The Only Way Out of the West Bank Crisis

ICYMI, here are a couple of excerpts from a very important op-ed by Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher, and Orni Petruschka and what Goldblog thinks of as "modified unilateralism," a plan for Israel to exit much of the West Bank unilaterally, without the negative consequences of the 2005 Gaza pullout. A pullout from the West Bank, of course, is a very dangerous thing for Israel; not pulling out, over time, is more dangerous:

Israel should first declare that it is willing to return to negotiations anytime and that it has no claims of sovereignty on areas east of the existing security barrier. It should then end all settlement construction east of the security barrier and in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. And it should create a plan to help 100,000 settlers who live east of the barrier to relocate within Israel's recognized borders.

Would the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, do this? No, not right now, alas. The conundrum is this: Precisely because he's so reluctant to to make a grand gesture toward the Palestinians, Netanyahu is the oneĀ  politician most Israeli Jews would trust to carry-out a painful withdrawal. I maintain a hope that, one day soon, he will realize the value of the grand gesture (and realize the cost, demographically, spiritually, and reputationally, of keeping Israel so entwined in the lives of West Bank Arabs) and go to Ramallah to share a two-state vision with the Palestinians. Will it happen? I don't know. But the more these three men -- all of whom come from the Israeli mainstream, not the miniscule Israeli left -- talk about the dilemma rationally, the easier it will be for Netanyahu to eventually act. They go on:

That plan would not take full effect before a peace agreement was in place. But it would allow settlers to prepare for the move and minimize economic disruption. Israel should also enact a voluntary evacuation, compensation and absorption law for settlers east of the fence, so that those who wish can begin relocating before there is an agreement with the Palestinians. According to a survey conducted by the Israeli pollster Rafi Smith, nearly 30 percent of these 100,000 settlers would prefer to accept compensation and quickly relocate within the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary dividing Israel from the West Bank, or to adjacent settlement blocs that would likely become part of Israel in any land-swap agreement....

Under our proposal, the Israeli Army would remain in the West Bank until the conflict was officially resolved with a final-status agreement. And Israel would not physically force its citizens to leave until an agreement was reached, even though preparations would begin well before such an accord.

Removing the hardcore settlers will be difficult, but the overwhelming majority of Israelis would choose compromise over settlement if they felt the compromise would work

We don't expect the most ideologically motivated settlers to support this plan, since their visions for Israel's future differ radically from ours. But as a result of our discussions and seminars with settlers of all stripes, we believe that many of them recognize that people with different visions are no less Zionist than they are. We have learned that we must be candid about our proposed plan, discuss the settlers' concerns and above all not demonize them. They are the ones who would pay the price of being uprooted from their homes and also from their deeply felt mission of settling the land.

This last bit, in case you missed it, is meant to be a rebuke of Peter Beinart, who has called for a boycott of the settler-made goods. Such a boycott would only serve to send the hardest-headed settlers further up Masada.