Security and Coexistence: An Alternative Approach to Breaking the Deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians
By Minister of Foreign Affairs Ariel Sharon
I. The Strategic Context: Trends and Developments in the Middle East
a. Hostility and Hatred
Fifty years after the creation of Israel – hostility, hatred and suspicion still characterize the political landscape of the Middle East. On the most basic level, Palestinians and Arabs have still not fully accepted the legitimacy of a non-Arab, non-Moslem entity like the State of Israel in the region. Must we wait for these attitudes to change? I believe not. The relentless effort to achieve peace should remain a guiding principle in all our considerations.
b. An Unprecedented Arms Race (both conventional and non- conventional) is currently under way in the Middle East. Israel, as a country which absorbs mass immigration, having to meet social, economic and humanitarian needs on a large scale – cannot and does not want to compete in this race.
c. Israel is a Small Country
Its size is 27,000 sq.km. (about 10,800 sq.miles = the size of the state of New Jersey).
Everything is on a small scale: The distance from the Jordan River (Israel’s eastern border) to Tel-Aviv on the coastline is 70km. (44 miles), to Haifa – 60 km. (37 miles); to Jerusalem – 30 km. (19 miles).
A prominent feature of the Middle East today is the ongoing conventional and non-conventional military build-up by Arab countries surrounding Israel. In addition, the threat of weapons of mass destruction emanating from such countries as Iran and Iraq, make territory and strategic depth vital for security in general, and for Israel in particular.
This is due largely to the combined threat of large scale ground forces coupled with long-range ballistic missiles which these countries are acquiring and deploying.
Furthermore, no state has ever given up essential strategic depth or territory. In the case of Israel we are dealing with a small territory and minimal strategic depth.
- A Strategic Threat: Terrorism – in the Middle East, is not just a tactical problem. Terror activity preceded and instigated almost all wars in the region. Cross-border terrorism (against Israel) served as a catalyst in the past, for Soviet/Russian penetration to the Middle East.
- Without concerted regional effort to combat terrorism – peace efforts and peace itself will continue to be held as hostages of terror and its instigators.
e. The Refugee Problem
This is the real tragedy of the conflict. About one million Palestinians left Israel during the war of independence, mainly after being encouraged to do so by the invading Arab countries. At the same time, Israel absorbed about one million Jews from various Arab and Moslem countries, who fled and left all their property behind.
The solution: Resettling refugees in the places where they live. The solution for the 1967 refugees shall also be considered, consisting of an Arab-Israeli-international effort, as well as mutual compensation for Palestinians and Jews from Arab countries alike.
f. Trends and Future Developments
Two competing trends in the Middle East:
- A gradual development of understanding and concern regarding economic development, modernization, and openness to democracy. The hope for a real "New Middle East".
- A developing trend of radical Islamic and secular totalitarian regimes in various ominous manifestations like the Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian "versions", with an outright rejection of the "New Middle East", building forces and accumulating weapons of mass destruction leading to an inevitable confrontation.
There is an ongoing conflict between these two trends in many countries in the Middle East. There is no doubt that if the first trend prevails, this will be a very significant development in the region towards the establishment of durable peace. However, this is going to be a prolonged, protracted, process and meanwhile immediate risks and dangers still exist.
II. Peace Agreements
With Egypt – A relatively "cold" but very important peace agreement.
With Jordan – A developing peace, which I am proud to be a partner of, and a contributor to its development.
a. The present government has accepted the Oslo Accords, despite the complexities and the risks inherited in it. Furthermore, it signed the Wye Memorandum for the second stage of redeployment with the intention of implementing its three phases on a reciprocal basis.
b. The Oslo Agreement and the Wye Memorandum are very important for the Palestinians since they are the only official, agreed upon, documents they’ve got.
c. For Israel, the time dimension, that will allow for development of normalized relations of coexistence, is most important.
d. The Palestinians, suspecting that Israel does not intend to implement the agreement, are interested in exerting pressure on Israel (thus, suspending and delaying implementation of what could be already agreed upon). It should be emphasized that any pressure that will increase the security threats to Israel is totally unacceptable.
e. The Palestinian Authority (PA) intention to unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state with its capital Jerusalem in May 1999: Such an act is a flagrant violation of the principles of the Oslo and Wye accords and could bring about the collapse of the whole process. Israel reserves the right to respond with appropriate reciprocal measurers, if the PA, decides on this course of action.
