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A reliable security partner on the West Bank?

The establishment of a Palestinian state based on the West Bank would inevitably require an agreement that would effectively leave important areas of Israel’s security in the hands of the government of a new Palestinian state. For example, alongside demilitarisation clauses of a peace agreement, the PA would need to agree to key anti-terrorist functions. These would presumably include provisions for the prevention of arms smuggling across the Jordanian border, which is many times longer than the border between Gaza and Egypt.

But how confident can Israel be that the PA will discharge these functions with the same determination as the IDF? To put it generously, here are just a few of the reasons why this is improbable:

  1. the PA government could not afford to be seen by its own public as the puppet-police of Israel;
  2. divided into numerous factions, some of which would support an alliance with Hamas against Israel, the PA would not have the will to stop the fanatics and would instead turn a blind-eye to at least some their activities;
  3. due to its often ferocious internal divisions and its lack of solid support, the PA government would not have the power to stop the fanatics even if it had the will;
  4. in any case, due its own hostility to Israel, it would wish to support a policy of applying at least some pressure on Israel, while at the same time not being seen as responsible for that pressure;
  5. it would want to build-up its own stock of weapons and military personnel outside those allowed by any peace agreement.

Regarding the latter point, no state likes to depend on others for its security unless it has little or no choice in the matter. There is no reason to believe that a new Palestinian state will be an exception to this. As a result, even without reference to continued antagonism between the 2 states, it can be confidently predicted that any new Palestinian government will cheat on the demilitarisation provisions of a peace agreement.

At a minimum, demilitarisation terms would need to include a prohibition against tanks, fighter planes, heavy artillery, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. However, a warning from history was the ease with which liberal-democratic Weimar Germany evaded the extensive post-First World War limitations on the size and equipment of its armed forces. For example, one way of avoiding restrictions on its air force was by the simple method of keeping war planes in Russia, holding military exercises in Russia and training pilots there.
In exactly the same way, it would not be difficult for a new Palestinian government to keep outlawed weapons, such as military aircraft, artillery and tanks that would otherwise be detected, well away from the West Bank. Similarly, it would be easily feasible for it to conduct military training with these weapons in Syria and Iran or elsewhere beyond the legal limits or reach of any peace agreement.

Taking risks for peace?

Even worse, it would be simple for a Palestinian government, as well as fanatics outside government, to smuggle into the West Bank prohibited weapons such as easily transportable rockets, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Unlike tanks or aircraft, various types of small, advanced missiles are practically impossible to detect. Modern missiles of this type are small enough to be operated by a single person and simple to conceal and move around. Yet they are highly effective and easy to acquire.

Therefore, given the impossibility of an effective monitoring and control system, smuggling them into the West Bank would be essentially unstoppable. This means that there will be nothing to prevent thousands being dispersed in urban and rural districts in ever closer proximity to key Israeli locations. Launched from forward positions, they would bring far more of Israel into range and sharply reduce the distance to targets and the time to reach targets.

A Palestinian government would thus possess the double advantage of being able to overlook Israel from the higher ground of the West Bank and cut Israel’s defensive depth to zero in the narrow central coastal region around and to the north of Tel Aviv. As a result, rocket and missile fire from relatively close range would threaten to disrupt Israel’s ability to mobilise and maneuver its ground forces. At the same time, the proximity of undetectable weapons would present a serious challenge both to Israel’s tank and air superiority.

In effect, what this means is that fine-sounding demilitarisation clauses of a peace agreement would be a waste of paper. The possession of outlawed weapons systems by a Palestinian government combined with illegal military training both outside and within the West Bank would thus pose enormous and potentially lethal risks to Israel:

  1. it would expose the highly populated areas of central Israel around Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem region, Ben Gurion international airport and other key areas, to rocket and missile attacks from largely undetectable sources;
  2. by reducing Israel’s already limited defensive depth, it would dangerously disrupt the mobilisation of Israeli military forces – especially in conjunction with a massive rocket and missile bombardment from Hezbollah;
  3. it could seriously threaten Israel’s tank and aircraft superiority during any future conventional war with other countries such as Syria.

