Mort Zuckerman: For Israel, a Two-State Proposal Starts With Security

Israelis feel they've read this book in Gaza and don’t want to see the movie in the West Bank.

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Perhaps it would be different if the Israelis had confidence that the current U.S. administration would make up in security for whatever Israel might cede in territory. They were given that assurance when they took the risk of leaving Gaza in 2005. Then there was a written commitment by President George W. Bush that the United States would not expect Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders and that any future settlement would reflect Israel's right to secure, recognized, and defensible borders. (So too did President Obama pledge support for this same right, in these same words, in a public speech when he was campaigning for presidency.)

Yet the Obama administration disavowed this commitment—with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying that Bush's pledge "did not become part of the official position of the United States government." This ignores the fact that recognized boundaries "and defensible borders" were enshrined in the U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 after the 1967 war and that Bush unequivocally provided a presidential guarantee to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in exchange for Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. "The United States," Bush said, "reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel's security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel's capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combinations of threats." The Bush letter was approved by both houses of Congress—and yet it has been repudiated by this administration.

The scene is even more menacing if we consider the regional scenario of a Palestinian state inspired by Iran and Islamic radicalism. Iran is getting close to obtaining nuclear abilities and already has ballistic missiles that can menace Israel as well as its Arab neighbors. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard serves as a strategic umbrella for radical groups that move across the Middle East, including Shiite militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank.

The Israeli experience in Lebanon is a case study of the dangers. After the 2006 war, Israel withdrew and 10,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops came into southern Lebanon, authorized by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. With what effect? Hezbollah has rearmed at a rapid pace, accumulating more than 40,000 rockets and missiles that, according to recent reports, have now moved down to the southern part of Lebanon without any Hezbollah operatives being arrested. U.N. forces have simply been ineffective, even when the Lebanese government wanted the U.N. to curb Hezbollah.

A sovereign Palestinian state that refuses to accept an international force is bad enough. Worse yet is that, in practice, organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas can render any international force ineffective. This is what occurred when European monitors were placed at Gaza's Rafah crossing. The monitors fled their positions as soon as internal fighting between Hamas and Fatah heated up after the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections. The monitors themselves fell victim to local Palestinian kidnappings. When the Palestinian president says he will not accept Israeli forces but might accept an international presence, his statement might seem reasonable or negotiable. In truth, it has about as much value as the "peace in our time" document that Neville Chamberlain waved on his return to London after meeting Adolf Hitler. Bottom line: The only successful security forces that Israel can rely upon are its own. Israelis feel they have read the book in Gaza and don't want to see the movie in the West Bank.

Paradoxically, the presence of U.N. forces creates an obstacle to Israel's ability to defend itself, by itself. Look at what happened to the force that was dispatched to Lebanon in August 1982. The U.N. mission was made up of units from Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, but in October 1983 both the French paratrooper barracks and the U.S. Marine headquarters were attacked by Shiite suicide bombers, killing a few hundred French and American service members. Within a year, both forces withdrew from Lebanon, reflecting the reality that foreign forces will quickly leave the theater when attacked. The states that volunteer them soon lose political support for keeping them there.