The book is a collection published this year under the auspices of the JCPA with essays about security and diplomacy by leading figures in Israel’s security establishment, like Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, former head of IDF intelligence, and Maj.-Gen. Uzi Dayan, former IDF deputy chief of staff and a former national security adviser to Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. The volume’s findings represent a broad consensus across the Israeli political spectrum, and the fact that Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon—former IDF chief of staff and currently the vice prime minister—wrote the introduction is evidence that the ideas have won approval at the highest political levels.
The book pushes three common ideas, some likely to add to the friction between Washington and Jerusalem: First, Israel, must not withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines; second, Israel needs defensible borders; third, Israel must rely on itself to defend itself and not on foreign forces as proposed by U.S. national security adviser Gen. James Jones, who has talked openly about replacing the IDF with international forces in the West Bank.
The insistence that Israel must retain the ability to defend its own borders—a basic attribute of national sovereignty—is the least controversial element of Gold’s blueprint. The issue is not merely the inglorious record of U.N. peacekeeping forces—from Sinai to Bosnia and Lebanon—but also the fact that the international community rarely sends its blue helmets into the middle of a real shooting war, which is what the West Bank would become if an IDF withdrawal left Hamas and Fatah at each other’s throats and eager to gain credit for launching terror attacks on Israel.
The concept of defensible borders is closely tied to the drawing of 1949 armistice lines, commonly and incorrectly known as the 1967 borders. As [Dore] Gold explains in his contribution to the volume, successive U.S. administrations since Lyndon Johnson’s have all recognized the danger in Israel withdrawing to those borders. George Shultz, one of President Ronald Reagan’s secretaries of State, explained that “Israel will never negotiate from or return to the 1967 borders,” and the Clinton Administration reaffirmed the Reagan White House’s concept of defensible borders. However, it was during Clinton’s Camp David negotiations that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak abandoned the idea of defensible borders in the hope of a radical breakthrough with Yasser Arafat. With the outbreak of the Second Intifada and peace nowhere in the offing, the George W. Bush Administration pledged not to hold the Israelis to the Clinton parameters and returned to the traditional U.S. position. “It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949,” reads an April 14, 2004 letter from Bush to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Gold, who was not officially in the Sharon government, was nonetheless employed in a number of missions and prepared Sharon’s presentation to Bush on the significance of defensible borders during their first meeting, in 2001. Gold sat in the Roosevelt Room as Sharon entered the Oval Office with the index cards Gold had written. “Years later, when Sharon completed negotiations over the Bush letter in 2004,” says Gold, “he instructed his team in Washington to call me in Jerusalem to say we got defensible borders into the letter.”
Even as the Bush letter applied regardless of who sat in the White House (it won wide bipartisan approval in the House and Senate, with both Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emanuel voting in favor), the Obama Administration has not yet clearly signaled if it intends to accept the commitments of its predecessor. Insofar as Israel sees the letter as “the foundation for the United States to accept new construction in the Jewish settlements that encircle Jerusalem,” it is yet another source of contention between Netanyahu and Obama.
Perhaps even more daunting is the prospect of any Israeli government having to explain to the Obama White House that many of the land swaps from Camp David are not plausible in the context of defensible borders. In other words, everyone in Washington who believes that they know what Israel’s vision of a final settlement looks like is in for a surprise. Israel will have to retain security control over the Jordan rift valley, which means not just the river bank but the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge. It is important to remember that the West Bank overlooks Israel’s coastal plain and 70 percent of the country’s population. If the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza were launched from the West Bank on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it could bring Israel to its knees, disrupting the country’s economic and social life on a massive scale and shutting down Ben Gurion Airport. Moreover, Islamist militants from all around the region would attempt to transit through Jordan into the West Bank to launch attacks against the Zionist entity, destabilizing the Hashemite Kingdom.
“The concepts in this book are very close to last Knesset speech of Rabin, given thirty days before he was assassinated,” says Gold. The rhetorical point is clear enough: For all the nostalgia in the United States for a visionary statesman like Rabin, a warrior and also a man of peace, he also articulated most clearly Israel’s need for defensible borders and said nothing about land swaps. If those ideas have been lost in the last 20 years, the Israelis are also to blame. “A lot of Israel’s biggest mistakes is that Israeli diplomats put forward plans and pushed it back to the military,” says Gold. “For instance, Oslo began with two academics, and later representatives of the Foreign Ministry came in. When it became official, that’s when the army came in, at the end. I strongly believe we have to reverse the sequence—to lay out Israel’s security needs and then come out with diplomatic process to protect them.”The problem is that the Israeli government has already publicly supported the non-viable two-state solution based on 1949 armistice lines with minor land swaps. Each publicly floated Israeli concession, even when not reciprocated by the other side and not implemented, becomes a new basis for further concessions down the line.
It is no surprise that Abbas' precondition for direct talks is to take the previous Israeli maximalist offer, previously rejected, as a starting point for the next round:
Erekat said: "We do not object to moving to direct negotiations if Israel agrees to negotiate from where these stopped under the government of (former prime minister) Ehud Olmert..., and if it stops the settlement activity, including natural growth, in the West Bank and Jerusalem and we receive a positive Israeli response to the security and borders issues.As Dennis Ross noted concerning the 2001 negotiations,
I do believe that Camp David broke the taboos and the Clinton ideas reflected the best judgment of what was possible between the two sides in terms of their essential needs, but the Clinton ideas were, as I put it, the roof, not the ceiling, the roof. They were not the floor, they were not the ceiling, they were the roof. They were the best that could be done. Anybody who thinks that you start at that point is, I think, not realistic. It may be that is where you will end up, but things are going to have to change pretty dramatically to get back to that point.Since then, of course, Abbas' party waged a long terror war against Israel and now expects to be able to reset the clock and get not only what Israel naively offered while there was some measure of goodwill but far more.
As far as I can tell, Israel has never articulated clearly to the US why the game has changed post-intifada and why the Camp David offer does not come close to fulfilling Israel's security needs in the light of the very real chance that Hamas could (democratically or militarily) take over the West Bank.
Israel also needs to focus on what is best for the Palestinian Arabs themselves, not the false rhetoric that their leaders spout. The fact is that the worst part of living under PA rule today is checkpoints and a poor economy that is heavily dependent on foreign aid to stay afloat. The problems facing the Palestinian Arabs do not include Jerusalem, nor settlements (some 96% of Palestinian Arabs live in Areas A and B, under PA civil control.) The anti-Israel agitators exaggerate the (admittedly) real problems of a few of the 4% - problems like access to land - but the entire debate has been hijacked by those who ignore the fact that, as Abbas himself said, "in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life."
There is no crisis, and no ticking clock that is forcing the US to impose a peace agreement. Any statement to the contrary reflects Palestinian Arab politics but not reality. Israel needs to change the debate to what will help real Palestinian Arabs, including those living in other Arab countries.
Because when there is a divergence between what people really need and what their leaders say they want, the leaders are frauds and need to be exposed as such.