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Alon Ben-Meir

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Israel's National Security: Delegitimizing the Legitimate

Posted: 10/28/2013 1:48 pm

One of the main issues being discussed in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is Israel's national security. Although given its military might Israel's sense of insecurity may seem exaggerated, the Palestinians should not dismiss this central concern which is deeply embedded in the psyche of every Israeli. That said, neither military might nor the annexation of any Palestinian land in the West Bank will guarantee Israel's national security, short of a comprehensive peace.

Israel's fixation on "security" and the harsh measures it employs, presumably to achieve an impregnable national security condition, is making the Palestinians increasingly vulnerable, fostering deeper animosity and militant resistance. As Henry Kissinger observed in his book, A World Restored, "Absolute security for one power means absolute insecurity for all others."

Unfortunately, those Israelis supporting the notion of a "Greater Israel" satisfy their lust for more Palestinian land under the guise of establishing so-called "defensible borders." They fail to understand that unless peace is within the Palestinians' grasp, the relative quiet that has prevailed in the past few years only obscures the gathering storm that will hit Israeli shores with devastating velocity.

Territorial depth can no longer guarantee Israel's security. After all, the distance between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea hardly exceeds 42 kilometers. In the age of rockets and precision missile technology, controlling a wider area east of the 1967 borders will make little or no difference.

This was glaringly demonstrated during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 when Hamas was able to rain hundreds of rockets on Israel, some of which reached the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv while thousands of Israelis rushed to the nearest underground shelters in fear.

There is a certain fixation in Israel's compulsive pursuit of absolute security, evident in a number of ways that have produced the precise opposite effect.

Israel's national security serves as the means of justifying the confiscation of Palestinian land, the destruction of homes and property, random incarcerations, and at times the use of brutal force, which are wholly inconsistent with Jewish values.

The expansion of settlements in the name of national security is a liability rather than an asset. The ever-increasing constructions of fences and walls, which will soon surround the entire country, are the physical expression of the national security obsession.

Israel is effectively building a prison for itself; it is becoming a garrison state and progressively more isolated politically and physically, from both its neighbors and the international community.

In an interview with the New York Times on December 26, Naftali Bennett, the leader of HaBayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) and Minister of the Economy, posed to himself a rhetorical question: "What do we do in the long term? I do not know."

This is someone who seeks to annex Area C, which represents 60 percent of the West Bank, and who aspires to become prime minister.

Israel's future rests in the hands of such reckless leaders who have no strategy, no vision or even a clue about Israel's fate should they continue to pursue territorial expansion and use military power to enforce it.

During a conference in Tel Aviv in December 2012, Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, reconfirmed the sentiments of many of his colleagues when he said: "Israel must recognize the limits of its power and cooperate with forces that support Israeli interests."

If peace with security is the answer, Israel must free itself from the stigma and the burden of occupation and strengthen the foundation of Israel as a Jewish state by establishing a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.

To allay Israel's legitimate national security concerns, any peace agreement must be based on certain provisions and a timeline designed to ensure compliance based on reciprocal confidence-building measures. This would allow for mutual mitigation of biases and selective perceptions over each other's intentions and willingness to foster trust, which is sine qua non to a lasting peace.

Phased withdrawal and reciprocity: Generally, Israeli officials use the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 (which ended up with Hamas taking over the Strip) as justification for their refusal to completely withdraw from the West Bank, even under conditions of peace.

Unfortunately, an excuse is what it is: the withdrawal from Gaza was precipitous and unilateral with no coordination with the PA and no security arrangements. It can be argued that had former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon followed such a framework, Hamas would not be in control of Gaza today.

To prevent a repeat of the Gaza withdrawal, the pullout from the West Bank must be implemented in phases over a period of four to five years with an established timeframe between each phase based on specific reciprocal and confidence-building measures.

Maintaining full security cooperation: By virtue of the Israelis' and Palestinians' past experiences, full security cooperation between the two sides remains a prerequisite. Progress made between Israel and the PA demonstrates that effective security cooperation is possible, even in an atmosphere of tension.

The success of this cooperation will be made possible by the PA's commitment to peace as well as Israel's willingness to fully collaborate by easing Palestinian mobility, coordinating with their internal security, and improving intelligence cooperation.

Over the last four years, the Palestinians have proven they are capable of maintaining security and top Israeli military commanders have praised the PA for their success.

Preserving credible deterrence: It is a given that Israel will maintain a credible military deterrence that will prevent current and future enemies from becoming a real threat.

