Thursday, March 21, 2013

Security Before Concessions

by Zalman Shoval

In an interview leading up to his visit to Israel, U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed that the U.S. opposes the Palestinians' conditions for renewing negotiations, according to which Israel would freeze all construction beyond the Green Line. By rejecting this precondition, Obama got onto the same page as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But at the same time, he also made it clear that this should not be interpreted as U.S. acquiescence to continued settlement construction.

The president's remarks reflect the traditional American stance regarding Israeli activities in the territories. There have been in the past, and still are, different shades to the American approach, not only for construction in the territories, which stem from U.N. Resolution 242, but also with respect to the sanctity of the Green Line.

Former Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, each in his own particular style and with his own arguments, justified changes to this line as being good for Israel, stemming largely from security concerns. 

Even former President Jimmy Carter agreed that an outline for Palestinian autonomy must include "special security zones" that would remain under Israeli control. Reagan explicitly said in a speech to the U.N. in 1982: "In the pre-1967 borders Israel was barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel's population lived within artillery range of hostile Arab armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again." 

Bush agreed with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the issue of "blocs," and I heard Clinton at a meeting in Washington just a few years ago, even if he was no longer president, say that the U.S. has no problem with Israeli measures exercised for security reasons. 

Clearly, the above statements, and other similar ones, should be viewed as a consensus for Israel to act in any way on the security issue. But when it comes to the most friendly government to Israel, it is difficult to avoid getting the impression that Israeli policy and advocacy is not always emphasized enough from the security angle. The only one who really does this is Netanyahu himself, consistently explaining Israel's positions and demands as they relate to security concerns. Perhaps this is because in some circles, emphasis on security and the need for defensible borders is understood as almost blasphemous, and a blow to the value of our historic right to the Land of Israel. However, anyone who searches deeply into the history of "security borders" and their various meanings, will discover that even in the old days when borders were drawn by geography, even if it was described differently in words, there were also strategic political concerns involved. 

Shortly after the Six-Day War, when then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan visited the area where the Gilo neighborhood was later built, and someone reminded him that he was beyond the Green Line, he stared at the ground and said, "I do not see a green line." Already in the early days after the war, the government decided to create a new strategic physical reality, to prevent the isolation or separation of Jerusalem from the coast, ensure strategic depth along the Jordan River, prevent any potential enemy from cutting Israel in half, and prevent any possible damage to Ben-Gurion International Airport from the hilltops beyond the Green Line. Construction in certain places in the territories is an important component of this effort to ensure security for Israel. 

It's true that the modern battlefield is radically different today. But particularly in this new reality, when Israeli territory is limited, physical boundaries between us and the enemy are all the more important. 

Let's not be naive and argue that every Jew living in Judea and Samaria is there for security reasons, but the opposite is not true either. An Israeli presence beyond the Green Line is intimately tied to Israel's security needs. 

Zalman Shoval


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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