Getting away with it

The unilateral approach to dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a right-wing Israeli invention that at the time it was first proposed was justified because of the "absence of a Palestinian partner" for bilateral negotiations and agreements.

It aims at enabling the Israeli government to escape the inevitable obligations and consequences that would have arisen from bilateral negotiations. A bilateral approach would of necessity derive from previous agreements reached under the peace process and taken its legitimacy from international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

The Quartet-proposed roadmap plan for peace as a basis for a bilateral peace process was difficult for Israel to reject due to its strong international backing. However, it contradicted the political positions of this particular Israeli government, a self-confessed opponent of the peace process upon which the roadmap was based. The roadmap, for example, is about "ending the occupation that started in 1967", while this particular Israeli government is about consolidating that occupation and eventually annexing at least a significant part of occupied territory.

The roadmap also calls for an immediate cessation of the illegal settlement expansion policy of the Israeli government, a policy supported by the majority of this Israeli government’s domestic popular base.

So to avoid the necessary engagement that the peace process and the political parameters offered by the international community in the form of the roadmap would have entailed, Israel instead embarked on a unilateral approach. This is consistent with this Israeli government’s two overarching objectives: to solve the "demographic problem"–by shifting the demographic balance in Israel and within the occupied areas Israel is trying to maintain control over; and to consolidate Israeli control over as much occupied territory as possible.

The unilateral Israeli approach, in withdrawing from Gaza Strip settlements, is thus putting 1.3 million Palestinians outside areas of direct Israeli control while giving up only three percent of the occupied territories. At the same time, it allows Israel a free hand in increasing the pace of settlement expansion in the rest of the occupied territories.

The Palestinian side, which has shown, especially after holding free and democratic elections, that it constitutes a viable and serious partner for a peace process, has now found itself facing two difficulties. One is the unilateral plan itself, and the second is an international community, represented by the Quartet members, that is willing to give up or suspend its own plan, i.e., the roadmap, and free Israel from its obligations under that plan. The international community has shown its willingness to do so by giving its support to Israel’s unilateral approach without trying to link it, except rhetorically, to the roadmap.

Meanwhile, everyone, starting with US President George W. Bush, has given the Palestinian side the same advice: try to make this unilateral plan successful. And whenever Palestinians raise other and more fundamental components of this same unilateral plan–i.e., what Israel is doing unilaterally in the West Bank–the response is that that will have to wait until after the Gaza disengagement. In other words, the international community has let Israel off the hook in terms of its commitments under the roadmap.

On the surface, the unilateral Gaza disengagement plan might seem to create a positive atmosphere and the false impression of progress toward peace. But eventually, in the medium and long-terms, this unilateral step as declared and implemented, and taking into consideration the accompanying unilateral steps Israel is taking elsewhere in occupied territory, will not move us nearer to a final and comprehensive peace. The latter requires moving gradually toward ending the occupation in all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and allowing for an independent Palestinian state on that land.