American Bayonets for a Palestinian State

Are foreign troops the only viable solution to break the Israeli-Palestinian peace logjam?

Steve Klein
Steven Klein
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Steve Klein
Steven Klein

The EU is set to announce Monday the offer of a massive aid package to Israel and the Palestinians should they reach a peace deal. It reminded me of a conversation I had with one of the mediators involved in the failed peace talks over Kosovo in 2006. Ambassador Albert Rohan, who had served as deputy to Maarti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president and special envoy of the UN secretary general, recalled how the Serbs were so fixated on sovereignty they turned down all the material benefits that Ahtisaari’s peace proposal 'objectively' offered.

“So all the goodies we produced for the Kosovo Serbs didn’t impress them at all,” Rohan said.

Indeed, all the money the EU has to offer won’t buy a single night of good sleep for the Palestinian leadership if the price it has to pay is agreeing to 10 more years of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank. Likewise, it provides little consolation to an already economically strong Israel that views total evacuation from the West Bank as an invitation to self-annihilation. Thus, Secretary of State Kerry’s proposal to allow Israel to maintain its security interests over the Green Line for an extended period is a non-starter for the Palestinians, and the EU goodies become meaningless to both sides.

Kerry’s idea is wrong for the right reason. Security dilemmas perpetuate separatist civil wars. Both sides avoid settlements that leave them vulnerable in the transition period after the end of the conflict, as scholar Barbara Walter and others have observed.

Yet entrusting the central government involved in the conflict with sole responsibility to resolve its own security dilemma makes no sense. We in Israel rightly believe, based on the experience of the Oslo years, that terror by Palestinian militants poses the biggest threat to any post-settlement peace. Yet, obsession with our own security dilemma, albeit understandable, blinds us to the Palestinian position that any Israeli occupation of their land violates their sovereignty and embitters their lives. After more than 45 years of occupation, they cannot trust that any deal allowing Israel to maintain its forces legitimately in the West Bank temporarily won’t become permanent.

The best and perhaps singular way to break this Gordian knot is to introduce third-party forces to replace withdrawn Israeli troops from the West Bank. Research suggests such an offer is the only one that would be acceptable to both sides. Walter, in her 1997 article “The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement”, found that among the 41 civil wars that ended between 1940 and 1990, once “adversaries agreed to negotiate, every case where a third-party stepped in to guarantee a treaty resulted in a successful settlement.” In contrast, none of the cases without a third-party security guarantee led to a negotiated settlement; rather, they all ended in decisive victory by one side only.

Precedents exist both inside and outside the region. UN forces have kept the peace in the Golan Heights and Sinai for decades, but these examples are between two already-sovereign nations. More appropriate models would be Rhodesia, where British troops were introduced after the white minority relinquished power, and Kosovo, where NATO sent troops after the ceasefire it virtually forced on Serbia. Both these troops had the authority to use force, which is exactly what would be needed in the West Bank, not just UN peacekeepers.

Thus, a third party intervention provides the only viable solution. The problem is no side is even lukewarm to this idea. The United States is likely reluctant to send troops after the war exhaustion from Afghanistan and Iraq. Palestinians would likely question the asymmetry of having peacekeepers only on the Palestinian side of the new border. More significantly, the Israeli government would resist such a proposal on a number of counts. First and foremost, it is doubtful the current regime wants to make a viable offer to the Palestinians, as it has the most to lose and thus the least incentive to compromise.

Even if it did, the Likud derives its ideological heritage from Vladimir Jabotinsky, who argued in his 1923 'Iron Wall' essay to rely only on “Jewish bayonets” and derided the idea of hiding behind “British bayonets.” The truth of the matter is, however, that British bayonets are what made the Jewish state viable. And in the end, American bayonets may be the only way to make a Palestinian state viable.
Herein lies a lesson for the Americans, the Europeans and the Palestinians, especially if we take the case of Kosovo and Rohan’s experience into account. The Americans and Europeans need to understand that offering diminished sovereignty and financial incentives in exchange for continued Israeli occupation leads nowhere.

Someone else, not Israel, has to take responsibility for enforcing the security situation in the West Bank after Israel leaves. The Palestinians must recognize that just as the extended NATO occupation of Kosovo made the idea of the Serbs ever returning impossible, they need foreign bayonets to guarantee their state.

If the Americans and Palestinians can come to agreement on this issue, they could begin to rally international pressure on Israel to accede, which will be a Herculean task itself. Anything short of that, no matter what goodies are offered, won’t be good enough.

Dr. Steven Klein is an adjunct professor at Tel Aviv University's International Program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation, and is a senior editor at Haaretz.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat before his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on April 7, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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