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Can a Shelf Agreement Anchor Israel’s Security Demands, by Reut Institute

Israel’s position regarding its security demands, which entail undermining the sovereignty of a Palestinian state, narrows the chances for reaching an agreement.

Essence of Warning

During negotiations with the Palestinians in 1999-2001, Israel presented a number of security demands that included, among other things, the demilitarization of the Palestinian state, control and use of its air space, supervision of its external envelope and early warning stations.

These demands were based on a number of Israeli assumptions at the core of which was the belief that the goal of the Palestinian national movement was to establish an independent Palestinian state. Therefore, in order to achieve this goal, the Palestinians would be willing to give up certain attributes of sovereignty.

In recent years however, the relevancy of these Israeli assumptions has been eroded. Palestinians from across the political spectrum are undermining the logic of establishing a Palestinian state. Some of those who oppose a state alongside Israel do so for strategic and ideological reasons. Others meanwhile oppose it for tactical reasons such as the realization that Israel’s need to end its control over the Palestinians will force it to compromise on its demands. Either way, Palestinian willingness to compromise its sovereign authority is decreasing.

Under such circumstances, the challenge to the State of Israel and its negotiation team is to balance between the need to end Israel’s control over the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the importance of security arrangements. Therefore the basic dilemma for Israel is deciding between:

* Military Logic that requires undermining Palestinian sovereignty and maintaining a significant Israeli presence in the West Bank. This logic accepts the risk of not achieving an agreement thus leaving Israel exposed to a strategy aimed at causing its internal collapse due to its control over the Palestinian population.

* Political Logic that requires the end of Israeli control over the Palestinian population even at the price of a significant reduction of its military presence in Palestinian territory and approximation of Kassam rockets towards the country’s center. This logic requires Israel to identify and concentrate on the minimum security demands necessary for agreement.

Policy Options

Establishing a national security doctrine within Israel’s borders – Israel should prepare for the possibility that it will be forced to withdraw from the West Bank without realizing all of its security demands (and possibly none at all). Therefore, Israel should formulate an all-inclusive national security doctrine towards the Palestinians based on deterrence and operating military forces within Israel’s territory rather than on arrangements around the external perimeter of Palestine.

Distinguishing the wheat from the chaff – Not all of Israel’s security demands have the same importance. For example, demands to control Palestine’s airspace seem more essential than demands for areas for military preparation. Therefore, Israel should prioritize its demands and concentrate on the most important ones.

Reframing the negotiations: security demands for Palestinian demands to ’intrude’ into Israel’s sovereign space – Israel can ’leverage’ Palestinian claims to intrude into its sovereign space (safe passage, desalinization plants, use of sea and air-ports and others) as a ’bargaining chip’ to achieve Palestinian concessions regarding security issues.

As an example, creating a connection between establishing a safe passage in Israeli territory between Gaza and the West Bank and Israeli use of Palestinian air space could help ensure this Israeli demand.

Exchange of territories with Egypt as a condition for demilitarization arrangements – The reality in Rafah of two cities connecting to one another underneath the Gaza-Egypt border completely prevents enforcing demilitarization arrangements in Gaza. Therefore, if Israel decides to maintain its current position on demilitarization, it should consider an exchange of territories in the Gaza region so the Gaza-Sinai border will pass to the west of Rafah. In exchange, Israel can give Egypt territory from the Negev that could be considered a deposit for a later exchange of territories in the West Bank.

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