The Vienna Treatment

The most fundamental quality of a state is the right to act like a sovereign - and to be treated with basic respect.

Amitai Etzioni
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Amitai Etzioni

In the last week alone, the prospects for direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have improved. The Associated Press reported that the White House is pressuring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to such talks with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The premiers of the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy all also called on Abbas to drop his preconditions for direct negotiations. The pressure may have been connected to yesterday's meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo. The Israeli government, too, recently reaffirmed its position that the negotiations should be direct. Indeed Netanyahu was reported to have traveled to Jordan to urge King Abdullah to pressure Abbas to agree to just that.

When talks finally open, among the main stumbling blocks will be Israel's demands for West Bank security arrangements, after the establishment of a Palestinian state there. What Israel will be seeking was outlined in a document first released in early June this year by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Its main author is Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who was joined by four reserve generals as co-authors. The same document was released in Washington, D.C., in late June, just days before Netanyahu's meeting with President Obama.

The document calls, in effect, for turning the West Bank into another Gaza: a demilitarized state, in which Israel would control everything entering by land and air, as well as the electromagnetic spectrum and much else. Over several pages, it lists controls that would have to be imposed on the Palestinian state to ensure that it is demilitarized - controls that, according to the document itself, go well beyond what is usually understood by this term. These measures are by nature restrictive and confining. One can argue about whether all are essential, but even if they are, they would deprive the new Palestinian entity of what many people consider to be the most fundamental quality of a state: the right to act like a sovereign - and to be treated with basic respect.

Even if all the other issues are somehow settled - issues that have been discussed before and for which many believe reasonable compromises can be worked out (such as some redrawing of borders, an obfuscatory formula about Jerusalem, monetary compensation for refugees denied the right of return ) - the new demands for such extensive control of the West Bank after independence are likely to scuttle the negotiations.

An approach that is much more likely to win support from America and other nations, one the PA as well might be more able to consent to - and which would still meet Israeli security needs - is one modeled on the power-sharing arrangement in place in post-World War II Vienna. Between 1945 and 1955, the U.S., U.K. and France patrolled the center of Vienna jointly with the USSR, which was already emerging as a Cold War adversary. Although the arrangement was not without friction, overall it worked quite well. Small units, composed of military police from the four powers, jointly patrolled the streets and ensured public safety. There were no reports of any violent conflicts among the forces, although disagreements about how to deal with infractions (for instance, of curfews ) did arise, and their resolution had to be negotiated. Call it the "Vienna treatment."

A similar security arrangement was agreed upon between the government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestine Liberation Organization, as part of the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement. It called for Palestinian border-crossing officials to examine the passports of all those who wanted to enter Palestine, while "invisible" Israeli security officers, in a back room, would vet the clearance given in the front. A similar arrangement had been agreed upon regarding the flow into the fledgling state of commodities, whose entry could be delayed up to 48 hours for Israeli inspection.

As I see it, the legitimate security needs specified in the Ya'alon document could be met if they were to be framed as a joint Israeli-Palestinian security arrangement. Thus, the report calls for fighting terrorists. The PA is building a respectable track record in this regard, and its forces should be treated as a security partner rather than as a troublesome appendage. And, as the Vienna experience suggests, joint border controls and patrols are another option, and these could be extended to the airspace. The demand to stop incitement in the educational system and media, too, could be reframed - to great benefit - to apply to both states.

This is much more than a matter of public relations. True, it would likely be highly beneficial if such a new framing of the security issue would make the Israeli position more acceptable to opinion makers - at least in the United States - and far less humiliating to the Palestinians. Mainly what is called for, though, is a different way of thinking, one in which Israel's legitimate security needs are fully attended to, but also one that treats the Palestinians as a partner in a new Israeli-Palestinian Cooperative Security Alliance.

Amitai Etzioni is a professor of international relations at the George Washington University and the author of "Security First" (Yale Press, 2007 ).

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