A report co-authored by senior Israeli defense officials argues that Israel doesn't need to control West Bank territory to keep Israel secure
Israeli soldiers walk towards the northern Gaza / Reuters
When President Barack Obama declared that the "basis for negotiations" on borders between Israelis and Palestinians should be "the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," he ignited an intense debate about what exactly constitutes defensible borders for Israel. "While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines -- these lines are indefensible," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the next day at the White House, misrepresenting Obama's words but sending a clear message about his position on the relationship between borders and security.
Netanyahu appears to have been intentionally vague on his vision for an actual border, except for his demand that in any peace agreement Israel must retain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected this demand, proposing instead an international force headed by NATO to do the job.
This idea that Israel needs to control large swathes of territory in the West Bank in order to protect itself -- which is described as "territorial strategic depth" in the Security chapter of "Is Peace Possible?" -- has been most prominently advocated by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, run by Netanyahu advisor Dore Gold, in a report entitled "Israel's Critical Security Requirements for Defensible Borders." Its authors have made numerous trips to Washington to propagate their perspective (particularly on Capitol Hill), and their arguments have gone largely unaddressed.
This void is filled by a new report by the Council for Peace and Security, an Israeli organization that includes over a thousand former high-ranking officials in Israel's national security establishment, including the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad, and Shin Beth security services. The group provides a sober alternative (with unimpeachable security credentials) to those who seek to use security arguments to justify political goals -- particularly goals that are incompatible with a two-state solution. Their new report, "Defensible Borders and Strategic Depth," (recently this
week in English; click here for the Hebrew version) is written by three former major generals and three brigadier generals.
The paper cuts to the heart of the argument made by Netanyahu and his surrogates about defensible borders:
The formula of an agreement based on the 1967 lines with agreed upon land swaps is defensible in face of the relevant threats facing Israel today and in the future and that control of the Jordan Valley and the West Bank does not constitute a response to these threats.
The report points out that the Israeli need for control of the Jordan Valley is based on an outdated assessment of Israeli threats:
The central threat Israel faced in the past was that of a massive ground attack with air power support from a coalition of Arab states. Clearly, the current reality of the military balance in the Middle East renders this threat nearly irrelevant due to the collapse of the pan-Arab movement, the peace agreements Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan, and the eradication of Iraqi military forces.
They also explain about how the regional assessment has changed due to the Arab Peace Initiative and Israel's undisputed military advantage in the region.