A Security Zone in the W. Bank

An IDF security zone in the West Bank resembling the one in Lebanon, rather than full withdrawal would not be effective and raises a number of concerns.

Hamas' election victory is an expression of Palestinian support for Israel's disengagement plan and its unilateral policies. The voter in Nablus or Gaza may have been concerned more by Fatah's corruption, or may have wanted a change in government, but he knew well that Hamas represents the rejection of the Oslo process and negotiations with Israel. The results of the vote show that the Palestinians have rejected the illusion of the permanent-peace arrangement sold to them by Mahmoud Abbas. For the Palestinians, it is easier to continue to level accusations and to see Israel gradually withdraw from the territories then to compromise on tough issues.

From Ehud Olmert and Kadima's point of view, the rise of Hamas and its rejectionist policies is a rare political opportunity. The rejectionism of the Hamas leaders, who are not willing to recognize Israel and negate the agreements with it, grants Olmert free rein when it comes to marking out the eastern border, without giving the Palestinians a veto over the depth of the withdrawal and without paying lip service to the road map and the Oslo process. No wonder Olmert wants to leverage the Hamas stubbornness and to enlist international support for an extensive withdrawal from the West Bank to a "demographic border" that will guarantee the Jewish majority.

But what the political opportunity grants, the security problem takes away: Hunkering down behind the separation fence, or near it, would significantly reduce the number of Palestinians under Israeli control, but would also bring the Dan region, Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion International Airport into the range of Palestinian fire. Israel will find it difficult to withdraw from most of the West Bank, evacuate tens of thousands of settlers, and hand over the keys to Hamas. Such a move would run into domestic opposition and cause the international community to question the wisdom of strengthening an Islamic terrorist group that will threaten Israel and the Hashemite regime in Jordan.

The defense establishment understands this, and is already preparing for talks with the political echelon about a future defensive line in the West Bank. The army's starting position is that the future of the settlements is the business of the politicians. The "Tower and Stockade" days are long gone, and the settlements have no inherent security value. To the contrary, dismantling them would only ease the army's burden vis-a-vis the defense of settlers. Unlike former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, the current top brass at the Kirya Defense Ministry compound does not see a withdrawal as a "reward for terror." The political echelon will make the decision on the settlement layout in the territories, and the army will comply.

So far, so good. But in the West Bank, as opposed to Gaza, which was entirely cleared of Israelis, things are different. In the West Bank, the Israel Defense Forces is demanding freedom of movement, as it has now, as well as a territorial hold on the Jordan Valley and key sites on the mountain ridges. Withdrawal to the fence is perceived as too great a risk. The model of the disengagement from northern Samaria - where the area remains under Israeli responsibility and was not handed over to the Palestinians - seems more appropriate.

Thus, if the army's position is adopted, an Israeli "security zone" will be established in the West Bank. It will resemble the situation that existed in Lebanon, but without a South Lebanon Army. The concept raises three problems. First, experience in the north teaches that it is difficult to maintain a security zone for an extended period of time in the face of international opposition, lethal terror attacks and angry mothers of soldiers. Second, the international community will support any Israeli withdrawal, even a limited one, but will oppose any Israeli presence in evacuated areas and refuse to recognize the new border. And third, in order to carry out the withdrawal, the full weight of the political echelon will have to be brought down on the defense establishment. And this is why the selection of the next defense minister will be critical for the success of the political move no less so than the developments on the Palestinian side.