The committee set up to evaluate the idea of a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank presented senior political officials with its report in which they raised legal, security and economic difficulties that are likely to inhibit the plan’s implementation.
A source with access to the report said its main conclusion is that Israel has no security solution to the threat of rockets launched from the West Bank against population centers. The report’s authors assume that following a unilateral Israeli pullout from the West Bank, Hamas will takeover and deploy rockets. Currently, the only solution to the missile threat that the Israel Defense Forces has to offer is its actual presence in the territories and control of the high ground.
Another conclusion is that Israel will not gain international recognition for an end to the occupation if it continues to hold significant portions of the West Bank. Similarly, it is doubtful whether such recognition would be forthcoming even if it unilaterally withdraws to the Green Line.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appointed the committee late last year during her tenure as justice minister. The committee was instructed to delineate Israel’s interests in the West Bank and the considerations that need to be considered for a unilateral pullout and evacuation of settlements. The committee was not instructed to examine how a pullout following an agreement with the Palestinian Authority would look, nor was it ordered to evaluate the impact of an internal rift with settlers.
Former director general at the Justice Ministry, Aharon Abramovitch, was appointed to head the committee. Abramovitch is now the Foreign Ministry’s director general.
The voluminous report was presented to Livni several weeks ago, and since then, Livni and Abramovitch held two or three meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regarding its findings. Their last meeting took place before the outbreak of war.
The committee showed that Israel’s two main interests are contradictory: on the one hand, Israel wishes to relinquish responsibility over the Palestinians as an occupying force; on the other, it would like to ensure that the territory it pulls out from is demilitarized. Controlling an “external envelope” of the West Bank borders will make it easier for Israel to prevent the transfer of weapons into the area, but will increase the level of responsibility vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
A compromise solution examined by the committee is for the Allenby crossing on the Jordanian border to be opened to Palestinian traffic, under international supervision, similar to that which exists at the Rafah crossing on the border of Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Another possibility is for the Palestinian Authority to establish a state on territory evacuated by Israel, and Israel would reach an agreement with it on demilitarization.
According to the committee, the government’s first decision will have to be the line to which it is willing to pull back. This will determine the legal (degree of Israel’s responsibility), security (IDF repositioning and demilitarization), and economic implications (compensation to settlers that would be evacuated) of such a move.
In examining whether the model used in the disengagement from the Gaza Strip could be adopted in the case of the West Bank, the committee found there are about 20 substantive differences between the two cases.
One of the differences is the impact on neighboring countries. Egypt agreed to participate in the disengagement, and deployed forces along the border with the Gaza Strip. Jordan, meanwhile, considers the unilateral withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank a grave threat to its national security.
One of the alternatives examined by the committee is transfering the territory to international responsibility. Another is for the evacuation of all Israeli citizens, but maintaining an IDF presence there. A more limited settlement evacuation was also discussed.
The committee assessed that the state economy can sustain compensation for 15,000 settler families, even though the cost would be “astronomical.”