updated plan stands on three pillars:  security, economic and political.  Taken together they offer a practical approach to reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, improve the lives of Palestinians, remove impediments to Palestinian economic development and governance, as well as strengthen moderate elements and weaken extremists.  All of these are key to bolstering security and stability while facilitating separation and improving prospects of future negotiations.

Even though the plan calls on Israel to take a host of independent steps in the service of those objectives, it differs from the 2005 unilateral Gaza disengagement in two key respects:  First, it involves no redeploying the IDF, which will continue to control the area until robust security arrangements are in place as part of a future agreement.  Neither does it call for the forced evacuation of settlers or settlements before an agreement is effectuated.

To illustrate, a key element in the plan’s security pillar is completing the security barrier by closing the huge gaps while enforcing a strict border regime, along its entire length. By so doing, the phenomena of tens of thousands of illegal infiltrators – from amongst whom most terror perpetrators have arrived – will end. Along with resolute enforcement of law and order in Palestinian villages and neighborhoods in East Jerusalem – presently enjoying neither Israeli nor Palestinian law and order presence, will enhance the security of both local residents as well all Israelis residing west of the fence — whether in settlement blocs or within Israel proper.

The economic pillar spells out measures that remove obstacles to Palestinian economic development and job creation.  One such measure is expanding substantially the number of security-vetted Palestinians working in Israel thus compensate the Palestinian economy for the lost income from the illegals no longer able to infiltrate.

The Security First 2020 plan contains a detailed list of recommendations within each of the three pillars – security, economic and diplomatic – that are specifically applicable to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

The COVID 19 pandemic, hardly under control among Israelis as among Palestinians, accentuates the long recognized importance of strengthening the governance of the Palestinian Authority and of public confidence in it. The recent use of incendiary balloons by Gaza terrorist elements – the fourth round in the last twelve months — is a reminder of the importance of going beyond short-term measures in mitigate tensions and enhancing stability there. The health of the Israeli public – in the broadest sense of the term – demands that we reduce motivation on the Palestinian side to undermine stability, while increasing support for moderate elements. Security First 2000 suggests a comprehensive strategy to change all that as well.

Ensuring calm, preventing repeated breakdowns in the Gaza cease-fire, avoiding a humanitarian crisis, strengthening moderate forces – above all the Palestinian authority – and paving the road for a future two-state agreement, all require resources and judicious use of policy.  By addressing Palestinian economic and governance needs, coupled with publicly declaring a firm commitment to separation from and a future negotiated agreement with the Palestinians (as suggested in the diplomatic pillar), Israel might be able to more effectively persuade donor states, from the region and beyond, to renew their investments in Palestinian infrastructure, economy and institution. The recent diplomatic breakthrough with the UAE offers an opportunity to persuade its leaders to join – or possibly lead — this critical mission.

Finally, the political pillar of Security First 2000 calls for reviving Palestinian hopes for a negotiated statehood and rehabilitating Israel’s credibility in this area. The goal of the annexation plan was to extinguish any possibility of progress towards a two state solution. The fact that the scheme could not proceed even under a pro-settlements administration in Washington, and that the very author of the annexation initiative dropped it in favor of relations with an important state in the Arab Gulf, demonstrate that there is no alternative to the two state solution.

The road ahead is long and daunting, but careful steps towards separation from the Palestinians will serve pave the way to an agreement.  For this reason, alongside military and economic measures, Israel should make three, public commitments: first, to pursue a two state solution without compromising on security arrangements.  Second, to reciprocate the UAE bold move and encourage others to follow suit, declare that, subject to necessary clarifications, Israel considers the Arab peace Initiative as a framework for future negotiations.  Third, to refrain from unilateral action that contradict the two commitments above.

An agreement with the Palestinians is still far off and the Israeli government has yet to adopt the plan advocated by CIS (or any other diplomatic initiative on the Palestinian front for that matter).  There is, thus, no cause for euphoria.  Still, the agreement with the Emirates and the shelving of a unilateral annexation offer both an opportunity and a glimmer of hope for the future of our small corner of the earth, and for the region as a whole.