The Myth of Defensible Borders

How a Regional Security Initiative Can Promote Middle East Peace

Courtesy Reuters

In her December 10 Middle East policy speech, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the United States' commitment to a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians, calling for an agreement that would enable Palestinian leaders "to show their people that the occupation will be over" while allowing Israeli leaders to "demonstrate to their people that the compromises needed to make peace will not leave Israel vulnerable."

Although Clinton suggested that these aims are compatible, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed a different view. Demanding the establishment of what Israeli officials call "defensible borders," Netanyahu's government seeks to annex or exercise security control over large blocs of West Bank territory -- along the Jordan River in the east and along Israel's border in the west, from the north-central settlement of Ariel to the Gush Etzion settlements south of Bethlehem.

In addition, it seeks to operate early-warning stations on high ground near the Palestinian cities of Nablus, Ramallah, and Hebron and maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley for decades to come. This package of arrangements would create, in the words of Israeli negotiators, a "protection envelope" surrounding the new Palestinian state.

Such arrangements, however, will do little to respond to the real security challenges faced by Israelis, the Palestinians, and others in the region. As WikiLeaks recently revealed, other governments in the region are no less concerned than Israel about nuclear proliferation, the destabilizing role of nonstate actors, and the threat of cross-border missile attacks.

A U.S. peace plan built on the notion of defensible borders will neither address the threats perceived by Israel's neighbors nor win the support of their domestic constituencies, who demand faithful implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative. A different approach is needed, one that situates Israeli-Palestinian security arrangements within a regional security framework -- involving the Arab states, Turkey, and eventually Iran -- that can facilitate durable responses to the threats faced by the peoples of the Middle East.

Israeli security orthodoxy has

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