Reconciling Israel’s security with Palestinian statehood

Whereas the Palestinians must understand that unless Israel feels secure, there will be no Palestinian state, Israel must recognize that a two-state solution means an end to the occupation.

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 positions.
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 continued violence.
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.
Israel’s 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 peace.
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 violent attacks.
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.
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 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.
Third, 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 threatened.
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.
The 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.