It should be noted that the Cabinet has approved a decision that in the event of a unilateral declaration by the PA, Israel will be forced to unilaterally extend its civilian law over certain parts of the territories of Judea and Samaria. Israel wishes to avoid taking such actions.
f. Although the Palestinian Authority already controls 98% of the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria, their main complaint is that the areas under their control are like a "Swiss Cheese" lacking contiguity while security checks and road blocks cause hardship to civilian population.
g. Israel insists on reciprocity – both sides must honor and fulfill their commitments. Unfortunately, in many cases the Palestinians have not followed this principle and have not fulfilled their obligations. Here are a few examples:
Reducing the size of the Palestinian armed forces to its agreed upon size has not been fulfilled. Moreover, despite an explicit obligation in the Wye accord, the Palestinian Authority is not conducting a true full-scale struggle against the terror infrastructure, nor is it curbing incitement and violence in the areas under its control; neither is the PA collecting and transferring to U.S. disposal the thousands of illegal weapons, like anti tank RPG’s, anti-aircraft guns, landmines and thousands of machine guns and assault rifles held illegally by the PA. It has not arrested wanted murderers still serving in the PA security forces.
h. Judea and Samaria – the historical cultural roots of the Jewish people: One must always remember that Judea and Samaria – the so-called "occupied territories" were occupied for 19 years between 1948-1967 by Egypt and Jordan and are the cradle of the Jewish people. There has been an uninterrupted Jewish life and presence, in Israel for thousands of years. As of today I know of no nation or country on earth which gave up voluntarily territory and historical sites which are at the roots of its national existence (the Cave of the Patriarchs, Rachel’s Tomb, Beth-El, Shilo – to mention a few). Yet Israel has decided that it is willing to make such territorial concessions in order to reach peace.
III. How Can the Process be Advanced? Proposed Principles
a. Crisis Avoidance – In the course of the negotiations all efforts must be exerted to prevent such crises, which may cause a breakdown of the entire process.
b. Israel must try and do whatever is possible to ease, and improve, daily life condition of Palestinians in the territories.
c. Israel must protect and insist on maintaining the basic strategic requirements for its security and existence, which have to include security zones, on its eastern border and in the west.
d. Israel’s position must be stated in clear, unequivocal terms: what it can and cannot do.
e. In principle, two parallel tracks to advance the peace process must be pursued:
- Political Strategic Track: borders, security, territory and reciprocal agreements, etc.
- Humanitarian Economic Track: improving economic conditions, large-scale joint economic projects, humanitarian incentives, mutual confidence-building measures, etc.
The process has to be divided into two phases:
- Providing for Palestinian contiguity, which will allow free passage and travel within a defined period of time (in territories under their control). Full PA control over parts of the territory and full control over 98% of the population, which they already have.
The security zones will remain in Israel’s hands and under full Israeli security control.
- Developing security, economic and civilian cooperation, in order to enhance trust and confidence for mutual peaceful coexistence. The greater the cooperation is, the easier will be the path to a permanent agreement.
One such concrete project that could serve this purpose is a long-term, large-scale desalination project of 1 billion cm of seawater to solve the critical water crisis facing Israel, the Palestinians and the Jordanians, as well as the region at large.
Such joint multinational projects can create the necessary infrastructure for peace by improving the welfare and life conditions of the people in the region.
But above all, it creates mutual interdependence of all the parties involved, thus providing a restraining factor against any "temptation" to breakaway from the peace process in the event of a crisis.
The way I view the situation today, it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians in the interim phase, which would be somewhat similar to the concept of non-belligerence . This will provide Palestinians with the possibility of keeping and holding to the Oslo Accords and for Israel the necessary time to examine and see that conditions for a true and lasting peace have materialized. However, any agreement reached should be implemented on the basis of mutual reciprocity.
Finally, I wish to emphasize that this alternative approach of crisis avoidance, and the concept of "less than peace" agreement, which I presented here – should be considered as a fallback position: if at a certain point it becomes clear to all parties that the current efforts to reach an agreement fail, then I believe it would be in the interest of both, Israel and the Palestinians, to adopt this approach, as a means of breaking the deadlock, and reviving the peace process.