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The truth about Israel's national security

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Thursday, 11 February 2016


Israel's historical experiences, coupled with decades of violent confrontations with Arab states and the Palestinians, have created a major psychological barrier embedded in the psyche of every Israeli, placing Israel's legitimate national security concerns at the center of its domestic and foreign policy. That said, no military might or even the expropriation of the entire West Bank will guarantee Israel's security, short of a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Netanyahu government's linking of national security to the so-called "defensive borders" is disingenuous and misleading, designed to provide a cover for his and his cabinet's continued intoxication with seizing Palestinian territories.

In the age of rockets and precision missile technology, territorial depth can no longer guarantee Israel's security, as Hamas has been able to rain thousands of rockets on Israel, some of which have reached Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

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The current 'knife Intifada' also reveals the absurdity of the argument that borders, any border, can provide air tight security. It is the occupation and the continuing expansion of the settlements that are behind these violent outbursts, and as long as the occupation persists, Israel will not know a day of rest.

In December 2012, Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, reconfirmed the sentiments of many of his colleagues when he said: "Israel must recognize the limits of its power and cooperate with forces that support Israeli interests."

This was aptly expressed by another top Israeli military commander, Shaul Arieli, who said, "We believe that peace will provide better security than anything else." Otherwise, all security measures, however coercive, elaborate, and sophisticated, cannot guarantee Israel's national security.

As a master tactician who uses fear to rally public support, Netanyahu is quick to point to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza to suggest that the Palestinians cannot be trusted, as Hamas has been using the strip ever since as a launching pad for rockets, instead of building the foundation of their state.

Sadly, many Israelis bought into this dishonest argument, even though it may appear to be valid on the surface. Only when one carefully examines how the withdrawal from Gaza was conducted would one understand the absurdity of this argument.

The withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was precipitous and unilateral. Then-Prime Minister Sharon knew that Hamas was by far more powerful than the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, and poised to take over. Sharon's main objective, however, was to rid Israel of the economic and security burdens that Gaza posed, and if his actions would divide the Palestinians, so much the better.

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Netanyahu knows only too well that any peace agreement must be based on certain provisions, mechanisms, logistics, and a timeline designed to ensure compliance based on reciprocity while nurturing trust in the process. This would allow for mutual mitigation of biases and selective perceptions over each other's intentions as they implement all the provisions of the agreement.

The pullout from much of the West Bank must therefore entail a number of specific unilateral, bilateral, and multi-lateral measures that can, in contrast to the Gaza withdrawal, sustain and strengthen peace. Had Sharon put such measures in place, the result would have been entirely different today. These measures include:

Phased Withdrawal and ReciprocityTo prevent a repeat of Gaza, the pullout from the West Bank must be implemented in phases over a period of five to eight years with an established timeframe between each phase based on specific reciprocal and confidence-building measures.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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