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Israel’s Security Umbrella Closes Before the Storm

Yonoson Rosenblum

Sometime before the extended three-month settlement freeze in Israel is up, President Obama is expected to release a map with his assertions of where the borders between Israel and a state of Palestine should be drawn. Security experts contend that Israel will be left with little wiggle room, but major anxieties.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s first major foreign policy address after becoming prime minister again last year made headlines around the world for his acceptance of a Palestinian state. Less noticed by the foreign press was the second part of the speech Netanyahu gave at Bar-Ilan University: his demand for reciprocity from the Palestinians. That Palestinian state, he said, would have to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People, it would have to be demilitarized, and Israel’s critical security needs would have to be honored.

That reference to Israel’s critical security needs represented a return to the traditional Israeli position that peace with its Arab neighbors can only come through secure borders for Israel. The classic statement of that doctrine was the so-called Alon Plan, formulated by Foreign Minister Yigal Alon in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War. Alon envisioned Israel retaining captured territory in Judea and Samaria vital to Israel’s security, especially the Jordan Valley — the entire area from the Jordan River bed to the crest of the eastern slope of the Judean and Samarian mountain ridge facing the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. In a speech to the Knesset, one month before his assassination, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, who served under Alon in the pre-State Palmach, reiterated the vision of his mentor. “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley in the broadest meaning of that term,” Rabin said. He added that Israel would not return to the 1949 armistice lines, which were in place until June 5, 1967.

From the middle of the Oslo process, however, Israel’s traditional security-based diplomacy doctrine began to be replaced by a radically different approach, best described as diplomacy-based security. Its concept is that peace is not secured by Israel retaining the ability to defeat any possible combination of enemies, but by entering into diplomatic agreements with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors. That new approach reached its height under the premiership of Ehud Barak at the 2000 Camp David conference, when Yasser Arafat was offered a state in virtually the entirety of territory Israel captured in 1967.

One analyst who was listening carefully to both parts of Netanyahu’s speech, was Daniel Diker, a Harvard-trained, foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), and currently secretary-general designate of the World Jewish Congress. JCPA is headed by Dr. Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. Dr. Gold, like Diker, is American-born and trained and wears a knitted kippah. With the backing and direction of Gold, Diker conceived the idea of gathering a group of Israel’s leading military strategists to flesh out the comprehensive security analysis behind Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech.

The group assembled was exceptionally distinguished by any measure. It included a former chief of staff (and current vice–prime minister), Lt.-Gen. Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon; a former deputy chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Uzi Dayan; a former head of IDF Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze’evi Farkash; two former heads of IDF Intelligence Assessment Division, Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror and Brig.-Gen.Yossi Kuperwasser; a former head of IDF Planning Division, Brig.-Gen. Udi Dekel; and two former national security advisors to the prime minister, Dayan and Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland. Dekel also headed the unit responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Though the participants wrote different chapters of the final report, entitled “Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace,” Diker told me there was consensus among the group on all of the security requirements.

When I asked Diker, whether there is any chance that the Palestinians, who have not changed their stance on any major issue since 1993, might ever agree to the security arrangements outlined in the report, he implied that the question begs the point. “It is not Israel’s task to continually retreat from its positions to coax an agreement from the Palestinians. Rather Israel must identify its basic security needs,” said Diker. “Israel’s Critical Security Needs,” he explained, represents an attempt to restore equilibrium to negotiations with the Palestinians, instead of the current situation that began at Oslo, in which the Palestinians have refused every Israeli offer, while “pocketing” the latest Israeli concessions as the starting point for the next round of negotiations.

“American support for Israel’s security needs has always been bipartisan and rock solid in Congress,” Diker added. “It was Israel, under Prime Minister Ehud Barak, that confused matters by taking the position that peace agreements with the Palestinians could, by themselves, create security for Israel. Netanyahu is now trying to undo the confusion Israel itself sowed among her supporters in Congress and previous administrations.”


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