Policy Principles: Part II (Israel, again)

President-elect Obama called the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians “unsustainable” and that “Israel has a security interest in solving this.” Solving what?

President-elect Obama called the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians “unsustainable” and that “Israel has a security interest in solving this.” Solving what?

Certainly Israel has a security interest in stopping the barrage of increasingly long-range and accurate rockets and missiles from Gaza and the continuing attempts by West Bank Palestinians to carry explosives through those “humiliating” IDF checkpoints. Whether Israel has a security interest in the establishment of a Palestinian state in part of the West Bank and/or Gaza while Hamas and Fatah are engaged in a civil war (including on the West Bank) and Hamas is engaged in a war against Israel is entirely debatable.

Of great concern is the idea afloat in American circles that a Palestinian state should be established before Israel achieves verifiable Palestinian acceptance of its legitimacy, and that such a state should be established on the West Bank, leaving Gaza in abeyance. Gen. James Jones, in his job as State Department envoy to the Israelis and Palestinians, was charged with determining a “security architecture” that would, in his view, make Israel secure enough to do that. He suggested a NATO contingent, possibly including American troops, and was irritated, it seems, that Israel didn’t like his plan. One might assume he will take that plan to his new position as National Security Advisor to the President.

Short-circuiting the need for Palestinians and Israelis to make their own peace, allowing the Palestinians to bypass Israel and work with the United States, and substituting the U.S. view of “how much security” Israel needs for the Israeli government’s view is the second-worst possible idea. Putting American soldiers in between Israelis and people who would kill them is the first-worst possible idea. No American – or NATO soldier – should stand on Israel’s border to defend it, ever. Period.

The UNIFIL experience, in which the force was supposed to help the Lebanese government fulfill its sovereign obligation to its own people, NOT protect Israel from Hezbollah, has increased the risk to Israel by providing Hezbollah a barrier behind which to restore its military capabilities. Despite the hopes of some that UNIFIL would actually help disarm Hezbollah, it does not and will not. It simply means that Israel has to calculate a European presence if it has to defend itself again from Hezbollah. The presence of the UN in Jenin and in Gaza has also given protection to Fatah and Hamas forces in their acquisition of military/terrorist capabilities. No American – or NATO – soldier – should stand where a terrorist army can form behind it, ever. Period.

It is clear that the incoming administration believes “solving” the “Palestinian problem” is a high priority. It wants to solve the wrong problem. The question is how to bring the Arab states and the Palestinians to verifiably accept the legitimacy to which Israel is entitled. The Palestinian state would follow close behind that. But if Israel’s quest for legitimacy, which would bring it security without foreign forces, is denied, then Israel should be responsible for defending its people, and the Palestinians should understand that their aspirations for statehood will remain unfulfilled.

Status quo – sadly sustainable.