Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars and former American Middle East negotiator commented during the Syrian civil war, “I wonder...what would have happened had US efforts succeeded in negotiating an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement... Had we succeeded, the results might have been catastrophic for Israel and for the US.”
If Israel had listened to some prominent American officials and given up the Golan Heights in the 1990’s, then either Islamic State, Iran, or Hezbollah would likely have captured and controlled the Golan in the aftermath of the Arab Winter (post 2011), threatening not only the residents of the Hula Valley but Israel itself.
According to WikiLeaks, just one year before the Arab Winter, Senate Foreign Relations chairman John Kerry “told Qatari leaders that the Golan Heights should be returned to Syria.” Even during the Syrian civil war, American Middle East experts like former US ambassador Martin Indyk still recommended Israel to “cede the Golan.”
Bipartisan recommendations for Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights were also advocated by Lee Hamilton’s (Democrat) and James Baker’s (Republican) Iraq Study Group.
Does this story of the Golan Heights have any relevance today as a warning for the long advocated Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank?
Aaron David Miller said, “Withdrawal from Gaza produced Hamas. Leaving the Golan could have produced worse. It’s a cautionary tale for well-intentioned US and Israeli peacemakers alike.”
If Israel left the West Bank today as part of a peace deal, or a unilateral disengagement like in Gaza in 2005, shouldn’t we ask, what will a Palestinian state look like in one, five, or 10 years from now?
As Maj.-Gen. (res) Gershon Hacohen of the Begin-Sadat Center said, the fundamental assumption “that total separation between Israelis and Palestinians will inevitably enhance security and stability” has been debunked, in the aftermath of the Gaza disengagement.
There is little doubt that Hamas and Iran will attempt to undermine a Palestinian government controlled by the current Palestinian Authority leadership. They will have fertile ground to work on as Palestinians have been raised upon anti-Israel incitement, permeating every institution within the current PA.
The international community’s pontifications promised Israel they would back-up its right to defend itself, if Israel would withdraw from Gaza. Those promises quickly evaporated and were replaced by condemnations of Israel for acting against the terrorism that soon emanated from no-longer occupied Gaza. Does anyone really doubt that a withdrawal from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) will have the same playbook?
So what to do then?
If the Palestinian state in the West Bank becomes Gaza, American security interests will be severely undermined. Jordan, a vital American ally will be profoundly destabilized by neighboring Hamas preying on the Palestinian majority Jordanian population.
Worse, our indispensible strategic ally Israel will perceived as vulnerable by Iran, which today is already embedded in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, and hovering over Jordan from the east and north.
In theory, Israelis are overwhelmingly for two states for two peoples if they could somehow be convinced with 99% certainty a new Palestinian state would not become an existential threat to their nation.
Those who say Israel’s continued control of a belligerent Palestinian population is unsustainable without endangering its demography and democratic ideals, obviously have a point. But they pay short shrift to the more likely reality that Israel will be forced to return to the West Bank after:
1. Iran embeds themselves in Palestine with the blessing of Hamas.
2. Hamas imports weapons prohibited by the agreement made with the PA.
3. The PA ignores signed agreements as this is just part of their phased strategy to destroy Israel.
4. Hamas begins attacks to terrorize Israel, now just a few kilometers from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
The Israeli Golan, and Judea and Samaria are more similar than one might think in regard to the dangers entailed in giving up strategic depth, which still matters in asymmetric warfare.
If you want to know what the new “State of Palestine” will look like in 10 years, just think of today’s Gaza, except on steroids, and imagine the bloody war Israel will be forced to wage against Iran, Hamas and other jihadists on its doorstep.
So if, as it seems likely, the PA cannot sign an end of conflict agreement, become unconditionally demilitarized, and recognize a Jewish state next to their Arab state, the way forward may be the less ambitious but more realistic paths of trying for Palestinian economic improvement, the true end of incitement, with the introduction of freedom the press to plant a solid foundation for an eventual Palestinian state.
It is seductive to believe that a Saudi sponsored peace deal would be the best path forward, but they have no way of securing it and their interests as well as those of Egypt and the UAE would be undermined by the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Hamas in a new Palestinian state.
An honest assessment demands acknowledgment that a Palestinian state today will likely bring Hamas to power tomorrow, so don’t ask Israel to cede territory, unless you can explain what you are going to do to the avert a catastrophe that everyone can see will ensue, unless very strong measures are in place to prevent it.
American and Israeli national security interests in the Middle East demand it.
The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy advisors on the Middle East. He is a contributor to The Jerusalem Post, i24TV, The Hill, and The Forward.