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Security issues become tool for delay

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security conditions for any future agreement with the Palestinians would preclude a Palestinian state all together.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during a memorial ceremony for former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at Sycamore Ranch near the town of Sderot, marking the one-year anniversary of Sharon's death January 29, 2015. Sharon, the trailblazing warrior-statesman who stunned Arab foes with his dramatic turnarounds, died on January 11, 2014 aged 85, after eight years in a coma caused by a stroke.  REUTERS/Amir Cohen (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS ANNIVERSARY) - RTR4NGC7

Experts in Washington feel that the key to renewing talks between Israel and the Palestinians after the March 17 elections is the security issue. To get to that point, Israel must seriously examine the ideas proposed by the Americans during the talks guided by Secretary of State John Kerry. Israeli political willingness to seriously consider the proposals could advance and determine the fate of negotiations, should talks resume.

A senior State Department official spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity about the security concepts of a future Israeli-Palestinian agreement. He had this to say:

We presented last year a comprehensive security plan to the Israeli security establishment and to the government. This plan was the result of a planning process by Gen. John Allen and a large staff of US security experts. It had Israel's best security interests at heart. It outlined a variety of intelligence surveillance and monitoring mechanisms designed to prevent terror from the future Palestinian state and protect the border of Israel and Jordan (along the Jordan Valley) from hostile infiltrations. Temporary Israeli military presence was foreseen along the Jordan River, without infringing on Palestinian sovereignty. The US was willing to assist through surveillance from the ground and air and to provide state-of-the-art technology in this regard. The proposed plan was met by the Israeli defense establishment with serious consideration, alongside some professional reservations. At the political level, it was brushed off completely by the prime minister and minister of defense. It seemed to our experts as if the political echelon were looking for security arrangements that would actually make a two-state solution impossible.

The US State Department, according to this source, is currently reviewing its security plan in the context of policy planning for the post-election period. Counterterrorism in the Middle East is paramount to the Barack Obama administration, and the Americans firmly believe in the effectiveness of their security assistance to Israel. The source emphasized that security and peace policies must go hand in hand.

A senior Israeli security official, who was engaged at the time in elaborating on the Oslo Accords' security agreements, confirmed to Al-Monitor the constructive nature of the talks between Israeli security professionals and Gen. Allen. He also outlined two security doctrines that are currently guiding Israel.

The first issue concerns the ongoing, day-to-day security needs that depend on tactical intelligence armament, troop size and readiness. This relates to the current geopolitical situation and is based on ongoing assessment of threats, particularly in relation to terror and to Iranian nuclear ambitions. This perception focuses on assuring Israel's security on a daily basis, not a long-term perspective.

The second facet is that of national security in regard to Israel's long-term strengths and deterrence. This approach involves all the elements that constitute Israel's strength beyond its military capacity, namely, its technological capabilities, the stability of its economy, the quality of its education, its democracy, its strategic relations with the United States, its economic relations with the European Union, its all-important relationships with Egypt and Jordan and the prospects of peace and war.

According to this experienced security veteran, there are different conclusions that are drawn from these two security angles. As to the daily security aspect, it is preferable to maintain the political status quo that ensures intelligence advantages inside the West Bank and allows the ongoing routine surrounding security activity to continue.

Concerning the strategic national security level, the defense official said that Israel must guarantee its Western and regional strategic relationships at all costs. First and foremost, Israel must preserve its ties with the US administration, with which it must re-create a relationship of coordination and mutual trust. Israel must also nurture its ties with the EU, in particular Germany due to its supply of arms. No less important in this respect are Israeli relations with Egypt and Jordan.

The official emphasized that it is clear to the security apparatus' higher ranks that a political process with the Palestinians is a must and an immediate need, given the premise that the Palestinian issue is not solvable by force.

I learned from my talk with this Israeli source that the difficulty actually lies with a third layer of the security issue: the "political security" outlook, although he did not put it in those terms. The political echelon of the outgoing Israeli government has a very broad perception of security conditions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon expressed this in talks they have held with US officials. They stipulated that in the case of a future settlement with the Palestinians, Israel would need full control of both sides of the border, control of most of the Jordan Valley and West Bank main roads and to be able to enter all Palestinian cities. In other words, these are not security conditions, but conditions set by the political right to prevent a Palestinian state altogether.

It seems that given the current mistrust between Washington and Jerusalem, should Netanyahu be reelected, an understanding between them on the security issues of conflict resolution will be difficult to reach.

The State Department source found it difficult to hide his anger about Netanyahu's planned speech to Congress on March 3 as the guest of the Republican Speaker, John Boehner. He claimed it was not about a violation of protocol, but about interfering with one of the most strategic and most sensitive issues in American politics. It is about siding with the Republican Party against a president who is Israel's biggest supporter when it comes to its security. When asked how this will influence the strategic dialogue between the two leaderships, he refused to reply.

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