Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has an op-ed in today’s WaPo demonstrating why settling the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a long way off. His lede shows how difficult the process is:

In our quest for peace with the Palestinians, three imperatives unite Israelis: Terror must end, our borders must be secure, and the Palestinians must abandon the goal of destroying Israel. That is why we insist that the terror organizations be dismantled, that we not return to the indefensible 1967 lines and that the Palestinians give up their claim to a “right of return” — a euphemism for destroying the Jewish state by flooding it with millions of Palestinians.

Genuine Palestinian peace partners will accept these elementary conditions for peace.

The three initial goals are indeed elementary. The others essentially doom a peace process. Not only does it leave precious little land to negotiate over for a Palestinian homeland, but it defines “Israeli” in a rather unusual way. If a country had an immigration policy that said that Jews weren’t welcome–even if their parents were born there–it would be villified as anti-Semitic. But this is exactly what Netanyahu calls for in reverse. Fearing that a democratic Israel would eventually lose its character as a Jewish state, he wants to exclude non-Jews. He continues:

We are told that Israel is faced with only two options: either continue to rule over millions of Palestinians or cede them full sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Yet both options are unacceptable.

Israel does not want to rule the Palestinians. The only reason our forces are deployed in Palestinian cities and towns is to prevent the savage terror attacks being launched from these places against us. As the terror subsides, we will be able to gradually withdraw those forces.

Very reasonable, right? He goes on:

But there is a third option, one that offers hope for a realistic and responsible solution for Israelis and Palestinians. The guiding principle is this: The Palestinians would be given all the powers needed to govern themselves but none of the powers that could threaten Israel. Put simply, the solution is full self-government for the Palestinians with vital security powers retained by Israel.

For example, the Palestinians would have internal security and police forces but not an army. They would be able to establish diplomatic relations with other countries but not to forge military pacts. They could import goods and merchandise but not weapons and armaments. Control over Palestinian daily life would be in the hands of the Palestinians alone, but security control over borders, ports and airspace would remain in Israel’s hands. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed these ideas last year, and most Israelis support him. Indeed, those Israelis who support a Palestinian state are in effect calling for limited Palestinian sovereignty with Israel retaining control of vital security powers.

So, Palestine would have all the powers of self governance except those that define self governance. They’d lack the most fundamental right of any polity: the ability to defend themselves from outside aggression. They’d be wards of Israel, totally at their mercy, or else permanently occupied by foreign peacekeepers. This is obviously a non-starter and Netanyahu knows it.

Theoretically, at least, there is a fourth way: A sovereign Palestinian state with a land mass large enough to sustain itself but not at the expense of Israeli security. Such a state would include Gaza but also land granted by Jordan and Lebanon. While it would be difficult to get this concession from the other Arab states, it actually would make a lot of sense, given the problems that having an irredentist Palestinian presence have caused for both of those states.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jem says:

    Good, I’m not the only one that thinks Netanyahu’s op-ed started reasonable, then rolled off the deep end.