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Fact Sheets: The Unilateral Withdrawal Option

(Updated December 2003)

As far back as 1947, Israel was prepared to coexist with a Palestinian state . Since 1967, Israel has consistently said it would trade land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for peace and security. Successive Israeli governments have pursued this objective without success. Meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians have suffered.

For years, Israel hoped a moderate Palestinian leadership would emerge that would agree to negotiate, but none did. Finally, at Oslo, Israel reached out to its bitterest adversary, the PLO, when Yasser Arafat promised to recognize Israel, end terror, and negotiate all their disputes.

Since 1993, Israel has signed onto a variety of plans aimed at providing Palestinians an independent state that would coexist beside Israel; however, the Palestinians have repeatedly failed to deliver on the one essential ingredient of each agreement — ending violence against Israeli citizens.

As recently as 2000, Israel offered the Palestinians a state in all of the Gaza Strip and 97% of the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital, but Arafat rejected the proposal because he could not accept any deal that would permanently end the conflict with Israel.

Israel continued to hold out hope for a negotiated solution. The government agreed to the road map and was optimistic that Abu Mazen, the Palestinians’ first Prime Minister, would deliver on his commitment to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. He would not do so and was forced to resign when it became clear that Arafat retained all the power. The current Prime Minister, Abu Ala, has no more authority than his predecessor and has also refused to stop the violence.

After negotiating for nearly a decade, giving up much of the West Bank and most of the Gaza Strip, and losing hundreds of lives to Palestinian terror, Israelis have come to the painful conclusion that no Palestinian leader has both the will and ability to make peace.

If Israel has no one to negotiate with, what options does it have for improving the situation for both Israelis and Palestinians?

Israel does not wish to hold onto the territories because it does not want to rule over the Palestinians, and it cannot annex the territories because the Palestinian population is growing at a rate that would one day make Arabs the majority of the Israeli population. The only reasonable alternative is to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza.

While not ideal for the Palestinians, unilateral action by Israel will allow them to achieve their stated goal of independence. The Palestinians could establish their state in all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank. Most, if not all of the Jewish settlers who they insist should leave would be gone. The refugees would be free to return to what would become Palestine.

If Israel withdraws unilaterally, it will move its borders to an area approximating the likely boundaries it would have accepted after a negotiation; that is, a frontier that would be roughly along the 1967 border with modifications to make that boundary secure while at the same time incorporating most of the settlers. This is roughly where the security fence is now being constructed.

Unilateral withdrawal would be extremely painful for Israelis, but majorities support the idea in public opinion polls. The most difficult aspect of the plan would be to give up land that has great historic, geographic, and strategic significance. Many Jews would have to give up their homes, some in places where their ancestors have lived for centuries. This will be a wrenching experience for all Israelis.

By allowing Jews to remain in peace, the Palestinians could prove they have no animus toward Jews and are the peace-loving people they have claimed to be. From Israel’s perspective, it would be advisable to offer settlers compensation to move within the new borders so they will not be vulnerable to attack and cannot become hostages to Palestinian demands on other issues.

Some argue that unilateral action gives the Palestinians no incentive for coexisting with Israel, but the opposite is true. Once they have their independence, Palestinians should want to keep it, and refrain from actions that might provoke Israel to retake territory or otherwise undermine its newfound sovereignty.

Even though Israel will aim to create a secure boundary, any withdrawal from territory is risky. Though Israel would hope the Palestinians would establish a peaceful, democratic state on its side of the border, there is no guarantee it will do so. Furthermore, some terrorists might interpret Israel’s action as a sign of weakness and, incorrectly, believe that it was their violence that drove Israel out of the territories. Such a belief might motivate them to escalate their violence.

Israel is not withdrawing out of weakness; however, it is doing so from a position of strength. The terrorists can believe whatever they like, but they will never drive Israel into the sea. Should the Palestinians attack Israel, then the conflict will no longer pit mighty Israel versus the stateless Palestinians, it will be a sovereign state that committed an act of war against another sovereign state that has every right to respond. It will also be in Jordan’s interest to insure the Palestinians do not build an army that could make Palestine an even greater threat to the Kingdom than to Israel.

The United States and, ideally, the rest of the world, must say to the Palestinians, “The conflict is over. You have your state; now we’ll support you so long as you build a peaceful, democratic nation, but we will oppose any attempts to militarize or to export terror.”

Should the leadership of the Palestinians change, Israel can still negotiate over borders and relations; the security fence may be torn down, moved, or opened to allow the movement of goods and people.

Unilateral withdrawal is not a utopian plan. It is a realistic acknowledgment that Israel cannot enjoy perfect peace. So long as radical Muslims remain unwilling to accept a Jewish state in their midst, violence against Israel will continue. Unilateral withdrawal, however, allows Israel to maximize the amount of peace it enjoys and minimize the danger.