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

Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "