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

Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."
Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: "Reminiscent of Don Quixote, Trump is tilting at windmills. His administration is flailing at antiquated perceptions of the Old China that only compound the problems it claims to be addressing. Financial markets are starting to get a sense that something is awry. So, too, is the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the global economy is fraying at the edges. The US has never been an oasis in such treacherous periods. I doubt if this time is any different. 
Aug 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "In fact, with firms in the US, Europe, China, and other parts of Asia having reined in capital expenditures, the global tech, manufacturing, and industrial sector is already in a recession. The only reason why that hasn’t yet translated into a global slump is that private consumption has remained strong. Should the price of imported goods rise further as a result of any of these negative supply shocks, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable household income growth would take a hit, as would consumer confidence, likely tipping the global economy into a recession."