The recent discourse between Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Israeli business leaders reflects clearly the political-security dilemma facing Israel. It is highly unlikely that a stable agreement with the Palestinians meeting the security needs of Israel can be achieved. However, without substantive progress in the peace process, Israel is likely to face political and economic decline and escalating security dangers.
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As we reach the 100-year anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, many books are being published on its causes. Having read four of them, one clear conclusion emerges: It could have been different, but a small number of decision makers suffered from sleepwalking and went, with blind bravado, into catastrophe.
It is difficult not to see some points of similarity with Israel (and, differently, its neighbors). The comparatively good situation of Israel in recent times serves as a blinder on future trends. The “right” clings to the illusions that strength will prevail and that settlements in the West Bank are creating permanent facts on the ground. And the “left” clings to the illusion that a permanent agreement with the Palestinian Authority will produce a stable peace, as if the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 didn't result in missiles and wars.
In contrast to such fixations, long-term estimates of the conflict's dynamics have identified grave trends: The increasing ability of a few to kill many, with Israel being one of the likely targets; novel forms of attack such as cyber war, to which we are vulnerable; the nuclearization, in one form or another, of Iran, with Israel having missed important action opportunities, despite understanding the danger; and growing international pressures to withdraw from being an occupying force – right up to a bad “enforced solution.” To these, one must add, and emphasize, the paradox of the turmoil in Arab states possibly creating a unified front, with revolutionary energy directed against Israel.
Conversely, it's far from easy – albeit not impossible – to map out realistic, thriving long-term futures for Israel without the calming of the Arab-Islamic/Israeli-Jewish conflict. For instance, the chances of the Arab states getting used to Israeli rule over the West Bank and Greater Jerusalem are slim. Therefore, without a resolution of the conflict, some decline of Israel is likely, with the possibility of an encompassing Middle East catastrophe.
Israel is, therefore, caught in a dangerous aporia. The defense minister is right about the near-impossibility of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians that satisfies Israel’s security needs. And the business leaders are correct in expecting decline in the absence of progress toward peace.
It therefore follows that present modes of thinking provide no way to avoid dangerous futures. The ongoing peace process does not fit the multidimensionality of the conflict, its scope and cultural-psychological depth. Therefore, a quantum leap is essential – one into a different statecraft geometry that can cope, in phases, with the core of the conflict, including its innate roots.
Let me start with what is required from Israel. Hardest of all in this real-political necessity is relinquishing the vision of owning “all the Promised Land.” This does not involve negation of the moral right of the Jewish People to the Promised Land (which may be a good argument before a Cosmic Court). But in the real world, its ignoring of real-political constraints may result in devastation. Consequently, there is no way around the renunciation of the “Greater Israel” ideology.
On an action level, Israel should, among other things, avoid setting up and enlarging settlements outside of the territories likely to be included in agreed exchanges of land (and clearly marked as such). Hate crimes against Palestinians – so-called “prize-tag” attacks – and other provocative actions are to be strictly controlled. It's also necessary to change the way the conflict is taught in our schools, by presenting our rights together with the Arab narrative as a “fact” that we regard as incorrect but one that cannot be ignored. Also essential are multimedia efforts to reach broad Arab and Islamic audiences, and cooperation between Jewish and Arab communities in the Diaspora.
On the policy level, Israel has to declare unambiguously that – within a comprehensive peace agreement and subject to credible security arrangements – it is willing to withdraw to the 1967 borders, with agreed exchanges of land and establishment of a Palestinian state; to move toward an agreement on Jerusalem, including shared rule over the Holy Basin; and, whenever Syria has a peace-seeking government, Israel should be willing to move toward a resolution of the Golan Heights issue.
All this should take place within a comprehensive regional peace – including full relations between Arab and Islamic states and Israel, shared action against people acting as obstacles to peace, and parallel steps to advance a cultural-psychological peace atmosphere. Accordingly, the negotiations with the Palestinians will be expanded into a component of advancing regional peace. At the same time, Israel needs a new security doctrine integrating the advancement of peace with absolute deterrence and harsh punishment – beyond “proportionality” – of all who attack Israel despite the peace efforts.
This is a bitter pill that Israel must swallow. Refusal to do so, either through denial of the serious dangers that would result from the absence of a serious peace effort or fanatic attachment to futile utopian visions, are very likely to result in decline and may endanger our very future.
Prof. Yehezkel Dror is the author of "Israeli Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses."