Published in The Jewish Press, The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
Israel and the Palestinian Authority are supposed to reach a permanent status framework by this coming February and a final agreement by September 2000 concerning the status of the territories, Jerusalem, Arab refugees, Jewish settlements and water rights. Now, Israel must decide whether it should support the establishment of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza. And if it does, it must worry about the size of the state, its character and the extent of its sovereignty.
Many in the United States and Israel believe that the creation of a Palestinian State would bring peace to a new Middle East. But Israel cannot assume that this peace will serve as the basis for its security.
In reality, the situation for Israel is dangerous. Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is only about 10,000 square miles, roughly the size of Massachusetts. It is surrounded by 20 mostly hostile and undemocratic Arab countries with combined territories, 540 times the size of Israel. For the world to believe that the creation of the 21st Arab state in an area of roughly 2,000 square miles will satisfy the Arabs and begin a new era of peace, is naïve and scary.
Most frightening is that Israel is a very narrow strip of land, 40 to 50 miles wide including the West Bank. Establishing a Palestinian State will make Israel only 9 to 15 miles wide, in its middle, with the Palestinians controlling the Judea and Samaria mountains in the West Bank, which look down to the west onto Israel’s flat coastal plain which constitutes the heart of the country. Two thirds of the Israeli population lives along the coastal strip from Acco to Ashdod and nearly 80 percent of its industrial capacity, major airports, seaports and important military installations are also located along this corridor.
Moreover, the steep slopes of the Judea and Samaria mountains and the Jordan river serve as Israel’s main line of defense against Arab or Moslem attacks from east of the Jordan river.
Many argue that in an era of surface to surface missiles and advanced technology the West Bank has no strategic importance. But the Gulf War of 1991 is only the most recent evidence that the outcome of wars is still determined by forces on the ground. The fact is that the air forces of the United States, Britain and France could not destroy the Iraqi army or conquer Baghdad.
Since 1974, the Syrians have not fired on Israel because Israeli forces are stationed in the Golan Heights. Since 1967, the Jordanians haven’t engaged in a war against Israel because Israeli forces were deployed on the high ground of the West Bank.
Making parts of the West Bank into a Palestinian State will weaken Israel strategically. It will tempt the Arabs to exploit this weakness and conduct a surprise attack, trying to split Israel in two at its narrowest point.
There is no disputing the contention that a Palestinian State in and of itself, cannot be trusted not to join, during a war, to the forces of several Arab and Muslim states. Armed with anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft shoulder-held missiles, mortars, machine guns and mines, the Palestinian army just prior to and during the initial assault by Arab coalition forces would need only to attack and block Israel’s supply lines and key roads. This would prevent the mobilization of Israeli reserve soldiers, upon which the Israeli army primarily relies in times of war.
This would tie up desperately needed Israeli troops in the initial stage of an attack and possibly tip the Arab-Israeli strategic balance in the Arabs’ favor.
Many proponents of a Palestinian State, trying to alleviate such concerns, claim that the Palestinian Authority would agree to limitations on its sovereignty and full security arrangements such as full demilitarization, a continued Israeli military presence in the West Bank and the Jordan river and restrictions on its military or diplomatic relations with other Arab and Moslem states hostile to Israel. This contradicts many expressed statements from the PLO leadership. But even if the Palestinians agreed to these limitations, how long after the establishment of the state would these promises be broken? And what could Israel do to prevent violations?
For the last six years the Palestinians have violated the Oslo agreement repeatedly, including the expansion of its police force into a de-facto army. And Israel has looked the other way.
Factories in Gaza manufacture offensive weapons forbidden by Oslo, and underground tunnels between Gaza and Egypt have been discovered, through which the Palestinians have been smuggling in weapons.
Thus, the Palestinians already have an army and with its own airport and seaport and with free movement across the Jordanian and Egyptians borders, the new Palestinians State could acquire not only tanks but also fighter planes and heavy artillery. As Iraq has proven, despite all the sophisticated monitoring available today, a sovereign country can accumulate heavy arms undetected.
A Palestinian State will also endanger Israel’s water sources. Roughly 40 percent of Israel’s total water use and 50 percent of the drinking water originates in the mountains of the West Bank. If the Palestinian State, were to control major portions of the West Bank and have the freedom to pump water, it could pollute, diminish or shut down the flow of water to Israel despite water cooperation agreements.
The possibility of a peace accord being reached with Syria and Lebanon must also be taken into consideration since the other major Israeli water sources originate in the Golan Heights. Israel must physically maintain a hold over all of its water resources to assure its water security especially when water in Israel has never been in such short supply.
Many supporters of a Palestinian State argue that if the new state becomes hostile and a danger to its security, Israel can always go back and conquer Gaza and the West Bank. But in truth there is no going back for Israel. What would be the triggering event that the world would accept as justification to invade another sovereign country and stay there? Anything less than a war would be unacceptable. And even if the Palestinian state would be involved with other Arab countries in a war against Israel, the world community would expect Israel to withdraw once the war ended.
The supporters of a Palestinian State belittle all of these dark predictions and claim that the Palestinians would be less concerned with Israel’s destruction than with its own economic survival. They predict that the state would not have a real army or have the means to acquire one because all the money squeezed from donor states will be required to build Palestine. They believe that economic prosperity and the well being of the new state would guarantee peace.
But during the last six years of self rule billions of dollars, which have already been donated to the Palestinians, have provided for the establishment and maintenance of a growing military machine, a swollen government bureaucracy and the pockets of Arafat, his closet associates and senior Palestinian Authority officials. Just last month, 11 Palestinian academics and professionals were jailed after they and nine legislators accused Arafat of corruption and tyranny.
The “left” in Israel supports a Palestinian State in order to be separated from the Palestinians. But adverse economic conditions in the new state made worse by a huge influx of Palestinian refugees, would pressure Israel to shoulder the economic burden and employ hundreds of thousands Palestinians inside Israel.
Israel cannot assume that a semi-independent, mini-state would satisfy the Palestinian national ambitions and produce a stable peace. During the last six years, the Palestinian Authority has made a point of adorning its stationery, public monuments, television broadcasts and schoolbooks with maps that designate Palestine as covering not only the West Bank and Gaza Strip but all of Israel. Arafat’s domestic speeches reinforce this point by declaring that the Oslo agreement implements the 1974 “Phased Plan,” which calls for the use of the Palestinian sovereignty in part of Palestine as a springboard for a final assault on a smaller Israel with the help of the Arab countries.
Even worse, it should be recalled that Arafat has many times spoken of reclaiming all of British mandated Palestine, which includes Jordan. In a call to King Abdullah, after his father’s death, Arafat suggested again the establishment of a confederation between Jordan and Palestine. Since the majority of the Jordanian population is Palestinian, it is very likely that such a confederation would spell the demise of the Hashemite monarchy. A much larger Palestine would constitute a direct military threat against Israel.
Peace is not possible while the Palestinian leadership continues to teach its children to hate by glorifying martyrs, preaching Jihad (holy war) and spreading hostile anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda through their media and school books. Henry Kissinger once said that the Israelis give Talmudic importance to the term peace and “that if Israel will be weak there should not be any expectations that the word ‘peace’ will restrain the Arabs.”
There is no doubt that the Israelis have been longing for peace, but there is no evidence that the Palestinians are ready for it.