Oct 30th 2013

Israel’s National Security: Delegitimizing The Legitimate

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

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.

Related article on Facts & Arts:

Israel/Palestine: Kerry’s Peace Process Misstep

Published 19.09.2013
Twenty years ago, Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed the Oslo accords on the White House lawn, opening the “peace process” that the US is trying to reinvigorate. Yet the Obama administration has failed to learn the lesson of the past two...

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should come as no surprise that Trump has abused his power in orchestrating the federal response to the pandemic. For example, he made sure that Colorado received 100 much-needed ventilators, and made sure that Colorado voters knew it, in order to help re-elect troubled incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.  More alarming, Trump effectively threatened to wage germ warfare against US Postal Service workers by denying them congressionally approved virus-mitigation aid unless the USPS quadrupled rates on packages. Trump’s actual target was Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post."
Apr 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "These ten risks, already looming large before COVID-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimize many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression."
Apr 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal Reserve will buy unlimited quantities of Treasury bonds, the Bank of England will purchase £200 billion ($250 billion) of gilts, and the European Central Bank up to €750 billion ($815 billion) of eurozone bonds. Almost certainly, central banks will end up providing monetary finance to fund fiscal deficits. The only question is whether they should make that explicit."