How much territory does Israel need to be secure in the absence of peace with its Palestinian neighbors? Is that different from how much security Israel is entitled to under that circumstance? Who decides? And why is an American general trying to find out? These are not trick questions -- they should be.
General John R. Allen, USMC (ret.) has been made a "special advisor" to both Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel, ostensibly to determine Israel's security requirements. But in fact, his mission is yet another attempt to determine what American or international security guarantees would induce Israel to withdraw from territory in the absence of a durable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. According to a source in The Washington Post, "The rationale behind reaching understandings on U.S. security guarantees at this point is to render certain Israeli security demands from the Palestinians moot and thus remove them from the negotiating table." The Post added, "Allen's team was dismayed by the initial Israeli discussions, which participants described as less substantive and less cooperative than U.S. officials were expecting, given that Allen's job was created to address Israeli security concerns."
The military team was "dismayed" in part because the only way to "render Israeli security demands moot" and "address Israeli security concerns" is to resolve the problem that leads Israel's neighbor to threaten its security. If an independent Palestinian State is born believing that the Mediterranean Sea is its proper western border, it cannot coexist with the State of Israel. That is the problem that needs to be resolved. Under the circumstances, American "guarantees" are foolishly offered and wisely rejected.
General Allen is not the first American military officer to be tasked with this un-doable mission, and history is instructive here.
The 1993 Oslo "peace process" was predicated on the assumption that political and economic movement toward Palestinian statehood in some part of the territories acquired by Israel in 1967 would induce the Palestinians to drop their objection to Israeli sovereignty in the rest of Israel. That was not correct, but parallelism informed American thinking right through the beginning of the so-called "second intifada" in 2000. Amid the terror campaign that ultimately cost more than 1,000 Israeli lives, The Mitchell Report presented to President Bush in 2001 asked both parties equally to stop the violence, take confidence-building steps and resume negotiations.
Since the violence wasn't equally distributed, however, Secretary of State Colin Powell – himself a retired Army General – asked retired Marine General Anthony Zinni to find a path to security for Israel even as the war continued. By the end of 2001, Zinni's frustration was a matter of public record; he could not get the Palestinians to stop the violence and, under the circumstances, he could not get Israel to make security concessions.
Parenthetically, it should be noted that in 2000, the Clinton Administration posited U.S. troops to sit on the Golan Heights to give Israel the "confidence" to cede the high ground to the Syrians. The Israelis – and a number of American military officers – opposed the plan, and their wisdom is increasingly evident. The one "help" Israel never wanted was American troops being sent home in body bags.
Israel won the 2000-2004 war by re-establishing Israeli security control in the West Bank and beginning construction of the Security Fence. But the notion of "helping" Israel address its security concerns grew into a second track.
Americans had done some early training of Palestinian "police" to teach them to "dismantle the terrorist infrastructure"-- as if they would. Training ended when it was discovered that American training and radios were much in demand by Palestinians fighting Israelis. In 2005, with the "intifada" tamed, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Ward was asked to "reform" the "police," but by the end of the year, with the Hamas-led violence in Gaza following the Israeli Disengagement, Ward turned the job over to U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton. Dayton's problems were compounded by the Palestinian civil war and the takeover of Gaza by Hamas in 2007; what he oversaw was a major increase in the size and capability of the West Bank, PA-controlled security forces. In 2007, the Jordan Times reported American plans to train a 50,000-person police force (a 7-fold increase), which a Reuters piece estimated would cost of $4-7 billion. Dayton turned a much different force over to Lt. Gen. William Moeller, USAF in 2010.
As General Dayton was building up the Palestinian police, and as Israel was under rocket attack from Gaza, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pondered the problem of Israeli security next to a Palestinian state at war with it:
If, in fact, [the Israelis] are going to be asked to withdraw from the West Bank at some point, what does that mean for the security of Israel? That's a fair question. It really is. And so one of the things that I take back is that we are going to need to spend a lot of time thinking about how this state [Palestine], if we are fortunate enough to be able to bring it into being, how it is going to relate to the security of its neighbor and vice versa.
It appears not to have occurred to her that, under the circumstances, Palestinian statehood was incompatible with Israeli security and that Israeli withdrawal was therefore inconceivable. She appointed former NATO Commander and Marine Corps Commandant James Jones to find a way. After considerable heated discussion with Israeli military and political leaders, Jones produced a plan in 2008 for the stationing of NATO and U.S. troops in the West Bank in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal. Prime Minister Netanyahu shelved the plan when he took office in 2009.
General Allen, it appears, has come to resurrect it at the direction of the current U.S. administration. He will have no more success than his predecessors – all excellent, honorable military men, but all unable to find an external military solution to a war one side insists upon waging. The political leadership should stop asking them to do it.
As long as the Palestinian Authority believes that Israel sits on, governs, and flies its flag over "Palestinian land," Israel is at war. As long as the Palestinian Authority teaches its children that Jews have no sovereign rights in the Middle East, that Israeli soldiers killed Mickey Mouse, and that their highest aspiration should be to wrest the land from the "occupiers," Israel is at war. As long as the Palestinian Authority honors terrorists and their mothers as the best of Palestinian citizens, naming schools, squares and sport teams for them, Israel remains at war.
In which case, Israeli security needs are best met by the Israel Defense Forces, not American "guarantees."
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.