In these pages I will look at the phenomenon of unilateralism in Israeli politics from two different angles: I will first attempt to get to the roots of unilateralism, which I see primarily as a cultural and conceptual state, characterizing the attitude of Israeli society toward the Arab expanse surrounding it. I will subsequently look at the implications of unilateralism on the reality that is developing in the West Bank regarding the settlements.

"Unilateral Identity"

In The Guide to the Perplexed, the most important philosophical treatise composed in the Jewish world during the Middle Ages, Maimonides (1135-1204) deals with the contradiction inherent in ascribing names and titles to God - that is the problematic nature of attempting to positively define God. Every attempt to do so forces one to use concepts familiar to one from one's subjective consciousness, which leads one in the end to what Maimonides calls "idolatry". Maimonides moves on to build a "negative theology," that is reductive theology focusing on denying titles.
Analogously, it seems doubtful to me whether it is possible to find a positive definition of the existence of the Israeli collective. By which I mean a definition that would be acceptable to an absolute majority of Israelis1. Israelis are not only mizrachim or Ashkenazim (from Middle Eastern/North African or European backgrounds). They are not religious or traditional, just as they are not only secular. They are not only Hebrew speakers, since a proportion of Israelis speak poor Hebrew, if at all. Even their affiliation to the Jewish religion is not common to all, since a significant number of Israelis (eligible under the Law of Return, or their spouses) do not answer to the orthodox-halachic definition of "who is a Jew."
Despite all this, there is one proven way of defining who is an Israeli. But, as in the attempt to define divinity, it is necessary to make do with a negative definition of Israeliness: an Israeli is a citizen, or resident, who lives in Israel, but is not an Arab. The significance of this is that the widest common denominator of Israeli identity is built on the denial of the Arab identity. This principle is valid when talking about the Arabs of Israel, or the West Bank, or those in the Middle East surrounding Israel. I would like to stress that this issue has nothing to do with another question which fascinates Middle East researchers: is there a common Arab identity? It is sufficient if we agree that, from the point of view of most Israelis, there is certainly such an identity.
This identity conflict is the cause of the State of Israel's difficulty in defining the nature of its relationship with its Arab citizens - who number about one- fifth of the population. One of the most violent and painful expressions of this identity conflict took place when, during the riots of October 2000, Israeli police officers killed 12 Israeli Arab citizens.
It is my understanding that the seeds of unilateralism were nurtured in the general Zionist experience, and in the Israeli experience in particular, by the way that "Israeliness" sees itself. It appears to me that some of the very foundation stones of Israeli identity stand on the mother lode of the denial of the legitimacy of the Arab-Palestinian existence in Israel. This is in contrast to the phenomenon of the denial of the existence of the Arab-Palestinian population in Israel, which from the time of the former prime minister Golda Meir, who held that there is not a Palestinian problem, since there are no Palestinians, is diminishing from the central Israeli political discourse.
As a matter of fact the Arab-Palestinian existence (mainly in Israel per se) is beginning to occupy greater volume in the Israeli political dialogue. However, for the most part it is represented as an imminent threat to the Israel collective. This no doubt explains the success of the two parties that waved the flag of "borders ensuring a solid Jewish majority" in the last elections - Ehud Olmert's ruling Kadima party and the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, led by Avigdor Lieberman. The differences between the two are simply in the degree of effort each are prepared to invest to accomplish the goal - maximum territory with minimum Arabs.

The Settlement Enterprise - an Expression of Unilateralism

"These are liberated territories belonging to the People of Israel." (Menachem Begin, 1977)
From its first day the settlement enterprise was a unilateral measure meant to serve the purposes of the Israeli collective. The basis for this enterprise is that in the "Land of Israel," which extends on both sides of the pre-1967 Green Line border, there is one legitimate collective - the Jewish-Israeli collective. It is the right of Jewish Israelis to do everything to safeguard their monopoly. This attitude still permeates the Israeli leadership. However there has been a significant change in the way a major sector of Israeli citizens - particularly those policy-makers surrounding former prime minister Ariel Sharon and who continue to influence Prime Minister Olmert - regard the settlements. The Gaza disengagement was the first authentic expression of this.
After 40 years of intensive settlement activity in the West Bank the Israeli public has come to realize the obvious, that when Israel rules in the settlement of Beit El, for example, it is also responsible for what happens a few kilometers south of there - in Ramallah. In other words many more Israelis now understand the settlement enterprise has brought the State of Israel to a crossroad where it must choose between two conflicting ways - annexing the West Bank and creating a bi-national state, or annexing the West Bank and formalizing the de facto apartheid situation there. Since most of the Israeli Jewish population is not interested in paying the price of these alternatives, the third option is to reevaluate the settlement policy in the territories. It should be noted that the first to comprehend the significance of the Gaza disengagement were the settler leaders. The main thrust of the obdurate opposition of the settlers, led by the Judea and Samaria Council, was not against the Gaza disengagement as such (even thought this was difficult for them), but rather that, for the first time in nearly 40 years, Israeli settlement policy would be weighed in terms of the cost and profit to the state. The settlers realized the Gaza precedent would mean that sooner or later the very foundations of the settlement ethos would be shaken to the core. That since the state faced the same dilemma in the West Bank as it had faced in Gaza - what to do with the Palestinian population living in the territories captured in 1967?
Since much of the Israeli public had concluded that that the settlement dilemma had to be dealt with, the question that arose is which portion of the settlements needed to be evacuated in order to escape the looming conflict? Once again unilateral measures seemed to be of relevance. In theory Israel could initiate another bilateral move. But in order to do so the Israeli government would have to make two difficult decisions:
1. Firstly, it would have to recognize the legitimacy of the existence, and the long-term interests of the Palestinian collective. This would require not lip-service recognition, but also a freeze on building in the settlements.
2. Secondly, it would have to come to terms with the evacuation of a much bigger number of settlers who reside in the "settlement blocs," which Israel had previously intended keeping under its control.

