'Israel opposes int’l forces as part of peace deal'

International Relations Minister Steinitz shoots down idea of int'l forces being stationed in Jordan Valley, border areas.

June 5, 2013 00:41
French soldiers in UNIFIL

French soldiers in UNIFIL 390. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)

Even as US Secretary of State John Kerry has been keeping details of Washington’s vision for a possible Israeli-Palestinian peace deal very much under wraps, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz made clear Tuesday that Jerusalem would oppose any attempt to introduce international forces into the equation.

“Some people are speaking about international forces, maybe [in] the Jordan Valley or the hills and border areas, that will take care of Israel’s future security,” Steinitz said in a speech at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA).

Steinitz, a close confidant and political ally of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who also holds the Strategic Affairs and Intelligence portfolios, said he would “vehemently” oppose any redeployment of international forces instead of the IDF.

“The principle should be very clear,” he stated. “The Palestinians should be able to control their lives, and we should be able to control our security in our own hands.

For us, security means survivability, and we have had very negative experiences with international forces so far.”

He pointed to two examples in just the last decade of international forces’ failure to provide Israel with security as promised.

The first was the massive UNIFIL force that entered southern Lebanon following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and under whose watch tens of thousands of missiles found their way into Hezbollah’s hands.

The second example was Gaza, where the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and the EU all had different types of security personnel in place following Israel’s 2005 disengagement, but failed to prevent Hamas’s takeover of the territory and the introduction of thousands of rockets and missiles there.

Considering the instability of the Middle East, Steinitz said, the security arrangements that would be necessary in any future peace agreement must be such that Israel “will be able to trust them, and our capacity to defend ourselves, regardless of new developments that are totally unpredictable.”

For example, he said, one vital element will be “a total demilitarization of the Palestinian state, and our capacity to preserve, control and secure this demilitarization, come what may.”

The two negative experiences with international forces in the South and in the North “cannot repeat [themselves] in the West Bank,” he said, adding that it was clear to the government that the only demilitarization Israel could trust would be “supervised and enforced by Israeli forces.”

The international relations minister said Israel was willing to make “very painful” concessions for peace, “make very serious compromises,” and was ready for “a two-states-for-two-peoples solution, but we want genuine peace, real peace, and real security that we can trust.”

His words came just hours after Kerry, in his first address to an American Jewish audience as secretary of state, made a passionate case for renewed peace talks, calling on both sides to “summon the courage” to negotiate.

“We are running out of time,” Kerry said at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Washington on Monday. “We are running out of possibilities.”

While reassuring the pro-Israel crowd that America would always support and defend the Jewish state, Kerry warned that the status quo in the region was unsustainable.

“A stalemate today will not remain tomorrow,” Kerry said.

“In this conflict, the simple fact is tomorrow is not guaranteed to look like today.”

Alluding to those he called “cynics,” he added that “the people who think somehow because there is a fence and because there’s been greater security and fewer people hurt, are lulling themselves into a delusion that that somehow can be sustained.”

He warned that “the absence of peace is perpetual conflict...we will find ourselves in a negative spiral of responses and counter-responses that could literally slam the door on a twostate solution.”

Since entering office in February, Kerry has been vocal about his interest in solving the conflict.

In recent weeks, he has repeatedly warned that time is running out for both a feasible peace agreement and for American patience with political dithering from both sides.

In a speech almost entirely devoted to the peace process, he acknowledged that his personal interest in a resolution, and his tactics, were creating risks themselves.

“Let’s be clear: If we do not succeed now – and I know I’m raising those stakes – but if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance,” he said. “So we can’t let the disappointments of the past hold the future prisoner.”

He stressed that “I fully recognize the challenges and predicament in which Israel finds itself, but I also firmly believe this is a hopeful time if we choose to make it so. This can actually be a time for possibility, a time for promise. I still believe peace is achievable.”

Ready with a laundry list of the benefits of success and the pitfalls that come with failure, Kerry noted that Israeli tourism – which lags behind that of Cyprus due to fears of conflict – would boom if a final settlement were reached.

“Quite simply, peace pays,” he said.

The secretary of state also argued that “in reality, the dawn of a new era” – the Arab Spring – “is exactly the kind of time to recast Israel’s relationships, to change the narrative with a new generation that is starting to make its voice heard.”

He was answering critics in Israel who argue that instability in the region makes this a time for entrenchment over risk-taking.

On the Palestinian front, Kerry asked the audience what would happen if the West Bank economy bottomed out, with a collapse in confidence in the Palestinian Authority. He warned that without a solution, political pressure would mount for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to take Israel to the International Criminal Court.

The secretary, who has visited Israel four times in the last four months – nearly as many visits as his predecessor Hillary Clinton made in her four years at the State Department – uttered familiar Hebrew phrases and quoted the Bible that there was a future for the man of peace.

“Challenges are not met by giving in to doubts,” he said.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also addressed the gathering, repeating her mantra that a Palestinian state was the only way to keep Israel “both a Jewish state and a democratic state,” and saying that a Palestinian state was not a favor toward the Palestinians, but a “necessity for Israel.”

Kerry and Livni, who have met four times over the past two weeks, met again in Washington on Monday. While in the past, Yizhak Molcho, Netanyahu’s special envoy on the Palestinian issue, has taken part in many of the Kerry-Livni meetings, he was not present at this one.

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