The PA as ‘partner for peace’

In short, an agreement of this sort has every potential for being a disaster. The likelihood of the PA being as devoted to the security of Israel as the IDF is non-existent. Equally disturbing from the point of view of a supposedly sustainable peace agreement is that the future of the PA is itself far from secure or certain. Its governance is so divided, incompetent, corrupt and wildly unpopular amongst the people it is meant to be leading that it would take a miracle of optimism to envisage that it could remain in ‘power’ for long if the IDF were to withdraw completely.

The rule of the PA is characterised by bitter internal conflicts, gangsterism, lawlessness, violence, the official promotion of anti-Semitism, a ‘martyr’ culture and the non-stop promotion of the notion of the conquest of Israel. Furthermore, PA government leaders are hardly discreet about the diplomatic lip-service they are required to pay in recognition of the fact of Israel’s existence. In this way they acquire international recognition and finance. Yet they simultaneously deny recognition of any Jewish national rights and lead parties and militias which are opposed to the existence of a Jewish state. Naturally, they are more explicit about this when addressing Arab audiences. Therefore, to see the PA as a valued ‘partner for peace’ is another example of the extraordinary but misplaced optimism that has gripped the advocates of ‘disengagement’.

Disengagement delusions

Despite these handicaps, the PA is being trained in ‘peace-keeping’ functions by western powers for its allotted role as the ‘Partner for Peace’ and ruler of the West Bank state. Clearly, its ability to repress opposition will be vital for its own survival as well as for the survival of hopes in the 2-state solution.
However, a warning of the extreme vulnerability of this strategy was the ease with which PA forces were routed in 2007 when Hamas established its dictatorship in Gaza. As a result, it would take another miracle of optimism to believe that any agreement with the PA has any more than a slim chance of long-term durability. Additionally, the misplaced reliance on the ability of a future Palestinian government to suppress opposition also endangers the often repeated declarations of the international community in favour of a democratic Palestinian state.
In these circumstances, the courageous-sounding “taking risks for peace”, which are proclaimed but not specified by the advocates of the 2-state solution, look less courageous and much more dangerous; a gamble with all the odds stacked against success. In reality, any such agreement would create new opportunities for aggression and expose Israel to renewed conflict on terms which are far less favourable. The so-called risks for peace and subsequent dangers would thus increase. By contrast, the chances of success decrease.

Alarm bells for the 2-state solution

The problem is that no matter how solemn, absolute or irrevocably binding any peace agreement is made, it will count for little if all the ingredients and dynamics of the conflict remain and new opportunities for hostility are inherent in the situation. Without the 3-core conditions, the safest and most likely prognosis is that any Arab/Palestinian peace promise would be essentially worthless. It will fail to provide either the necessary security or the necessary sustainability.

As a result, the addition of ineffective demilitarisation controls to an ineffective promise of peace enormously increases the risk of failure. Additionally, because Israel would be in a weaker and more vulnerable position to defend itself than previously, its enemies would be provided with a easier and tempting target to attack. Consequently, Israel would be bound to attempt measures to remedy its weakness. In this way, the dynamics of the conflict would continue and the brave-sounding notion of “taking risks for peace” would actually become a high-risk recipe for war.

Therefore, with such high expectations of high-risk problems, why be committed to a so-called solution that has such inherently serious defects? Why do a deal which will make Israel weaker and more vulnerable? Why become committed to dependence on such an incompetent and unreliable regime as the PA which is so untrustworthy and unstable that even its continued existence cannot be counted on? For any rational and sound political appraisal these questions would set-off deafening alarm bells. It would also drive a coach-and-horses through the 2-state solution.

In pursuing an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, the advocates of the 2-state solution make extravagantly generous assumptions about the moderation, cohesion, ability and permanence of the PA. From these uncertain and improbable assumptions the policy of “painful concessions” is derived. This policy of “taking risks for peace” means that evermore territory is to be placed under the control of the PA; it means the easing of security measures and restrictions; it means that Israel would abandon its control and claims to all but a tiny fraction of the West Bank. In other words, it means taking on trust that a 2-state settlement really would be a final settlement and not simply temporary staging point prior to new attempts to eradicate Israel.

 

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