However, Israeli governments have preferred marathon negotiating sessions with dozens of delegations from countries thousands of kilometers away from the conflict. All this in order not to carry out meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians, since this would have required of Israel a change of attitude it was not prepared to undergo. This situation, which meanders between the pathetic and the tragic, symbolizes above all the absurdity of our conjoined reality.

Creating Facts on the Ground, Unilaterally

"The obstacle does not define the border and therefore its erection is not based on any political frontier line."
- Defense Ministry Web site

"We would not be investing here if we did not know for certain that the Ariel bloc would continue to be an inseparable part of the State of Israel."
- Ehud Olmert during a visit to Ariel on 12 March, 2006.

There is no doubt, and on this score most of the supporters and well as the opponents of the separation wall agree, that its construction during the past three years has been the most significant action affecting its links to the West Bank that the State of Israel has carried out during the past decade. It is patently obvious that the construction of the wall along its present route is a blatant example of unilateralism. The wall is creating a new reality in two main ways: on the one hand, most of the territory and the Palestinian population of the West Bank are found east of the wall. On the other hand most of the Israel population living east of the Green Line are west of the wall (about 370,000 out of some 440,000, including east Jerusalem). It is most likely that in the near future, the wall will constitute the frontier line between Israel and the West Bank. Therefore Israel will continue to hold some key areas which will enable it to divide the West Bank in several separate cantons.

The four main settlement blocs comprise:
* The Ariel-Kedumim-Karnei Shomron-Alfei Menashe bloc.
*The bloc north of Jerusalem comprising the following settlements: Beit Horon, Givat Ze'ev and Givon, which are outside of the Jerusalem boundary; and other suburbs that are within the municipal boundaries such as Ramot, Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Zeev.
* The Maaleh Adumim bloc comprising Maaleh Adumim and five small settlements in the area, a large industrial area, area E-1 earmarked for building another settlement and large open areas to the east.
* The section of Gush Etzion east of Route 60 and comprising the settlements of Efrat and Migdal Oz.

Two differentparallel narratives are taking place in the West Bank: the first one is the old story of expansion of settlements. The second one is the new narrative reflected in a shrinking of the Israeli presence in parts of the West Bank. On the ground, the expansion of some settlements and outposts and the construction of bypass roads continue in areas which are east of the wall.
However, the construction of the separation wall, to the west of which most of the construction activity in the West Bank is taking place, is the counter balance to the shrinking of the Israeli presence.
It seems that the fact that these two narratives "co-exist" is resulting primarily fromthe the situation that while the "Greater Israel" idea is struggling to survive, there is still no other clear alternative policy which the Israeli government has adopted.
In light of the new reality in which the government of Israel, headed by a former "prince of the Likud," announces that it intends redrawing the borders which would involve the evacuation of dozens of settlements and tens of thousand of settlers, there are those who believe that the left has won the debate on the future of the territories. However, it seems that the reality is much more complex. The Zionist leftist's political agenda stands on two legs: the first is that it is necessary, and possible, to dismantle settlements. The other is that the evacuation should be carried out during negotiations which would deal as well with the other non-territorial issues which feed the conflict. At least for some of the Israeli left, the belief that negotiation is a necessity is not just a tactical position but expresses deep criticism of the lack of Israeli recognition of the legitimacy of the Palestinian existence in this land.
It therefore appears at present that the demographic and security reality has brought a sufficient number of Israelis to understand that there is no alternative to the dismantling of some of the settlements. However, it seems to me that a long, rocky road lies ahead for those who would attempt to persuade the Israeli public that the Palestinian existence in this land is not a "historical accident" whose ill effects have to be countered, but they should be recognized as an indigenous group, with its own language, culture and history. And, furthermore, with its own political rights.

1 By saying it I don't mean that there are no ways to positively define Israelis, only that any particular definition probably wouldn't be accepted by many members of the Israeli society.