The popularity of the notion that Israel and the Palestinian Authority should consider taking unilateral action seems to be growing. I wrote in January about the proposal from Michael Zantovsky, the Czech ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, that the two sides engage in “coordinated unilateralism,” which would allow each to take steps without waiting for a negotiated settlement. Then a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a recent event dedicated to this idea at which Robert Malley suggested the Israelis and the Palestinians take “parallel unilateral steps,” and Ami Ayalon proposed something called a “friendly unilateralism.”
The point seemed to be that the current model for negotiations is outdated and unrealistic. That certainly does seem to be the case–the Palestinian leadership has gone from saying no to every Israeli offer to simply ignoring the offers altogether. Because no one knows how long the Palestinian silent treatment is supposed to last, a movement to figure out how else to attain peace has been gaining steam. The latest possible converts to this new plan, according to this Jodi Rudoren report, include Ehud Barak. But Rudoren mentions the obstacles to such action:
The Palestinian Authority has opposed any effort by Israel to decree the contours of its territory and abandon a negotiated settlement on a wide variety of issues, including the future of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority, however, did take its own unilateral steps last fall, when it pursued United Nations recognition, something it is considering doing again. Israel has criticized such efforts for stepping outside the bounds of negotiations. The Obama administration has strongly opposed unilateral action by either side, and some senior Israeli officials have worried that such a move by Israel could provoke an uprising by Palestinians.
“The core issues of the conflict can only be resolved by direct negotiations,” Daniel B. Shapiro, the United States ambassador to Israel, said Wednesday. Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, also objected to the call for unilateralism, saying, “This policy won’t lead to a solution and would prolong the conflict. It will end the idea of the two-state solution.”
That sums it up pretty well. According to the Palestinian Authority, they can take unilateral steps because without unilateral steps the two-state solution is dead, and Israel cannot take unilateral steps because that would kill the two-state solution. Also, the Palestinians may conduct a new terror war against Israel if they don’t like where this is going.
And according to the United States, whose leadership claims to practice “realism,” the Oslo process hasn’t ceased to be, it’s simply resting, or stunned, or pining for the fjords.
But for now, the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, and the terrorist enclave it has since become, casts a shadow over any proposed unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. So Benjamin Netanyahu continues to reiterate his willingness to negotiate at any time, without preconditions. How long can the world expect Bibi to sit alone at that table? In the absence of Palestinian interest and American diplomatic creativity (or even flexibility), we’re about to find out.