19 June '16..
A comprehensive Israeli policy declaration accepting, in principle, the Arab Peace Initiative, with requisite adjustments to accommodate Israel's security and demographic needs, as a basis for negotiation. -- Key political measure in plan titled "Security First," proposed by Commanders for Israel's Security, which claims to "improve Israel's security and international standing"
The Arab Peace Initiative does not need changing or adjusting, it is on the table as is. ... Why should we change the Arab Peace Initiative? I believe that the argument the Arab Peace Initiative needs to be watered down in order to accommodate the Israelis is not the right approach. -- Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Paris, June 3, 2016.
Last week I began a critical analysis of a plan put forward by a group calling itself "Commanders for Israel's Security," comprising over 200 former senior security officers and officials.
I argued that the plan, which purports to offer a formula "to extricate Israel from the current dead end and to improve its security situation and international standing," is a deeply flawed policy prescription, both in terms of the political principles on which it is based and the practical details it presents. As such, it is highly unlikely to achieve its own stated objectives. Indeed, it is far more likely to precipitate precisely the opposite outcomes, exacerbating the very dangers it claims it will attenuate.
To recap briefly, the major political components that comprise the plan call for Israel to:
(a) Proclaim, unilaterally, that it forgoes any claim to sovereignty beyond the yet-to-be-completed security barrier, which, in large measure, coincides with the pre-1967 Green Line, adjusted to include several major settlement blocks adjacent to those lines; but,
(b) Leave the IDF deployed there -- until some "acceptable alternative security arrangement" is found -- presumably the emergence of a yet-to-be-located pliant Palestinian Arab entity that will pledge to recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state; and
(c) Embrace the Saudi Peace Plan subject to certain -- but significantly, unspecified -- changes, which the Arabs/Saudis recently resolutely refused to consider.
Learning the lesson of Gaza; ignoring the lesson of southern Lebanon
Commanders for Israel's Security claims that it has learned the lesson of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, when the IDF evacuated the territory and allowed the Islamist Hamas to take over. Accordingly, their plan "calls for the IDF to remain in the West Bank and retain complete security control until a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians ushers in alternative concrete, sustainable security arrangements."
So while Commanders for Israel's Security may have indeed learned the lesson of Gaza in 2005, it seems to have forgotten the lesson of Lebanon in 2000.
Indeed, as I underscored last week, the combination of the first two elements -- the forswearing of claims to sovereignty over Judea and Samaria on the one hand and the continued deployment of the IDF in that territory on the other -- replicate precisely the same conditions that prevailed in southern Lebanon until the hasty retreat by the IDF in 2000. This unbecoming flight was orchestrated by then-Prime Minister, former IDF Chief of Staff and Israel's most decorated soldier, Ehud Barak, under intense pressure from left-leaning organizations to extricate the IDF from the "Lebanese quagmire" and bring our boys back home. Thus abandoned to the control of Hezbollah, the area was swiftly converted into a formidable arsenal, bristling with weaponry capable of hitting almost all major Israeli cities.
Unsustainable political configuration
Today, after the poorly conducted military campaign by the mighty IDF against a lightly armed militia, left defiantly undefeated after five weeks of fighting, this arsenal has reportedly swelled almost tenfold in quantity and improved immensely in terms of quality and precision. Indeed, were not Hezbollah mercifully distracted by the need to support its erstwhile benefactor, the beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad, this terrible stockpile may very well have already been unleashed against Israel.
For anyone with a modicum of foresight, it should be clear that Commanders for Israel's Security's prescription of deploying the IDF for an indeterminate period in territory over which it lays no sovereign claim -- and hence, by implication, acknowledges that others have such claims to it -- creates an unsustainable political configuration. Sooner or later will generate irresistible pressure on Israel to evacuate it, leaving the country exposed to the very dangers the IDF deployment was intended to obviate.
Indeed, as pointed out last week, if implemented, Commanders for Israel's Security's proposal would, in a stroke, convert Judea and Samaria from "disputed territory" to "occupied territory" and the IDF from a "defense force" to an "occupying force." Worse, it would do so by explicit admission from Israel itself.
Formula for open-ended occupation
Moreover, by conditioning the end of IDF deployment on the emergence of "a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians [which] ushers in alternative concrete, sustainable security arrangements," what Commanders for Israel's Security is in fact promoting is a formula for open-ended occupation, whose duration is totally dependent on the Palestinians.
After all, according to Commanders for Israel's Security's plan, "The IDF [is] to remain in the West Bank and retain complete security control," until some suitable Palestinian interlocutor appears, sufficiently pliant to satisfy Israel's demands for said "permanent status agreement and concrete sustainable security arrangements," but sufficiently robust to resist more radical domestic rivals, who oppose any such agreements.
And what if such an interlocutor fails to emerge? Clearly, Commanders for Israel's Security's plan prescribes persisting with the Israeli military presence in the territory because, as they themselves concede: "The situation on the West Bank requires ... continued deployment of the IDF until satisfactory security arrangements are put into place within the framework of a permanent status agreement."
Therefore all the Palestinians need to do to ensnare the IDF in what will inevitably become the "West Bank quagmire," an easy target for guerilla attacks by a recalcitrant population backed by armed Palestinian internal security services, is ... well, nothing. All they need to do is wait until mounting IDF casualties in a "foreign land" create increasing domestic pressure to bring our boys back home and mounting international impatience with open-ended "occupation" create growing external pressure, which make continued IDF deployment no longer tenable -- and withdrawal becomes inevitable, without any "permanent settlement" or "concrete sustainable security arrangements."
