Ted Martin has a keen interest in Arab and Israeli affairs and has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  Israeli settlement activity and United Nations (UN) resolution 2334 (2016).

Date Originally Written:  January 13, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  January 30, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author has studied the problem of settlements since the late 1990s and spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The point of view expressed is advice to an Israeli decision maker from a third-party.

Background:  The outgoing U.S. Presidential administration abstained from voting for or against UN resolution 2334(2016) that condemned Israeli settlements in the West bank.  Abstaining was unusual behavior for the U.S., as typically the U.S. votes against such resolutions[1].  The Israelis removed all settlements from Gaza before leaving in 2005 but continue to keep and expand them in the West bank and Jerusalem[2].  The last moratorium on settlement expansion was in 2010 and tied to another failed attempt at a peace deal with the Palestinians[3].

Significance:  The UN resolution has angered the Israeli government and may embolden those Palestinian elements that use violence, like Hamas, to justify attacks on Israel.  However, Hamas will likely attack Israel regardless of a UN resolution.  The incoming U.S. administration is expected to adopt a friendlier attitude towards Israel, but world opinion is not liable to change.  Continuing demographic pressure within Israel, a resurgent Iran, and threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), would argue for Israel to attempt to end the settlement dispute and focus on other issues that may be more pressing[4].  Solving this issue soon will allow Israel to focus international attention on its enemies instead of its internal problems.

Option #1:  Create a one state solution by making Arab and Palestinians living within the West bank and Jerusalem Israeli citizens.  Resume negotiations with the Palestinian authority on the basis of integration to the state of Israel.

Risk:  Israel will no longer be a state of Jewish character but rather a secular state.  The current Netanyahu government is allied with many conservative elements and would probably not survive the transition[5].  A moderate or leftist government collation is the only one that could make the proposal possible, which does not currently exist.  The Palestinian Authority government may not agree to transition from separate government to a political party and lose much of its funding and prestige.

Gain:  There is an increasing demographic tension within Israel as the Arabs and Palestinians already living within the borders of the state, 21% of the population as of 2016[6], are becoming a growing minority.  By incorporating the Arabs and Palestinians into the state of Israel the goals of the moderate majority can become mainstream and eliminate many problems currently developing between extremists elements at both ends.  The moderate Israeli parties can use the moderate Arab and Palestinian parties as a wedge against the more extreme elements.  Only 18% of the Arab population in Israel rejects the idea of integration with Israel[7].  Through Option #1, the delicate issue of allowing Palestinian refugees to return to property they once owned or be compensated for that property, known as the right of return, could potentially be addressed.  The right of return has historically been a negotiation point where both sides take intractable positions.  Palestinian Authority President Abbas has flipped on the right of return several times, which may provide room for negotiation[8].  Palestinian refugees who accept the state of Israel to return may address this issue.  Considerably more work would be required on this proposal to move it beyond a concept.  However, small amounts of returning Palestinians might be worth quite a lot of international goodwill.

Option #2:  Decide to return to the negotiating table for a two state solution for the West bank but negotiate for Jerusalem and leave Gaza for a separate deal.

Risk:  The two-state solution enjoys some support by Jewish Israelis, but is starkly divided along party lines with only a total of 43% supporting it[9].  If adopted, it would tear Netanyahu’s coalition apart.  The military is becoming more religious, and the longer this deal takes, the more likely soldiers will refuse orders to forcibly move settlements[10].  The international community may decry this solution as not complete enough.  The Palestinians may refuse to take part in meaningful negations as they did in 2009 and 2010 after the last settlement freeze[11].

Gain:  A two-state solution for the west bank recognizes the Palestinian Authority and allows the state of Israel to push problems within the Palestinian state to the Palestinian Authority to deal with and potentially to require the Palestinian Authority to “fix” Gaza.  Making a deal in the West Bank now may work, only 5% of Israel’s population lives in the West Bank and of that percentage only half live in settlements that may be affected[12].  This option also allows Israel to create a clearly defined border between the state of Palestine and itself that may help prevent illegal entry.  This option has been the “default” option for several years.

Other Comments:  There is some indication that both sides, even the entire Middle East, have given up on solving this problem for now and decided to focus on the threat of Iran and ISIS [13].  This situation leaves external policy makers precious few levers to lean on to force both sides to work together.  If the Arab world is too preoccupied to force the Palestinian Authority to deal with Israel then another power may be able to provide positive reinforcement like money or prestige to the Palestinian Authority to make a deal.  A further motivating factor would be the desire to solve this problem to focus on other problems, which may interest both parties.

Recommendations:  None.


[1]  DeYoung, K. (2016, December 28). How the U.S. came to abstain on a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/how-the-us-came-to-abstain-on-a-un-resolution-condemning-israeli-settlements/2016/12/28/fed102ee-cd38-11e6-b8a2-8c2a61b0436f_story.html

[2], [3], [12]  Rosen, S.J. (2012). Israeli settlements, American pressure, and peace. Jewish Political Studies Review 24(1/2) pp 32-45.

[4], [9], [10] [13]  Harel, A. (2016 July/August). Israel’s evolving military. Foreign Affairs 95(4).

[5], [6], [7]  Ghanem, A. (2016 July/August). Israeli’s second-class citizens. Foreign Affairs 95(4).

[8]  Rudoren, J. (2012, November 4). Palestinian’s remark, seen as a concession, stirs uproar. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/world/middleeast/in-palestine-abbas-spurs-right-of-return-uproar.html

[9]  Lipka, M. (2016, March 9). Among Israeli Arabs and Jews, limited optimism about a two-state solution. Pew Research Center. Retrieved on January 10, 2017 from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/09/among-israeli-arabs-and-jews-limited-optimism-about-a-two-state-solution/

[11]  Kramer, M. (2016 July/August). Israel and the post American middle east. Foreign Affairs 95(4).