Some Hard Truths about Borders & Security…
- When considering the defensibility of future borders, it is critical to distinguish between legitimate concerns and the manipulation of these concerns for political and ideological purposes. Israel has legitimate security concerns related to its future borders. Misrepresenting facts or ignoring overarching Israeli national interests when discussing such concerns is often blatant manipulation, generally to advance an ideological "Greater Israel" agenda.
- Future borders will be the result of negotiations, based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed-on land swaps. Nobody can force Israel to accept the 1967 lines as a permanent and official border between the West Bank and Israel (and nobody serious is trying to do so). Likewise, Israel cannot unilaterally dictate borders, whether through facts on the ground like settlement construction or the separation barrier, or through legislation. Efforts by Israel to do so will never be accepted by the Palestinians or viewed as legitimate by the international community.
- While an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank will involve some security risks, these risks in no way render borders in a future two-state agreement "indefensible," as opponents of such an agreement may suggest. The national security benefits for Israel of a peace agreement with the Palestinians – one that involves robust security arrangements and leaves Israel with universally recognized sovereign borders – far outweigh the risks.
- Negotiations can produce a permanent border for Israel that meets its security needs. Israel will insist, with reason, on arrangements that satisfy its legitimate security needs – needs which Palestinian leaders have in the past indicated they recognize. Any peace agreement will require far-reaching verification measures and guarantees, and may involve both the parties to the treaty and third-party monitors and guarantors.
- The IDF's presence in the West Bank provides some security benefits for Israel. However, it doesn't guarantee against the infiltration of terrorists and the smuggling of weapons into the West Bank, or terrorist attacks, either inside the West Bank or in Israel. It involves huge security sacrifices for Israel, including harming army morale and leaving Israel's forces unprepared to handle serious external security threats. It cannot prevent the growth of extremist ideology and hatred of Israel and may, in fact, contribute to both, with the continued military occupation undermining the credibility of those Palestinians who argue against violence and who support the idea of a negotiated, two-state, conflict-ending agreement with Israel.
- The PA has demonstrated its ability to fight terrorism in the West Bank and to cooperate with Israel's security authorities, even with the West Bank still under occupation. U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation over the past decade has shown strong results, with PA forces effectively establishing law and order - and taking action against extremists - in areas under their control. Indeed, Israeli officials have repeatedly expressed satisfaction with the effort. As part of a peace agreement, security cooperation would most likely go even further. Similarly, recognized borders established through durable peace agreements make for good neighbors with whom mutually-beneficial security cooperation can thrive – as Israel has seen with both Jordan and Egypt, even during times of crisis and upheaval.
- It cannot be seriously argued today that Israel needs the West Bank as territorial depth or as a security buffer. Territorial depth - particularly when measured in single miles rather than in tens or hundreds of miles - is almost insignificant in an age of intermediate-range and long-range missiles. Holding on to the West Bank does not provide Israel additional meaningful strategic depth with respect to such a threat. Furthermore, by virtue of both topography and Israel’s superb military capabilities, it cannot be seriously argued that Israel needs the West Bank as a buffer to fend off an invasion by foreign armies from the east, through the West Bank.
- A peace agreement would strengthen Israel's ability to deter and defend against terrorist attacks. Israel's ability to inflict pain militarily against those who threaten it – Hizballah and Hamas, for example – is unquestioned. Absent a peace agreement, Israel's right to do so is often challenged. With an end to the occupation and the establishment of universally recognized borders, Israel's right to use force to defend these borders and its sovereign territory from attack will no longer be open to challenge, rendering Israel's military deterrence exponentially stronger.
- Israel should not repeat the mistake it made in Gaza by picking up and leaving the West Bank unilaterally. In the Gaza context, Israel's unilateral withdrawal - and implicit snub of President Abbas and the entire notion of negotiations - played into the hands of Hamas and other extremists. In contrast, a negotiated withdrawal – as part of a process that leads to the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – can provide credibility for non-extremist Palestinian leaders, strengthening them and enhancing their ability to govern, and to live up to Palestinian security obligations, after an Israeli withdrawal.