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 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 the occupation in any form. To achieve
the two objectives, both sides must carefully consider not only each other’s
requirements, but also demonstrate sensitivity to each other’s mind-set, which
has been ingrained for decades and continues to fuel their conflicting
Even a cursory review of the conflict suggests that Israel has
legitimate national security concerns that must be alleviated to achieve a
negotiated agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state. Although 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: 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.
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 Hizbullah, which led to
the 2006 war; and the evacuation of Gaza in 2005, which made it a launching pad
for indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas, led to Operation Cast Lead in
2008-2009. Instead of utilizing the partial withdrawals as the basis for
improved relations to encourage further withdrawals and an end to the
occupation, the Palestinians mistakenly viewed the pullouts as a reaction to
The painful retaliations against the incessant
violent provocations finally convinced the Palestinian Authority in the West
Bank that continued violence is self-destructive.
As a result, the PA
determined to build the infrastructure of a state (establishing the Fayyad plan)
and advance negotiations.
BECAUSE OF past experiences and the mind-set
that evolved from them, 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 its
urban centers; c) that the PA never enter into a military alliance with a
foreign nation; and d) that the newly born Palestinian state be demilitarized,
with the exception of robust internal security forces.
intelligence and defense establishments strongly believe that these issues can
only be addressed by maintaining a significant residual force along the
Jordanian border, because the PA is not ready to meet its border security
requirements. Such forces, it argues, will not only deal effectively with the
country’s security concerns, but will also ensure the sustainability of the PA
as it will deter both internal and external elements from undermining
The Palestinians reject this, maintaining that such a residual
presence would amount to a continuation of the occupation.
The PA further
argues that keeping IDF troops behind, even without the daily encroachment on
Palestinian lives, would provoke tremendous resistance and provide groups
opposed to any agreement the munitions they need to undermine peace, including
Moreover, 44 years of yearning to end the occupation has
created a mind-set 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, not through militant resistance, but
certainly without even 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 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.
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 multinational forces intended to safeguard its security interests
(the ineffectiveness of the international peacekeeping forces in Lebanon offers
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 a
vested interest in keeping the peace – in addition to a contingent of
peacekeepers 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, the Palestinians should agree to a phased withdrawal of Israeli
forces over a period of three to four years. During this period, their internal
security forces should be more than tripled to ensure an orderly takeover of all
security responsibilities as Israel withdraws from areas B and C, and allow it
to prepare for relocating many settlers.
Jordan, with American financial
support, has done an impressive job in training the PA security forces and could
use this time to expand the effort. Through this transitional period and beyond,
the PA should recognize that the burden of proof – maintaining a nonviolent
atmosphere – falls squarely on its shoulders. It must know that independence
depends on Israel’s national security, and a repeat of the second intifada or
the firing of rockets following a new withdrawal from the West Bank would be a
kiss of death for the hope for a state in the West Bank and Gaza.
the Palestinian state must remain demilitarized, not only to satisfy Israel’s
requirements but also to conserve financial resources to enable investments in
infrastructure, thereby increasing the vested interests in maintaining peace.
There are 17 countries which 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 and even if the Palestinians
invest billions of dollars to built a military machine, it would never be in a
position to challenge Israel or even deter it should it feel
Finally, since Gaza must be a part of the equation, the Arab
states, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, should lean heavily on Hamas
to join the peace process and accept the stationing of similar forces in Gaza in
exchange for lifting the 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’s 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
this reason Syria will be needed to support the peace process, and to induce
Damascus to use its leverage on Hamas, it must be given a reason to believe that
Israel is seeking a comprehensive peace that will include it.
Palestinians, including Hamas, must accept the fact that the prospect of
establishing a state is intertwined with Israel’s national security. Meanwhile,
Israel must drop the illusion that it can ensure its national security while
maintaining even a semblance of the occupation.
Neither side can realize
what it wants unless they accept this basic bittersweet reality.The
writer is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs
at NYU. He teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern Studies.