Oct 5th 2010

Reconciling Israel's Security with Palestinian Statehood

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

The two interdependent issues which hover over every aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are satisfying Israel's national security requirements while meeting the Palestinian demand to end the Israeli occupation. Whereas the Palestinians must understand that unless Israel feels secure, there will be no independent Palestinian state, similarly, Israel must recognize that a two-state solution must mean an end to Israeli occupation in any form. To achieve these two objectives, both sides must carefully consider not only each other's requirements, but also demonstrate sensitivity to each other's mindset, which has been ingrained for decades and continues to fuel their conflicting positions.

Even a cursory review of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggests that Israel has legitimate national security concerns that must be alleviated in order to achieve a negotiated agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state. Despite the fact that there are still several Palestinian groups who openly and consistently seek Israel's destruction, and however arguable Israel's linkage between its national security and its continued occupation, one thing remains indisputable: Israel's withdrawal from a part of the territories in the past did not create the building blocks for peace. Instead, the evacuated territories were used as a staging ground for further violent attacks against Israel. The withdrawal from parts of the West Bank in the late 1990s did not prevent the second Intifada; the pull-out from Southern Lebanon in 2000 did not stop the violent exchanges with Hezbollah, which led to the 2006 war; and the evacuation of Gaza in 2005 created a launching pad for indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and others, subsequently leading to Israel's Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. Instead of utilizing the partial withdrawals as the basis for improved relations to encourage further Israeli withdrawals and an end to the occupation, the Palestinians mistakenly viewed the Israeli pullouts as a reaction to continued Palestinian violence. The Israelis' painful retaliations against the Palestinians' incessant violent provocations finally convinced the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank that continued violence against Israel is self-destructive. As a result, the PA determined to build the infrastructure of a Palestinian state (establishing the 'Fayyad Plan') and advance negotiations, rather than militant resistance.

Because of past experiences and the mindset that evolved from these experiences, Israelis are extremely skeptical about the Palestinians' true intentions to seek a durable peace. For these reasons, Israel will insist that four major security concerns are addressed prior to any significant withdrawal from the West Bank: a) that the PA is able to independently prevent the takeover of the territories by terrorist groups and act decisively against violent provocations, b) that there will be no smuggling of weapons, especially rockets to the West Bank which could pose an unacceptable security risk to Israel's urban centers, c) that the PA never enter into a military alliance with a foreign nation, and finally, d) that the newly born Palestinian state be demilitarized, with the exception of robust internal security forces. Israel's intelligence and defense establishments strongly believe that these issues can only be addressed by maintaining a significant residual Israeli force along the Jordanian border, because the PA is not ready, as yet, to meet its border security requirements. Such forces, Israel argues, will not only deal effectively with the country's security concerns, but will also insure the sustainability of the Palestinian Authority as it will deter both internal and external elements from undermining peace.

The Palestinians reject the Israeli demand to keep its forces on the ground in the Jordan Valley, maintaining that such a residual presence on Palestinian territory would amount to a continuation of the occupation. The PA further argues that keeping Israeli troops behind, even without the daily encroachment on Palestinian lives, would provoke tremendous resistance and provide Palestinian groups opposed to any agreement with Israel the munitions they need to undermine peace, including violent attacks. Moreover, forty-four years of Palestinian yearning to end the occupation has created a mindset that diametrically rejects not only continued presence of any Israeli soldiers, but also the symbols of occupation and its humiliating effect on their national dignity and pride. The Palestinians want to feel that they have finally won their independence, albeit not through militant resistance, but certainly without a shade of servitude. In this regard, they would rather maintain their current precarious situation than accede to Israel's demands, which, from their perspective, would be tantamount to surrendering their national aspirations for an independent Palestinian state.

To resolve their conflicting positions, both sides must carefully consider each other's core requirements for peace as well the other's national psychological disposition. There are four security measures that can be put in place with the help of the international community that would alleviate Israel's security concerns without leaving a residual force in the Jordan Valley.

First, although Israel is skeptical of multi-national forces intended to safeguard its security interests (the ineffectiveness of the international peace-keeping forces in Lebanon offer a glaring example), depending on the composition and the mandate of such a force, a multinational effort could potentially be effective. A force stationed along the Israel-Jordan border that includes military personnel from several leading Arab States, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan-as each has vested interest in keeping the peace-in addition to a contingency of peace keepers from some NATO member states under US command, could be extraordinarily effective and essential. A robust force with a mandate to take action to stop the infiltration of terrorists and the smuggling of weapons could satisfy in part Israel's security concerns, provided it is further augmented by other security provisions.

