Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is correct when he says that in the negotiations with the Palestinians he is unwilling to make compromises that will endanger Israeli citizens. Security is the most fundamental element of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and their outcome must create a reality in which security is enhanced, not reduced.
Like most elements of any negotiation there are two sides of the equation and, as Netanyahu has emphasized so many times in the past, agreements must be based on reciprocity and mutuality. Regarding security, this must translate to mean that citizens on both sides of the conflict will enjoy enhanced protection from threats and harm.
It is not only Israelis who fear that the future Israeli-Palestinian agreement will leave them more vulnerable than they are today; the Palestinians are equally fearful. As the conflict puts Israelis and Palestinians against each other, the resolution of the conflict must create a reality whereby Palestinians do not endanger Israelis and Israelis do not endanger Palestinians. Palestinian fears of Israel are no less than Israeli fears of Palestine.
The new reality created through establishing genuine peace must be predicated on the end of the terror threat to Israel by Palestinians and the end of Israeli incursions and military control over the lives of Palestinians by Israel.
The best way to incorporate the full commitment toward creating the new security reality is through the establishment of genuine security cooperation between the two sides. Security must be the direct responsibility of the Israeli and Palestinian governments not only because no one can do it better than them, but also because the new joint security mechanisms will create the basis for true cross-boundary cooperation that is essential to translate a piece of paper (the peace treaty) into real peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Both sides must have a direct interest in guaranteeing the security of the peace treaty and thereby providing for the security of their people. Real security cooperation is not what we have had until today – even when security coordination has been enhanced, such as over the past years.
Today the security coordination or cooperation is essentially a model whereby the Palestinian security forces are subordinate to the Israelis.
Furthermore even though security coordination exists, Israel continues to retain and exploit its ability to enter the Palestinian-controlled areas (area “A” which is supposed to be under full Palestinian control), often encountering violent resistance from Palestinian citizens and at the same time weakening the ability of Palestinian forces to do their job without being thought of as collaborators with the Israeli occupation.
As long as the occupation continues along with Israeli military control, Palestinian security cooperation is viewed by the Palestinian public as being illegitimate. That would change with the ending of the occupation and the establishment of real peace.
Because of the high level of risks involved in future Israeli withdrawals it would be more than wise to begin to create the new mechanism for security cooperation before they begin. In exchange for Israeli commitments to cease its incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas, the Palestinian security forces would act upon Israeli intelligence information to apprehend suspects wanted for possible engagement in terrorism.
Those suspects would be interrogated by Palestinian security forces and the Palestinian justice system with full transparency vis-à-vis Israeli security officials. Those found guilty of security offenses would be brought to justice by the Palestinian justice systems and those found innocent would be summarily released. Israel will continue to have its security needs met. Palestinians would not have their sovereignty violated by Israel and violent confrontations between the parties would cease.
If the system works, it would become the basis for expanded security cooperation when Israel would be required to withdraw. If the system does not work, there would be time to correct it or to determine that withdrawals and peace are not really possible at this time. Both sides would be in the position to reach valuable gains in the process of making peace.
This security cooperation must then be incorporated in all elements of security arrangements in the treaty. Joint control of border crossings between Palestine and Israel would enable security checks to be conducted by Palestinian forces on their side of the border with additional checks if required on the Israeli side of the border. This mechanism would be greatly enhanced through real cooperation in intelligence sharing between the two sides enabling the creation of a database of threats as well as a database of those who pose no threat at all.
Any joint security mechanisms that are within the territory of the other side would be under the command of the sovereign party. There could be joint Palestinian-Israeli forces that patrol the Jordan River area, under Palestinian command. This mechanism could function for a designated period of years until deemed no longer necessary. This would enable continued Israeli security presence in designated numbers and locations but they will be under Palestinian command in a joint force.
Reciprocally, there could be Palestinian security personnel at Ben-Gurion Airport who would function under Israeli command and could be involved directly in security checks for Palestinian citizens, who would be allowed to use the Israeli airport.
The US and Palestinian proposal to have NATO or other third-party forces within the Palestinian state removes the direct security responsibility from the parties themselves and seems to be to be counter-productive in the need to establish real peace which is based on changing the nature of the current relations of occupier-occupied to partners in peace. The parties must bear the direct responsibility for security. If they are relieved of this fundamental obligation then it will become even more difficult to change the relations between the sides and making peace between the peoples on both sides will be hampered.
Without genuine security cooperation, there can be no deal on making Jerusalem the capitals of both states. Jerusalem must remain an open united city with divided sovereignty based on demography – this is only doable through real security cooperation. Real peace must enable the free flow of goods and people across borders with relative ease.
This too will only be possible through genuine security cooperation.
Without this Palestinian economic growth will be hampered and without Palestinian prosperity making real peace will be much more difficult. Israel needs happy and prosperous neighbors. The road toward Palestinian economic success is through Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation.
If Netanyahu truly wishes to ensure the security of Israel in peace with the Palestinians it will not happen through continued Israeli security and military control over the Palestinians, but only through direct and genuine security cooperation with them.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.
His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.