A foreign army at the gate

Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert have no fundamental disagreements on policies of war, security or peace – issues that might influence the economy, education or social affairs. Furthermore (election rhetoric aside), Livni doesn’t differ significantly on these issues with the Ehud Barak of Shepherdstown and Camp David, or with the Benjamin Netanyahu who went to Wye Plantation and sent Ronald Lauder to Damascus.

The idea of the Greater Land of Israel lives on only in the political faction to the right of Likud. The leaders of the national majority, like their voters, have also accepted the idea of parting from Shuafat, Abu Dis and the Golan Heights.

The stumbling block that prevents Israel’s departure from the territories is not the demarcation of the final border between us and our neighbors. The only obstacle seen as impassable today on the way to an agreement is the security issue after the territories are vacated. As long as this dilemma has no answer that is convincing to most Israelis, no government, weak or strong, will be able to implement an agreement with our neighbors, even if it dares to sign one.
The settlers and other adversaries of compromise and concessions, who were unable to prevent the pullouts from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, will not stand in the way of additional withdrawals either. This, if, as in the case of the evacuation of the Sinai in the early 80s and of Gaza in 2005, public opinion will stand behind the government. In its agreements with Egypt and Jordan, Israel found the answer to the post-withdrawal security issue in the image of Anwar Sadat and King Hussein. We believed not only in their sincerity, but mainly in their ability to keep their promises. Perhaps this situation will recur vis-a-vis Syria.

But who on the Palestinian side, even assuming their intentions are good, has the means to ensure, or enforce, security?

Unlike the cases of Egypt, Jordan and possibly Syria, the solution with the Palestinians cannot depend on them and Israel alone. Neither of us are capable of pulling it off. The solution could be an international force that would take the place of the Israel Defense Forces in the territories as an integral and binding part of a peace agreement.

It need not be a large army, or one similar to the foreign armies we’ve seen in the region since the state’s establishment. Those, including the force in southern Lebanon after the Second Lebanon War, were never more than observers. This would be a combat-ready army, whose mission would be to enforce security.

This is not difficult. The West Bank is tiny, not a Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq, and is neither marshland nor forest. There is little doubt that most Palestinian people, as well as the government in Ramallah, would accept such an army willingly, if not enthusiastically. The Gaza Strip is a different story, and some arm-twisting would be required, not on the people but certainly on Hamas.

Such a force cannot be established without Israel’s agreement. Israel would of course demand as part of that agreement, and would undoubtedly receive, close cooperation with the international force, first and foremost in matters of intelligence and counterterrorism. The foreign force should be here temporarily, its task will include helping to set up an effective Palestinian administration and Palestinian security forces who would eventually serve as a reliable counterterrorist force. All this will ultimately allow for the departure of the foreign army from the West Bank without Israel’s security being endangered.

The question is, who will take on this mission? The Americans are the most suitable party. A fraction of their army posted in Iraq could handle the task. But it’s hard to believe that the president of the United States, whoever he will be, would agree to this, due to domestic policy considerations. Perhaps, however, he would agree to help others.

The problem is not where to find soldiers for the job. Many would volunteer for it. For example, several East European countries may step up, because of both domestic and prestige considerations. Perhaps Turkey, which is interested in keeping its backyard quiet, could also be taken into consideration.The more important questions are who would define the force’s mission, stand behind it politically, and perhaps even finance it.

At this moment the European Union appears to be the only option. The EU, under French and German leadership, could be persuaded to accept the responsibility, but with a few conditions. One, that most of the soldiers are not from its own ranks, especially not from the German army. Also, the initiative must be carried out with American coordination and perhaps even cooperation, and subsequently with NATO’s seal of approval, too. It must also be supported by the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, and receive Egypt and Jordan’s active cooperation. Above all, not only must the initiative be supported by the Palestinian government and even more so by Israel, these two must broach it with the Europeans.

All four conditions depend to a large extent on Israel. Granted, such an initiative would be revolutionary for Israel. But it’s time the government freed itself from the rigid mindset that a solution can be concocted by us and our neighbors alone, with no foreign participation. The reality is that this attitude has long been obsolete.

Ref: Haaretz, By Avi Primor

The writer is director of the Trilateral Center for European Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and former Israeli ambassador to the European Union and to Germany.

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