In this regard, Israel and the United States can ensure that no single state or a combination of states is able to overwhelm Israel militarily by maintaining a qualitative military edge along with America's continued guarantee of Israel's security.

That said, at no time in its history has Israel been stronger militarily. This strength enables Israel to take the risk and reach out to the Palestinians in peace with absolute confidence.

If the Palestinians, as many Israelis contend, will never accept Israel and are committed to its destruction, what better way for Israelis to find that out than offering equitable peace now and exposing where the Palestinians really stand instead of being on the defensive and blamed for obstructing the peace process?

Borders and national security: Every American administration since President Carter has supported the idea that the 1967 borders provide the baseline for negotiations. Even if Israel were to draw its own final borders, the contours of these borders would not enhance Israel's national security.

The annexation of more land, two or three kilometers deep into the West Bank, will make little difference from a security perspective. Those who promote the notion of a "Greater Israel" under the guise of national security, seeking to surround the Palestinians on all sides, are sowing the seeds of perpetual violent conflict. The Palestinians will never accept the creeping annexation of the only territory on which they can build a viable state.

An international peacekeeping force: Regardless of how legitimate Israel's demand to keep residual forces along the Jordan River to prevent weapons smuggling and the infiltration of terrorists from the Jordan Valley is, it is not likely to be accepted by the Palestinians, as they would view that as occupation under another name.

Instead, an international peacekeeping force (perhaps with symbolic Israeli and Palestinian participation) should be formed under UN auspices. The force should be assembled from countries that have a vested interest in maintaining peace, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and some of the EU countries, under the military command of the United States.

Such a robust force should be empowered by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to take any measures necessary to maintain the peace and it should not be removed without an explicit UNSC resolution, where the US enjoys veto power.

A demilitarized Palestinian state: The newly-established Palestinian state should be demilitarized with the exception of a robust internal security force. It is a given that the Palestinians will never be in a position to challenge Israel militarily and no country, including Israel, would threaten a Palestinian state at peace with its neighbors.

Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on military hardware, future Palestinian governments should respond to the yearning of the people by investing in economic development, education, health care, infrastructure, and democratic institutions that will enable them to take pride in their achievements and enjoy the fruits of peace.

Reviving the Arab Peace Initiative: Israel should accept the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which was proposed in 2002 and reintroduced in 2007, and agree to convene with representatives of the Arab League to discuss its merits, especially now that the Arab League agreed to modify certain provisions to accommodate the Israelis.

This would open the door for negotiating a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement, beginning normal relations with the Arab states, and by extension with all Muslim states.

As the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, stated in June 2011 at Tel Aviv University, "We must adopt the Saudi Initiative, we have no other way, and not because [the Palestinians] are my top priority but because I am concerned about Israel's wellbeing and I want to do what I can to ensure Israel's existence."

A regional security umbrella: Once a peace agreement is achieved and all security measures are in place, the United States could offer a security umbrella along the lines of what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed in June of 2009, under which all nations in the region who are at peace with Israel (and with each other) could belong.

People-to-people relations: Finally, Israel's security is inextricably linked to its ability to forge people-to-people relations that can mitigate the psychological security hang-ups between the two sides.

Many Israelis believe that the Palestinians cannot be trusted and insist that the Palestinians are inherently committed to Israel's destruction. The question is, however, who would make peace on the basis of trust alone?

Nothing can change perceptions about the other side and foster trust more than these people-to-people encounters including improving economic, cultural and scientific ties.

It is time to change the image of an Israeli in the eyes of a Palestinian from a soldier with a gun to a friendly face, and for Israelis to look at a Palestinian as a human being rather than a terrorist.

None of the above remotely suggests that the Palestinians have been innocent bystanders; they have brought upon themselves much of their current plight and suffering. By their past violence and threatening rhetoric, they have given the Israelis every reason to suspect and distrust them.

The second Intifada that erupted in 2000, during which more than 1,000 Israelis were killed, constituted a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and only reinforced the Israelis' deep distrust of the Palestinians. The Palestinians too, however, learned a bitter lesson as they suffered over 4,000 casualties and horrendous destruction as a result of Israeli retaliations.

It is now, however, up to Israel to change the dynamic of the conflict; the vast majority of Palestinians have resigned themselves to co-exist with Israel because they know that Israel is and will remain a formidable power and is here to stay.

Israel's legitimate national security concerns can be met, but not by an insatiable thirst for more land in the West Bank. It is this very policy that delegitimizes Israel's legitimate national security requirements.

 

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