Second, although the PA has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to keep the peace during the past two years and prevent violent attacks against Israel, the Palestinians should agree to a phased withdrawal of Israeli forces over a period of three to four years. During this period of time, the Palestinians' internal security forces should be more than tripled to ensure an orderly takeover of all security responsibilities from Israel as they withdraw from areas B and eventually C as well, and allow Israel to prepare for relocating many settlers. Jordan, with American financial support, has done an impressive job in training the Palestinian security forces and could use this time to expand the effort to a much larger scale. Through this transitional period and beyond, the PA should recognize that the burden of proof-maintaining a non-violent atmosphere-falls squarely on its shoulders. They must know that Palestinians' independence depends on Israel's national security, and a repeat of the second Intifada or the firing of rockets at Israel's densely populated areas following a new Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would be a kiss of death for the hope for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Third, the Palestinian state must remain demilitarized, not only to satisfy Israel's requirements but also to conserve financial resources to enable investments in the infrastructure of the state, thereby increasing the vested interests in maintaining peace. There are 17 countries in the world who have virtually no armies and need not have one because they are simply not threatened by their neighbors and do not want to invest in military hardware to no avail. Similarly, the new Palestinian state will not be threatened by any of its neighbors; Jordan, Israel or Egypt, and even if the Palestinians invest billions of dollars to built a military machine, it would never be in a position to challenge Israel militarily or even deter it should Israel feel threatened by the Palestinian state.

Finally, since Gaza must be a part of the equation, the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria in particular, should lean heavily on Hamas to join the peace process and accept the stationing of similar forces in Gaza in exchange for lifting the Israeli blockade completely. Whereas Israel could reach a peace agreement with the PA without Hamas, it would be extremely difficult to sustain it without, at a minimum, Hamas' acquiescence. Thus, from a security perspective, not withstanding Israel's rejection of Hamas as a terrorist organization, ignoring it will continue to pose security problems for Israel. For this reason Syria will be needed to support the peace process, and in order to induce Damascus to use its leverage on Hamas, it must be given a reason to believe that Israel is seeking a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace that will include Syria.

The Palestinians, including Hamas, must accept the fact that the prospect of establishing a state of their own is intertwined with Israel's national security. Meanwhile, Israel must drop the illusion that it can insure its national security while maintaining even a semblance of the occupation. Neither side can realize what they want unless they accept this basic bitter-sweet reality.

*A version of this article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post on October 1st, and can be accessed at http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=189630

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "If anything has become clear in our recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling in Iraq, is that most Iraqis are tired of their country being used as a playground for regional conflict, especially the conflict between the US and Iran. In fact, our polling has shown Iraqis increasingly upset with the role played by both the US and Iran in their country. Majorities see both of these countries as having been the major beneficiaries of the wars that have ravaged their nation since the US invaded in 2003. "
Jan 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Under his [Suleimani's] leadership, Iran helped Hezbollah beef up its missile capabilities, led a decisive intervention to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported the Houthi rebels who have been waging a war against Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and backed a wave of resurgent Shia militias in Iraq. According to Gadi Eizenkot, who completed his term as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of general staff last year, Suleimani had plans to amass a proxy force of 100,000 fighters along Syria’s border with Israel."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: ".....stunning technological progress during the 2010s makes it possible to cut GHG emissions at a cost far lower than we dared hope a decade ago. The costs of solar and wind power have fallen more than 80% and 70%, respectively, while lithium-ion battery costs are down from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $160 per kWh today. These and other breakthroughs guarantee that energy systems which are as much as 85% dependent on variable renewables could produce zero-carbon electricity at costs that are fully competitive with those of fossil-fuel-based systems."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "Predicting the next crisis – financial or economic – is a fool’s game. Yes, every crisis has its hero who correctly warned of what was about to come. And, by definition, the hero was ignored (hence the crisis). But the record of modern forecasting contains a note of caution: those who correctly predict a crisis rarely get it right again. The best that economists can do is to assess vulnerability. Looking at imbalances in the real economy or financial markets gives a sense of the potential consequences of a major shock. It doesn't take much to spark corrections in vulnerable economies and markets. But a garden-variety correction is far different from a crisis. The severity of the shock and the degree of vulnerability matter: big shocks to highly vulnerable systems are a recipe for crisis. In this vein, the source of vulnerability that I worry about the most is the overextended state of central-bank balance sheets. My concern stems from three reasons."
Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
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." "