US Secretary of State John Kerry has in recent weeks surprised Israelis and
Palestinians with his stirring determination and dynamic diplomatic activism in
favor of achieving progress toward a viable and realistic Israeli-Palestinian
peace process. Kerry, it seems, is going to break frequent flyer mileage records
on the Washington-Tel Aviv line.
The values he stands for are those of
his democratic predecessors – Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Warren
Christopher – and his style is reminiscent of Republican secretaries of state
Henry Kissinger and James Baker – a potent combination.
Kerry defined his
aim as creating the appropriate conditions and framework for direct
negotiations, in other words, reaching agreement on certain guiding principles
that will be conducive to real and serious negotiations, replacing the
traditional flight of the parties from difficult decisions.
that a bridge must be created between Israel’s legitimate interests for security
and the Palestinian’s legitimate interests for a viable, independent state. He
said, before leaving the region recently, that all sides need to prepare their
homework, including the United States. We are therefore witnessing for the first
time in years an American mediation effort and not just facilitation, which
means that the Americans will also present their own positions and bridging
And yet with the best of American intentions, the onus for
progress is on the parties. And they, much more than their “tutor,” must do
When it comes to our own government, the time has come to
define the significance of our most important interest – security – and to
adjust the definition to the modern age. How Israel guarantees its security for
decades to come, in a volatile Middle East and a changing world, is a topic not
just for our defense establishment, but rather a wider policy challenge of
Security is about protection of the lives and the
security of the citizens of the state. This has always been the case, yet the
ways to achieve it have changed. In the past, security, including Israel’s, was
based on a balance of power. Deterrence out of a power relationship does not
The United States, with the most powerful and modern
military, could not withstand radical, primitive terrorists coming from ancient
caves in Afghanistan, who attacked its modern bastion of power, Manhattan, on
In an age where any country, militia or terror group can acquire
ballistic weapons, even poor countries or individual organizations can inflict
harm on powerful and wealthy societies. Ballistic and terrorist warfare are not
deterred by big militaries or large territory. We have learned that lesson in
Lebanon and Gaza.
Security in the modern age, as acknowledged by experts
the world over, has to be redefined in its broader strategic significance on the
basis of fundamental changes in international relations:
• The national security
and strength of countries is now based on more than military might. The elements
of modern power today include economic development level, social cohesion and
motivation, level of democracy, technological and scientific advances, level of
Japan, Norway and Switzerland are all cases in
• Countries cannot develop their power and security in isolation.
No country, even the United States since the Vietnam War, is strong enough to
protect its security interests on its own. It is not anymore merely a matter of
crude power, but of the legitimacy needed to use power. The United States, in
all recent wars, has acted within international coalitions; France had to
galvanize African countries in support for its campaign in Mali. Military
coalitions result from diplomatic coalition-building. We live in a “diplomacy
• A country’s security depends to a large degree on the
security of its region. Within a region, one country’s security cannot generally
come at the expense of another as their economies are interdependent. The
European Union is the best case in point.
• If in the past countries
maintained security through a balance of forces and military deterrence, today
this has become impossible. The weakest and poorest of countries do not fear the
might of greater powers as they have the ability to inflict harm through the
activation of terror groups and easily acquired missiles as well as
non-conventional weapons. As the capacity to inflict damage is today potentially
in the hands of all, what matters now is the degree of motivation to use
weapons. Poor and frustrated countries that have little to lose, such as North
Korea, will be inclined to go to war. Therefore the balance of power has to be
coupled with a new balance of motivation – a motivation for coexistence and
• These fundamental transitions do not mean, however, that
military technological and defense capacity have become obsolete; in conflict
regions they are necessary but not sufficient conditions for
These elements of modern security are relevant also for Israel
and our region. It is on the basis of these transformations that we have to
redefine our national security.
