Israelis Lose Faith In International Guarantees

By Evelyn Gordon
JINSA Fellow

By Evelyn Gordon
JINSA Fellow

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last month, Czech Ambassador to Israel Tomas Pojar was asked to comment on recent remarks by Israel’s then-foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who compared European countries’ oft-proclaimed commitment to Israel’s security to their commitments to Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. Pojar replied, correctly, that the parallel isn’t exact; there are many differences between Israel’s situation today and Czechoslovakia’s in 1938.

Nevertheless, Pojar warned, there is one important similarity: “There are parallels about how much guarantees you can get from outside, and how much you should rely on them.”

Judging by the results of a new poll conducted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in late November, it seems the Israeli public has internalized this warning. When asked how the country could best ensure its security, 61 percent of Jewish Israelis (and 52 percent of all Israelis) said that defensible borders were preferable to a peace treaty – i.e., a document enshrining commitments by another country or countries. Just 26 percent preferred a peace treaty. This constitutes a noticeable shift from 2005, when only 49 percent preferred defensible borders.

Moreover, they don’t believe the world’s preferred formula for an Israeli-Palestinian deal – the 1967 lines with “minor adjustments” – provides such borders: Fully 72 percent said Israel should not agree to such a deal, even if Palestinians agreed to declare an end to the conflict in exchange, and 73 percent opposed ceding the Jordan Valley in particular. That’s a logical corollary of the fact that they don’t believe the risks of doing so could be mitigated by stationing international forces there, as various peace plans have proposed: Only 16 percent said Israel could trust international forces to ensure its security; 78 percent said security had to remain in the hands of the Israel Defense Forces.

In part, of course, this emphasis on self-reliance stems from overwhelming skepticism about Palestinians’ willingness to make peace with Israel: Fully 83 percent of Israeli Jewish respondents thought that even withdrawing to the 1967 lines wouldn’t actually end the conflict (most polls aren’t quite so lopsided, but all have shown a majority of Israeli Jews holding this view for years).

But it also reflects the lessons Israelis have learned – or relearned – in recent years about the value of international guarantees.

After the Second Lebanon War in 2006, for instance, Israel agreed to withdraw its forces from Lebanon in exchange for a beefed-up international force that was supposed to prevent Hezbollah from rearming. Instead, this UNIFIL force proved so ineffective that two years later, Hezbollah possessed three times as many rockets as it did on the eve of the war. Eventually, UNIFIL stopped even pretending to carry out its mission: Its commander formally pledged to eschew such tactics as using sniffer dogs to hunt for explosives or searching houses and yards that soldiers had reason to believe contained arms.

Similarly, after Israel withdrew every last soldier and settler from Gaza in 2005, it was assured that should it henceforth be attacked from Gaza, the world would fully support its right to defend itself. Over the next three years, Palestinians fired almost 6,000 rockets and mortars at Israel. Yet when Israel finally responded by launching a military operation in December 2008, it suffered unprecedented worldwide condemnation, culminating in the Goldstone Report’s slanderous accusations of war crimes (which even its author has since recanted). Only eight European countries voted against that report in the UN.

Then, if Israelis still had any doubts, came November’s UN vote on recognizing “Palestine” as a nonmember observer state. This violated the central commitment enshrined in all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements: that the conflict would be resolved solely through negotiations. The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, for instance, explicitly stated that “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” The United States, European Union, Russia, Norway, Jordan, and Egypt all signed this agreement as witnesses – 32 countries in all (since the EU comprises 27). Yet of all these, only two, the United States and the Czech Republic, voted against a UN resolution that not only recognized a Palestinian state, but unilaterally proclaimed its borders. The others saw no reason to demand that an agreement they themselves had witnessed actually be honored.

America, unsurprisingly, has been far more reliable than Europe in its support for Israel. But as the UN votes on both the Goldstone Report and recognizing “Palestine” show, it has repeatedly been unable to persuade its allies to go along with it. Indeed, it hasn’t even been able to persuade its allies to let Israel participate in a U.S.-sponsored Global Counterterrorism Forum – an issue on which Israel clearly has valuable expertise to contribute. Hence important though U.S. support is in its own right, it’s not enough to make an international guarantee worth the paper it’s printed on.

What emerges from the above is that the model of the peace process that has dominated global thinking for the last 20 years – a two-state solution on roughly the 1967 lines, with Israel’s security ostensibly assured by international guarantees and an international force – has become a nonstarter for most Israelis: Though most still favor a two-state solution, they are not going to sacrifice their security for the chimera of an international promise. This might not have been true had the international community acted differently over the past 20 years, but it’s the reality today. And anyone interested in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ignores this reality at his peril.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I don’t actually think the conflict is solvable right now; I believe the only choice is to try to manage and contain it until some change takes place that makes it resolvable, just as America did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But whether one agrees or disagrees with that conclusion, one thing ought to be clear: clinging blindly to the failed mantras of the past 20 years will be not only nonproductive, but also counterproductive. For as long as the world remains fixated on a solution that cannot work, it will never be ready to consider new ideas that might be better.

Evelyn Gordon, JINSA Fellow, is a journalist and commentator writing in The Jerusalem Post and Commentary. For more information on the JINSA Fellowship program, click here.