Issue #59

Last Update September 23, 2008

International Israel's Last Chance by Gerry Krownstein April 24, 2007  Since its founding almost 60 years ago, Israel has been able to depend on its military to preserve its existence. A combination of intelligent soldiers, capable officers and good equipment made the Israeli military more than a match for their aggressive neighbors. Coupled with political leaders able to neutralize its major enemies, Egypt and Jordan, by making and keeping peace agreements, Israel has not faced a serious threat from a national army in decades. A combination of factors is bringing that era to an end.   

The major threat is not the suicide bombers, or rock-throwing West Bank students protesting Israeli settlements and occupation forces, or control of the Palestinian government by Hamas, but changes in technology that render Israel's attempt to stop enemies at the border irrelevant. These technological developments include close and mid-range missiles that have expanded the reach of Israel's enemies to the point where the major threats to Israel's existence can now come from countries which not only do not share a border, but may not even share a border with Israel's customary enemies. Even so, as long as these missiles merely contain standard explosives, their threat is not mortal. Atomic and biological weapons, deliverable from a long distance, are a different matter, and could potentially destroy the country (along with its Arab neighbors). 

Even in more conventional conflicts, the Israeli army is proving less effective than in the past. The recent Lebanese misadventure, which started out to be an object lesson to rocket-firing Arab terrorists, turned out to be an object lesson of another kind: with determination and the correct tactics, the Israeli army can be defeated, or at least fought to a standstill. Between the technological changes and the demonstrations of the effectiveness of guerrilla, terrorist and suicide-bomber tactics in Lebanon, Afghanistan and especially Iraq, the time Israel can be survive behind the shield of its armed forces is growing short. Ironically, George Bush, seen by right wing Israelis and their American supporters as a staunch friend and defender of Israel, may have inflicted a mortal blow to Israel's security. 

What is to be done to prevent the destruction of Israel? Coming to an agreement with Palestinians and other Arabs in surrounding lands will be difficult, in part because the actions of Israel over the past three decades have made it difficult for the Arabs to trust Israeli promises, and partly because there is little desire on the part of many Palestinians to reach any agreement that does not involve the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. The Jews feel they do not have a negotiating partner; the Arabs feel that their negotiating partner is untrustworthy. 

Every time Israel has made an attempt to reach out to Palestinians by actions (such as withdrawal from Gaza) and proposals for peace (such as the XXX peace process in the last days of the Clinton Administration), their need to placate their own right wing and the settler bloc has led to settlement expansion and expropriation of Arab lands.  This has had two results: it cut the legs out from under those Palestinians tired of chaos and looking for a modus vivendi with Israel, and it demolished Israel's credibility in the international community. Similarly, the defunding of the Palestine Authority after Hamas' victory in a fair and open election was entirely counterproductive, destroying what was left of the Palestinian economy while having no impact on the Palestinian leadership. 

The Israeli complaint that there is no one to negotiate with is almost true; nevertheless, the attempt must be made again before technology removes the opportunity. The Israeli complaint that they are being held to a higher standard than their adversaries is also almost true, but these standards are the standards that Israel itself purports to hold dear. Furthermore, only the victor can begin a process of compromise and reconciliation; for the vanquished to do so amounts to abject surrender. Israel also complains that the settlements are not critical to the process - after all, the withdrawal from Gaza included the dismantling of all Gaza settlements, with negative results - but this position is disingenuous. The existence and constant expansion of the West Bank settlements is the kind of emotional irritant throughout the Arab world that keeps the pot continuously boiling.  The settlements are viewed as thefts of Arab land, and their need for protection so dismembers the West Bank that a contiguous West Bank in association with Gaza as the definition of a Palestinian state (seen as the only possible solution by most Israelis and Palestinians) becomes impossible. 

If Israel is to survive, it must do the following:
-Begin the destruction of the settlements and return the land to the Palestinians. This will require political bravery, currently in short supply among Israeli politicians, and lots of money, needed to compensate and mollify the settlers. Some of the money might possibly come from the US.
-Offer talks with no preconditions, with all subjects on the table, including the boundaries of the Palestinian state, the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian right of return, water rights, and other contentious issues. All of these issues are interconnected, and attempting to deal with some, while deferring others, is a prescription for failure.
-Precede the offer of talks with a diplomatic offensive, either directly or by back-channels, aimed at garnering support for the talks from Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, and if possible, even reaching out to Iran. 

The negotiations will be hard and frustrating. The closing of the settlements will bring Israel almost to the brink of a civil war. Building trust with the Arab nations will be next to impossible. Nevertheless, it is the only realistic option left to Israel. The process must begin soon, and Israelis and their Palestinian counterparts must steel themselves not to be derailed by the irrational and often deadly actions of extremists  on both sides.  

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