Renege or replace?
But even in the unlikely event that some Palestinian partner could be found, who agrees, in good faith, to conclude a permanent status agreement and implement acceptable security arrangements that would allow the IDF to evacuate Judea and Samaria, how could Israel ensure this agreement will be honored and these arrangements maintained over time?
Once the IDF withdraws, Israel has no way of preventing its Palestinian co-signatories to any accord from reneging on their commitments -- whether of their own volition, due to a change of heart, or under duress from extremist adversaries. Even more to the point, barring intimate involvement in intra-Palestinian politics, Israel has no way to ensure that their pliant peace-partner will not be replaced -- whether by bullet or ballot -- by far more inimical successors, probably generously supported by foreign regimes, who repudiate their predecessors pledges. Indeed, it is more than likely that it would be precisely the "perfidious" deal struck with the "nefarious Zionist entity" that would be invoked as justification for the regime-change.
But whichever of these outcomes emerges in practice, Israel is likely to be confronted with a situation where it no longer has security control in Judea and Samaria and a hostile regime perched on the hills overlooking the runways of Israel's Ben-Gurion airport, adjacent to the trans-Israel highway, and within mortar range of the nation's capital.
It would be intriguing, indeed, to learn how Commanders for Israel's Security members, given their cumulative 6,000 years of experience in Israel's various security agencies, see this situation as one that would achieve their plan's principle goal: "to enhance personal and national security."
Resisting attrition; not repulsing invasion
To be fair, Commanders for Israel's Security do assure us that: "The IDF [as] by far the most potent military force in the region ... can provide effective security and address all challenges within ... any future borderline as agreed-to by our government and endorsed by our people."
But of course, the question is not only whether the IDF can secure the borders, but at what cost in terms of both resources and casualties (both military and civilian).
It is of course true that, for over four decades, Israel has not faced a tangible threat of large-scale invasion by conventional Arab forces. However, today, with the changing pattern of Arab enmity, the major challenge to Israel's existence as the Jewish nation-state is no longer repulsing invasion, but resisting attrition.
The Arab stratagem is no longer the cataclysmic annihilation of the Jewish state, but the ongoing erosion of Jewish will to maintain the Jewish state, by making Jewish life in it unbearable – both physically and psychologically.
Attrition vs invasion
Of course, the looming specter of a nuclear Iran may, on the one hand, reinstate the cataclysmic approach; on the other, it may "merely" provide a protective umbrella under which attrition can continue with greater intensity -- and impunity.
Indeed, one of the most explicit expressions of this attrition-oriented intent came from PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Stockholm, in an address to Arab diplomats, barely a year after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: "The PLO will now concentrate on splitting Israel psychologically into two camps. ... We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare. ... I have no use for Jews. They are and remain Jews."
This overt admission of malice, echoed repeatedly elsewhere by other Palestinian spokespersons, should have removed any doubt as to what lay ahead.
Now, imagine if after forgoing sovereignty beyond the security barrier as per Commanders for Israel's Security's prescription, the IDF pulled out of Judea and Samaria -- whether pursuant to some accord or a combination of domestic pressure and international chagrin. Imagine, if in the absence of any agreement r despite prior agreements, this territory falls -- as it almost inevitably will -- to the control of some radical regime with no commitment to any understandings -- implicit or explicit -- with the "Zionist entity." Imagine how much more ominous and onerous that attrition would be along the almost 800 kilometer frontier, abutting Israel's heavily populated coastal plain and from the heights commanding its urban and commercial centers.
Capitulation masquerading as "initiative"
No less disturbing is Commanders for Israel's Security's embrace of what is perversely called the Arab Peace Initiative, which prescribes:
(a) Complete withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines including the Golan Heights
(b) A "just solution" to the problem of Palestinian refugees, a clear allusion to the "right of return"
(c) The establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state on "the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital."
Alarmingly, on its website, Commanders for Israel's Security declares: "We believe that the government of Israel can and should formulate a regional initiative based on an appropriate response to the positive potential encapsulated in the Arab Peace Initiative."
Sadly, the growing acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative does not, as Commanders for Israel's Security would have it, reflect faith in military strength but rather psychological weakness. It is not a sign of confidence but a symptom of resignation, even desperation. Indeed, its acceptance is driven by the fact that the Arab Peace Initiative is the only thing that the Arabs do not reject. Thus, to reject the initiative is to admit the unpalatable truth that there exists no path to a mutually agreed resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Indeed, for all intents and purposes, the Arab Peace Initiative is a document of capitulation. It reflects acquiescence to virtually all Arab demands that successive governments, over a decade and a half, have ejected as unacceptably hazardous. It forgoes virtually all the gains of the 1967 Six-Day War, and imperils some of those of the 1948 War of Independence. Willingness to agree to it, even as a basis for negotiations, is a clear signal that every Israeli "no," is in effect a "maybe" and a potential "yes," regardless of how emphatically it is initially expressed.
Apparently aware that, as currently formulated, the Arab Peace Initiative is too pernicious to be approved by the Israeli public, Commanders for Israel's Security tries to preempt criticisms of its acceptance of the so called "peace initiative" by adding a proviso that it should be adjusted "to accommodate Israel's security and demographic needs, as a basis for negotiation."
But suggestions that "adjustments" might be made were rapidly and resolutely rejected by both the Saudis, who authored the initiative, and the Arab League, which endorsed it. And why wouldn't they? For as Commanders for Israel's Security's proposal clearly demonstrates, continued Arab intransigence is sure to engender further Israeli compliance.
Dr. Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategicisrael.org).
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