Jerusalem Issue Brief
Institute for Contemporary Affairs founded jointly at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs with the Wechsler Family Foundation Vol. 7, No. 5 24 June 2007
* With the total collapse of Fatah in Gaza and the territory’s takeover by Hamas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been giving serious consideration to the deployment of international forces in the Gaza Strip generally, and more specifically in the sensitive Philadelphi Corridor separating Gaza from Egyptian Sinai. * A deeper look reveals that the international-forces idea is very dangerous with potentially grave results for Israel. Prof. Yehezkel Dror, a member of the Winograd Commission investigating the Second Lebanon War, asked Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni “hypothetically” what future historians would say about an international force that hindered Israel in operating against Hizbullah and would set a precedent for an international force in the Palestinian territories. * What Dror seemed to suggest was that the international-forces idea marked a sharp departure from the widely admired principle that Israel does not rely on foreigners for its defense and only wants to be able to handle it alone. This doctrine yielded massive U.S. military assistance and political backing for Israel. Once Israel changes its approach and starts asking for foreign troops to defend all its borders, the perception of Israel may well also change – from asset to burden. * Whereas the Europeans now identify Israeli-imposed movement restrictions on the Palestinians as the key problem, the Israeli view is the opposite: it is not the lack of free movement that is causing terror, but terror that is creating the need for inspections that limit movement. * Once Israel formally asks the Europeans to send troops to Gaza, they will not do so free of charge. They will probably prefer to send their troops to the West Bank instead of Gaza as a way of imposing their positions on Israel – not only regarding the checkpoints but also regarding other Israeli security requirements such as the separation fence.
Israel Studies the Impact of International Deployment
With the total collapse of Fatah in Gaza and the territory’s takeover by Hamas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been giving serious consideration to the deployment of international forces in the Gaza Strip generally, and more specifically in the sensitive Philadelphi Corridor separating Gaza from Egyptian Sinai. This narrow border zone has been the main route through which Hamas and other terrorist organizations have smuggled vast amounts of weaponry and trained operatives into Gaza over the past several years.
In his testimony to the Winograd Commission, Olmert said he had asked the head of the National Security Council to study the issue of international forces.1 He did not go into further detail but presumably was not only referring to Lebanon, or only to Gaza, but to all the territories – including the West Bank in particular and possibly even the Golan as well.2 Indeed, soon after the upgrading of UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, Olmert’s coalition ally, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, raised the idea of sending NATO forces to Gaza.
European sources confirmed to the author3 that Israel also looked into the prospects of international forces in the West Bank, but Europe shelved the idea because it has no enthusiasm to send troops either to Gaza or the West Bank. However, Javier Solana, the European Union’s high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, stated in an address to the European Parliament on June 6, 2007, that stationing an international-observer force in Gaza is now a possibility, although Egypt “will find it difficult to accept.” Solana said that for the first time after many years the notion of international forces “is not unreasonable.”4 Israel, the Palestinians, and Egypt are considering the option.
With the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the idea of international forces might sound good to many Israelis. Why should Israeli soldiers die in Gaza if European troops are ready to do so instead? Italy and Spain have already volunteered to send troops to Gaza, though they did not push the idea too ardently.
Not only Lieberman but also two MKs of the Meretz Party, Avshalom Vilan and Zehava Gal’on, have prepared a detailed plan centering on the dispatch of international forces to Gaza and inviting the Arab League to take Gaza under its auspices.5 Attorney Ram Caspi, who is close to Kadima leaders and to Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, portrayed a scenario in which Israel would choke Gaza economically so as to force the international community to take responsibility for the Strip, including international forces.6
Although in Israel the idea is being raised only in connection to Gaza, among the Palestinians the idea is being debated as a whole, the West Bank included. Dr. Ahmad Yusuf, adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, suggested sending inter-Arab troops as a wedge between Hamas and Fatah fighters. Fatah’s former Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmad, however, rejected this and suggested that international forces, once dispatched, be stationed on the borders between the Palestinian Authority and Israel rather than within the PA territories.7 Former Palestinian Information Minister Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Mubadara Party, rejected the Meretz MKs’ idea on the ground that it conflicted with the notion of a Palestinian state.8
Will Multinational Forces Hinder IDF Operations?
In any case, a deeper look reveals that the international-forces idea is very dangerous with potentially grave results for Israel.
During Olmert’s testimony to the Winograd Commission investigating the Second Lebanon War, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, a member of the commission, hinted at reservations about the idea: “One question about [UN Security Council Resolution] 1701 [is that] a precedent is set of Israel substantially relying for its security needs on a multinational force that has advantages or disadvantages and one cannot tell how it might develop. We found no thorough and genuine discussion on the subject.”9 Dror further pursued this line during the testimony of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. He asked her “hypothetically” what future historians would say about an international force that hindered Israel in operating against Hizbullah and would set a precedent for an international force in the Palestinian territories as a “solution” that was not to Israel’s satisfaction.10
What Dror seemed to suggest was that no adequate, in-depth discussions had been held on altering Israeli doctrines, and that the international-forces idea marked a sharp departure from the widely admired principle that Israel does not rely on foreigners for its defense and only wants to be able to handle it alone. That is, Israel only demanded recognition of its right to self-defense. This doctrine yielded massive U.S. military assistance and political backing for Israel. Israel was perceived by and large as an asset to the free world and a strategic ally of the United States. Once Israel changes its approach and starts asking for foreign troops to defend all its borders, the perception of Israel may well also change – from asset to burden. Not only will Washington reevaluate its relationship with Israel, but the European countries may begin a policy of coercing Israel to adopt the European positions in the dispute with the Palestinians.
The main point of contention between European perceptions and Israeli perceptions concerns the cause of the problem. Whereas the Europeans now identify Israeli-imposed movement restrictions on the Palestinians as the key problem, Israel sees it as the Palestinian terror assault and justifies the regime of barriers and checkpoints as a necessity response. Both the latest World Bank report on the PA’s economic deterioration and the U.S. “benchmarks paper” also point to the barriers and checkpoints as a major hindrance to the “peace process” and the viability of the Palestinian economy. Again, the Israeli view is the opposite: it is not the lack of free movement that is causing terror, but terror that is creating the need for inspections that limit people’s movement.
It is also an argument over what comes first. The Europeans say peace enables security; Israel says security enables peace.
Europeans May Prefer Stationing Troops in West Bank
Once Israel formally asks the Europeans to send troops to Gaza, they will not do so free of charge. They will probably prefer to send their troops to the West Bank instead of Gaza as a way of imposing their positions on Israel – not only regarding the checkpoints regime but also regarding other Israeli security requirements such as the separation fence. The collapse of Israel’s security strategy could well have disastrous consequences for Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan alike.
An indication that sending EU troops to Gaza will be conditioned on sending them to the West Bank was implied in a statement by Fatah spokesman Jamal Nazza during an interview with German TV Channel 3 on 31 May 2007, as quoted by the Dunia Watan agency of Gaza: “The idea… is Arafat’s – to create an international monitoring mechanism for the… occupation and to protect the Palestinians from the Israeli aggression…. As for Fatah, its guiding principle is that Gaza and the West Bank are one entity, and if the spread of international forces is part of a peace agreement with Israel, the issue is worth studying and the Palestinians will not reject an international monitor of the occupation’s behavior.”11
Whoever needs proof that Europe is likely to demand stationing its troops in the PA territories can find it in a June 2007 a.m.nesty International report on human rights violations in the PA.12 The report fully endorses the notion that Israel’s checkpoints system is the root of all evil, but what is important here is the operative recommendation to “Deploy an effective international human rights monitoring mechanism across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to monitor the compliance of each party [Israel and the PA]13 with its respective obligations under international law; report publicly; and recommend corrective measures to be adopted by the parties, other countries or international organizations.”14 In essence, a hasty and undeliberated Israeli decision to invite international forces to the PA territories may lead to the total collapse of the Israel security doctrine and the protections against terror for Israel, Jordan, and – as the latest Gaza events proved – for the Palestinians themselves.
Dangers of a “Safe Passage” Corridor Linking Gaza and the West Bank
The checkpoints within the West Bank are arguably a legitimate issue. They indeed create an onerous burden on the Palestinians and should be constantly examined. The problem arises with the “safe passage” plan that gives the Palestinians an extraterritorial corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, far from Israeli security control and out of reach of Israeli sovereignty. No similar example exists of a country willingly yielding an extraterritorial corridor to another party, let alone an enemy, let alone for free. In this special case the proposed corridor risks cutting off the Negev Desert from the rest of Israel. And since it would pass through sovereign Israeli territory, it could inspire the renewal of Palestinian claims for the 1947 partition-plan borders.
Contrary to the expectations of Oslo’s architects in 1993, Gaza did not develop into a peace-loving entity with flourishing economic activity that needed border crossings and a passage to the West Bank to maintain its economic growth; instead it turned into another center of global jihad.15 It does not require a vivid imagination to understand that once the Palestinians have free movement in the West Bank and a safe passage from Gaza to the West Bank, al-Qaeda will soon establish itself along the axis that stretches from Sinai through Gaza to Ramallah, posing existential threats to the Palestinians, Israel, and Jordan combined.
Egypt appears to understand far better than Israel the regional dangers inherent in sending Europeans troops to the PA territories. The head of the Egyptian security delegation in Gaza, that has now moved to Ramallah, Gen. Burhan Hamad, told reporters: “The Israeli request to have international forces deployed along the borders between Gaza and Egypt is sheer nonsense. There are peace agreements and no way Egypt will accept those forces, and there is no need either.this will not happen.” As for the idea of stationing NATO or Arab League forces in Gaza, he said: “I am against any [foreign] control of the liberated land.”16
There are real concerns that Christian troops, as part of international forces, may attract al-Qaeda elements from Sinai and within Gaza to operate against them. In the case of the UNIFIL forces in Lebanon, the al-Qaeda group Fatah al-Islam has already threatened them.17
The Precedent of International Forces in Southern Lebanon
To what extent did Olmert’s decision to approve a ground attack in the final stages of the Second Lebanon War derive from the aim of encouraging a UN decision to send international forces? Israeli security sources told this writer that Israel was disturbed by the international insistence on sending forces only in the framework of UNIFIL, strictly within Lebanese parameters.18 The sources said Israel demanded a force that would be well outside the UNIFIL mandate. Resolution 1701 on an upgraded UNIFIL force was a compromise between Israeli insistence and international reluctance.
Ofer Shelah and Yoav Limor, in their new book Prisoners in Lebanon,19 quote a protocol of a discussion between then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz and then-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz20 in which Peretz said: “The war effort ended. The talk now is about a multinational force. But it will not enter the territory unless we are there. [So] we have to take control on the ground in southern Lebanon.” In other words, IDF soldiers were not sent to the battlefield to win the war but to give the international forces the pretext to enter.
“What the dispute was all about,” Olmert said to the Winograd Commission, “was that we do not leave when a ceasefire is reached but only when the international forces enter. There is no vacuum…. This was not achieved before the 11th of July and this operation [the final ground attack] saved [us].”21
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1. Olmert testimony to Winograd Commission, p. 53. 2. The testimony of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni revealed that the National Security Council supported the idea of international forces in places other than Lebanon. Livni testimony to Winograd Commission, p. 21. It is not clear whether this position only applied to Gaza or to the West Bank as well. 3. Meeting in Tel Aviv, 27 May 2007. 4. See note 15. 5. Ha’aretz, 30 May 2007. MK Vilan added to Israeli Radio on 31 May 2007 that international forces in Gaza might bolster Gaza’s economy. http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/pages/ShArtPE.jhtml?itemNo=864926&contra ssID=2&subContrassID=21&sbSubContrassI=0 6. Globes, 15 May 2007. 7. Kyodo News, 26 May 2007. 8. Ma’an news agency, 31 May 2007. http://www.maannews.net/ar/index.php?opr=ShowDetails&ID=69588 The Palestinian government formally rejected the Meretz initiative, stating that it was an Israeli attempt to provoke disputes between the Arabs and the Palestinians and evade its obligations according to the Arab Peace Initiative. Sama news agency, 30 May 2007. 9. Olmert testimony to Winograd Commission, p. 51. 10. Livni testimony to Winograd Commission, p. 2. Livni argued with Dror, saying: “You speak about a precedent… for other areas and there is some hidden assumption that this is bad for Israel. I suggest that we leave it for now for further study.” p. 3. 11. Interview with German TV Channel 3, 31 May 2007, as quoted by Dunia Watan agency of Gaza. 12. “Enduring Occupation: Palestinians Under Siege in the West Bank,” June 2007. http://www.amnesty.org/resources/pdf/Israelreport.pdf 13. The PA was asked to “Take effective measures to prevent attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian armed groups and bring to justice those responsible for such attacks,” ibid., p. 45. 14. Ibid. 15. As Colonel Jibril Rajub, a senior PA security authority, described it: “We wanted Gaza to become another Singapore, but it turned into another Mogadishu.” Lecture together with Minister Gideon Ezra, Ambassador Hotel, Jerusalem, 30 May 2007. 16. Al-Quds, 3 June 2007. Solana, in his address to the European Parliament, expected Egypt to have trouble with this proposal because it might cast doubt on its effective control of the Egyptian side of the border. 17. Al-Quds al-Arabi, 4 May 2007. http://www.alquds.co.uk 18. In a private meeting during the war. 19. Tel Aviv, 2007, 437 pp. [Hebrew] 20. Ibid., p. 207. 21. Olmert testimony to Winograd Commission, p. 75.
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Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently reports for several foreign media outlets. He is the author of a number of books on the Palestinians including The Palestinians: Between Terrorism and Statehood.