The IDF and our other security forces
remain an essential basis of our national security. Our technological edge has
to be maintained, through American assistance and our own brain power. The high
motivation of our soldiers within the Israeli democracy is also an important
part of our defense capacity. Our intelligence services must give the political
leadership an accurate picture of a world and region in transition.
the notion and premise of “let the IDF win” is false and
Indeed, Israel’s traditional security doctrine is
It has saved the country in many wars, but in recent years it
has proved insufficient. It is based on the notion that we must depend solely on
ourselves and that the overwhelming power of the IDF will suffice to deter our
neighbors. Security cooperation within the region is taboo. Moreover, our
security doctrine is based on a view of our neighborhood mainly through the lens
of the gun – that on the other side of the border are only armies and
terrorists, not neighbors; that they can be deterred if we have enough control
of information about their intentions and of territory.
This may be
partly true for achieving short-term tactical gains, but not for our strategic
long-term interests and security.
We need to reform our defense outlook.
North, south and east of our borders live societies that to a large degree are
hostile to Israel, yet they are mostly moved by self-preservation and by the
wish of their societies to live a better life. The Arab Spring was not an
outburst of pacifism, but an expression of the young generation for a better
society and economy. They know that these only can be achieved in peacetime and
in connection with the world.
We have to understand that Israel in the
long run has to live and coexist in this neighborhood – that we have to develop
cooperative relations with our neighbors, out of strength, but also out of
wisdom. Our military power is put to work best if translated into a political
relationship in the region, not if used.
We also need to internalize that
good relations based on mutual self-interest are more important than the control
of land; that the control of the lives of another people is impossible, not only
immoral; that with this people – the Palestinians – we also must and can develop
a better relationship if it is based on equality.
For these fundamental
interests, our strategic relationship with the United States is of utmost
importance and can be applied within a necessary peace process.
basis of a reformed security doctrine, we have to aspire to new, sustainable
goals and policies that will ensure Israel’s independence, now at 65, and our
• First and foremost our national security in the modern age is
mainly a function of a democratic and advanced Israel. Powerful countries are
pluralistic countries. The underlying values of Israel are most relevant to our
national strength, as America’s Declaration of Independence is the source of its
force, more than its armed forces.
We must ensure and strengthen our
democratic institutions and invest in education and technology as a first
priority. A highly educated youth contributes to both economy and
• We need secure borders. For now, to the east we have no
borders at all. A two-state solution is essential not only for our democracy but
also for our security.
Historically no power in the world was able to
sustain the domination of another people; we should be the first to understand
Peace with Palestine is a matter of a courageous decision – it must
be based on the 1967 lines with mutual land swaps and security arrangements. We
are strong enough to persuade the Palestinians to enter into partnership by
offering a fair compromise. A reasonable neighborly relationship with an
independent Palestinian state is the best prescription for security; occupation,
• A deal with the Palestinians must and will open parts of the
Arab world to us. A better relationship with Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the Maghreb
and the Gulf (most of these latter countries have hardly any army to speak of)
is something we need to insist on as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
The Saudi Peace Plan acknowledges this parallelism and so does
We need improved bilateral relations with these countries and
a better framework of regional cooperation in the areas of shared
infrastructure, water, energy, environment and tourism, and also security and
anti-terrorism. Security in today’s world order is also regional
As part of this regional framework, we need to see security
arrangements in the West Bank. The Palestinian state will be demilitarized; this
must be true for Gaza as well. Ensuring and monitoring security arrangements is
done best by a regional and international framework, as security is not anymore
just of a national nature.
A regional force should be established by the
United States which will include Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians together
with NATO forces, to monitor the permanent border, the Jordan Valley and
international passages; a kind of “partnership for peace” in the Middle East,
similar to the “partnership for peace” in Eastern Europe.
The decision to
lead in these directions, and to a twostate solution, is ours. In Abu Mazen
(Mahmoud Abbas) we have a peace partner, as Barack Obama found out in
The architecture for the necessary regional framework must be
American – the American strategic interest is to see a peaceful Middle East with
a secure and strong Israel, within a two-state solution, a framework of regional
cooperation and normalization of relations.
President Obama and Secretary
Kerry have been preaching this on their visits. Our leaders responded: Security
first. A political peace settlement, a regional framework and security
arrangements under American guidance are security.
The writer is
president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator
for the Oslo Accords. This piece was edited by Barbara Hurwitz.