8th Annual International Conference: Israel in a Turbulent Region
INSS held its 8th international conference in the annual conference series “Security Challenges of the 21st Century” on February 16-17, 2015, at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. This year’s conference, which focused on “Israel in a Turbulent Region,” included policy recommendations for Israel’s next government. Many leading political and security officials from Israel and abroad spoke at the conference.
Opening night of the conference -
Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin
Hon. Philip Gordon
The INSS Annual Conference: Main Insights
On February 15-17, 2015, the Institute for National Security Studies hosted its annual conference. This year, the conference dealt with Israel in times of turmoil, with particular focus on the key challenges that await the new government elected in March 2015.
President Reuven Rivlin opened the conference, stressing the important role played by INSS in the public discourse on national security issues, providing unbiased strategic assessments to the political echelon. The President also called upon prime ministerial candidates to discuss the truly important topics during the election campaign, including the country’s economic situation, security risks, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the treatment of minorities, saying that “the Israeli public is looking for a new horizon, for hope. It wants to hear solutions. It longs for a leadership motivated by values and content, one that is capable of making decisions.
Israel in a Tumultuous Region
The ramifications of regional turmoil and the constant changes in the Middle East – uncertainty, the weakening of states, the rise of semi- and non-state entities, most of which are rogue and favor an extreme jihadist ideology, and the changing rules of the game and the changing borders – make the threats faced by Israel much more complex. It is necessary to formulate a new political-security approach to handle the broad range of actors motivated by different rationales and who are independent of state infrastructures. Ironically, the processes of dissolution of previous structures and frameworks and the changes in agents of influence produce opportunities for Israel to build new partnerships, even alliances, in the region. However, Israel is finding it difficult to take advantage of these opportunities in the absence of any progress in the political process with the Palestinians.
Since the eruption of the Arab Spring, Israel’s Middle East foreign policy has consisted of being an uninvolved spectator, careful not to get dragged into the dynamics of conflict and strife. But during the past year some events have trickled across the border into Israel proper. In light of these developments, INSS proposes that Israel take a proactive stance, based not only on intelligence and military efforts but also on an interdisciplinary view: using soft power and smart force extensively, building means of influence, exploiting technologies and new media, and looking for opportunities for regional cooperation.
The regional threats will not wait for Israel’s post-election political system to settle down. In the very near future, Israel will have to confront the agreement being formulated with Iran, an agreement Israel views as less than optimal, to say the least; the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is deteriorating due to Israel’s refusal to transfer the taxes designated for the PA, and the consequences of Operation Protective Edge; the radical Shiite axis – Iran and Hizbollah – is entrenching itself in the Golan Heights and southwest Syria, and Israel will have to conduct a new deterrence equation vis-à-vis Hizbollah; finally, the implications of the international campaign against ISIS for the regional balance of power are indeed a cause of concern for all countries in the area.
The world powers led by the United States (P5+1) are rapidly advancing toward an agreement with Iran, which will provide it with the legitimacy of becoming a nuclear threshold nation capable of deciding to break out toward a bomb within the span of a year. Even worse, the world powers are allowing Iran, under the rubric of fighting ISIS, to extend its reach in the region, build strongholds and outposts directly subordinate to it, consolidate is influence in the Golan Heights via Hizbollah, and for the first time, position Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Forces on the visible horizon. In the words of Defense Minister Ya’alon: “ISIS is a passing phenomenon, but Iran is here to stay.”
Two competing narratives were presented at the conference:
1. One the one hand, Defense Minister Ya’alon stressed that the probability of Israel reaching a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians is very low. The positions currently seem virtually unbridgeable, and therefore Israel must focus on managing the conflict. Former US Ambassador Martin Indyk reported on the failed negotiations in the first half of 2014 and said that the minimum that Abbas demanded was much more than Netanyahu was prepared to offer. The Palestinians chose to turn their backs on negotiations and have moved their activities to the international and legal arenas. This further exacerbates the distrust and makes it difficult to find a formula for renewing the process.
2. On the other hand, it was also said that Israel has a vital strategic interest in advancing the political process with the Palestinians in order to restore international credit to Israel, create new options for resolving the crisis, and generate the conditions for forging closer relations with the pragmatic Arab world and promoting regional partnerships.
Despite the difficulties inherent in attaining a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians and the fundamental gaps en route to a two-state solution, there is no substitute for the two-state concept, even if it is not fully realized. The alternatives – the single state solution or the binational state – are unacceptable to the vast majority (over 80 percent) of Israelis and cannot be implemented because of the unfortunate relations between Israelis and Palestinians, not to mention the expected international pressure on Israel should it try to become a single state without equal rights for all its citizens. Moreover, continuing the status quo will lead to a binational reality destructive to Israel, and there are already worrisome delegitimization trends on the international arena. A continued deadlock after the election will force Israel to battle the Palestinians in international forums, where the latter enjoy an automatic majority. In addition, Security Council members are liable to propose an outline for resolving the conflict, an undesirable move from the Israeli perspective.There are internal and external forces working to dissolve the Palestinian Authority; the collapse of the PA would mean that Israel would have to assume responsibility for 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. As for the Gaza Strip, given the pressure cooker expected to boil over again, the Defense Minister stated that no one wants to take responsibility for it. This means that Israel could face a situation in which it would also have to assume responsibility for 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. This is more than undesirable: such a reality would be destructive to Israel.
After the parliamentary elections, Israel will have to present a political program built on several channels directed at the two-state goal. The channels would include: transition agreements, the Roadmap, independent steps, a settlement on the basis of regional participation, and leaving the road open to a negotiated settlement. The idea is to move toward the goal along whatever route – or, more important, parallel routes – that happens, or happen, to be open at any given time. The conference presented the political program developed by INSS, which provides appropriate security solutions along all channels. If the new Israeli government demonstrates a true desire to promote the political process, it will find partners in the United States, Egypt, