Two years ago, opposition leader Isaac Herzog presented what he saw as an innovative alternative to both the status quo and the increasingly unpopular two-state solution. Israel was at the tail end of the so-called “knife intifada,” in which many Palestinian teenagers and pre-teens, apparently inspired by invective on social media and tensions over the Al Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount in October 2015, attacked Israeli civilians, soldiers, and others (including an American, Taylor Force) in Israel and the West Bank.

In a speech to the Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies at the time, Herzog declared the traditional pursuit of two states via negotiations a failed strategy and proposed a unilateral approach in its place: Israel would strategically withdraw from Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem and complete the security barrier in the West Bank, which would encompass all the major settlement blocs, including Ariel, a settlement bloc that does not border Jerusalem and is in fact located north of Ramallah. After an unspecified number of years (though Herzog did float 10 years at several points) of “quiet” and economic development, final status talks would finally take place.

I was opposed to and flummoxed by the plan at the time. Barack Obama was president and it appeared that his successor would be a Democrat. If Israel could not find the political wherewithal to finish the barrier around Ariel during the Bush administration, why would it do so now? Furthermore, why would the Palestinian Authority assume control over hitherto ungovernable areas of East Jerusalem without guarantees of future independence? After all, the very last thing President Mahmoud Abbas can sell the Palestinian public is another open-ended interim agreement with Israel.

In a recent essay for Ha’aretz, the Israeli philosopher Micah Goodman, whose controversial book Catch-67 will be published in English in the fall, argued thoughtfully for his own version of a unilateral plan. He starts by noting an interesting shift: whereas the right once pointed to the potential strengths of a Palestinian state as reason to retain control of the territories, it now points to its weaknesses of Palestinian institutions as the justification for the same exact policy. Likewise, the left once promoted withdrawal from the territories as a path to peace and now it merely promotes two states as a means to preempt a binational state.

Goodman writes that this process has taken place along with a fundamental change in values on both sides. He writes, “The right no longer believes that settling the territories will bring Redemption, but says withdrawing will bring disaster; the left no longer believes that withdrawing from the territories will bring Redemption, but says remaining there will bring disaster.” Thus, the right and left “have both moved from hopes to fears.”

While one is tempted to interject that the messianic wing of the Israeli right is still alive, well, and thriving, Goodman is essentially correct that the mainstream discourse landscape indeed reflects a clash of fears. This is disheartening for obvious reasons, but also refreshing: a candid acknowledgement of risk has replaced unmitigated and unjustified certainty on both sides. However, it’s in this area of comparative risk where unilateral options become somewhat unpersuasive.

At this point, it would be disingenuous to argue that the Palestinian Authority is a collection of strong and healthy democratic institutions ready to assume the responsibilities of sovereignty at a moment’s notice. It clearly is not, and every plausible two-state scenario will involve some sort of time-limited transition period. “Time-limited” is key, though: the Palestinians will need some sort of reassurance that their continued cooperation with Israel will culminate in independence, and not after an indefinite time period in which Israeli governments vacillate between genuine peace-building and settlement-building.

In my view, Palestinian cooperation is where unilateralists who support an open-ended process fail to evaluate risks properly. In their calculation, future Palestinian generations can be relied on to cooperate in the perpetuation of their sub-state status but not in maintaining their own state. This would be a more plausible position, perhaps, if Israel did not rely on the Palestinian Authority to maintain the status quo, but it does. In the case of “clever” unilateral plans that do not set in motion the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel is taking on an enormous risk that largely goes unacknowledged by these opponents of the “stale” traditional two-state path.

What if there is no next generation of Palestinian Authority bureaucrats and police officers? If the PA collapses, is anyone ready to believe a new Palestinian-run Civil Administration subservient to the Israeli military is a likely outcome? These are hardly ridiculous questions to ask given that about half of Palestinians now view the PA “as a burden on the Palestinian people,” according to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The answer is that Israel would be forced to assume full responsibility for the entire West Bank or pull out and allow chaos to reign, precisely the outcome unilateralists want to avoid.

A point of clarification: not all unilateral plans are made equal. The plan presented by Commanders for Israel’s Security, for instance, is clearly intended to advance a mainstream conception of the two-state solution and cites the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 as the basis for a regional process. There are actions Israel can take on its own to improve the situation on the ground, such as allowing Palestinian development in Area C and freezing all settlement construction outside Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion, and it should take these actions forthwith. A problem arises when the subsequent peace process is poorly defined and subject to the mercurial whims of Israeli politics.

In short, there is no escaping the conclusion that a Palestinian partner is necessary to make progress toward extricating Israel from the daily lives of Palestinians. This being the case, all plans involve an unpredictable level of risk in the trust Israel places in its Palestinian partners to follow through on important commitments – and this is especially the case for so-called unilateral actions.

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