The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution hosted a policy luncheon discussion with Israeli Major General (ret.) Uzi Dayan, Former National Security Advisor and Founder of the Tafnit Movement (“Turning the Corner”, founded in June 2005). Established by Dayan in June 2005, the Tafnit Movement has outlined a broad range of national priorities for Israel, including national security, the economy, and education. The Saban Center discussion focused on the plan that Dayan unveiled in September 2005 that calls for Israel to conduct an additional withdrawal from the West Bank following the recent disengagement from the Gaza Strip and portions of the West Bank.
Dayan began his remarks by saying that Israel is at a crossroads following its disengagement from the Gaza Strip and portions of the West Bank. Israel can either continue to move forward in pursuing its national security interests and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or become stuck in the status quo. Dayan argued that two long-held conceptions within Israel have collapsed as a result of the disengagement. The first is the idea of a “greater Israel,” meaning a Jewish state that includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The second is the idea of negotiating “land for peace” with the Palestinians. Instead, a majority of Israelis have become comfortable with ceding land and taking unilateral measures.
Therefore, Dayan stressed that it is important for Israel to formulate a new policy that fits within this context. To formulate this policy, Dayan argued that Israel must take into account a number of factors. Most important, Dayan said, is that fact that it is currently impossible for Israel to reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians. In addition to this, terrorism remains a strategic threat to Israel, in large part because Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been unable to deliver on his security commitments to Israel. As a result of this, there is no trust between the two sides, and Israelis and Palestinians view each other with suspicion. All of these factors, Dayan argued, make unilateral action the best policy for Israel.
A key consideration for Israel is demography. Dayan related a discussion he had as National Security Advisor with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Prime Minister Sharon asked Dayan in a meeting to discuss the relationship between demography and security. Dayan replied that the only way for Israel to remain Jewish and democratic is to make a decision about its borders. By the year 2020, Jewish Israelis will be a minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River if Israel holds on to the West Bank.
Dayan went on to present the general framework of the Tafnit plan. The Tafnit plan argues for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank within three years along a temporary disengagement line that is determined by Israel’s demographic and security considerations (the three years would begin upon the Knesset’s formal approval of the plan). A key element of the plan is that Israel should not compromise in its fight against terrorism and should continue construction of the security fence and targeted operations against know threats. At the same time, and in parallel with preparations for disengagement, Israel should pursue permanent status negotiations with the Palestinians.
Dayan showed a map that outlined the proposed temporary line of Israel’s proposed withdrawal from the West Bank. It would not be a withdrawal to the June 5, 1967 ceasefire lines. The line of withdrawal accounts for Israel’s security and demographic needs. Consequently, the Palestinians would receiv approximately 70 percent of the area of the West Bank (Tafnit’s map).
Dayan discussed the economic implications of Tafnit’s proposal for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank. The Tafnit proposal envisions that the security fence will be an economic border. Therefore, there will be customs duties between Palestinian and Israeli territories. Both sides can agree to the movement of labor across this proposed economic border.
During the three years transition period, Dayan said that Israel and the Palestinians should pursue permanent status negotiations. However, if an agreement is not reached, Israel should withdraw from the West Bank unilaterally. Dayan outlined a number of guiding principles for permanent status negotiations. Specifically, Jerusalem would not be open for compromise and would remain the capital of Israel with the current status quo. In addition, the Tafnit plan calls for a demilitarized Palestinian state and a “right of return” of Palestinians to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Dayan discussed the feasibility of the Tafnit plan, arguing that it accounts for the reality of the current situation. The plan, he said, should be presented to the Israeli public as the best possible “fall back” scenario if permanent status negotiations fail. Dayan said that the plan is a result of his disagreement with the “all or nothing” approach taken at the Camp David negotiations in 2000.
During the question and answer session, participants voiced concern about the fact that unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and construction of a security fence would weaken the Palestinian Authority. Specifically, one participant voiced the opinion that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, because it was done unilaterally, was a missed opportunity for working with Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Another participant raised the concern that uncoordinated withdrawal could create a “failed” Palestinian state that is prone to terrorist influences. Dayan answered that the Tafnit proposal is a short-term plan to move Israel away from the status quo. In addition, it is based on the premise that it is currently impossible to negotiate with the Palestinian side. With regards to Hamas and terrorist influences, Dayan argued that Hamas is a Palestinian problem that the Palestinian Authority must confront. Soon, Dayan said, there will be a face-off between moderate and extremist Palestinians, and Dayan predicted that the moderates would win because the Palestinian public is tired of the violence. Lastly, Dayan argued that the Tafnit plan would create a better short-term situation for Palestinians because Israel forces would withdraw from most of the West Bank.
Dayan also clarified some points. He said that the plan would not affect Israeli Arabs because they would remain within Israel proper. Also, he explained that he is against “land swaps” in principle. He concluded by saying that the Tafnit plan is a strategy to prevent Israel from muddling through the next few years. Instead, it proposes taking realistic steps that are in the best interest of Israel and that will move both sides in the direction of ending the conflict.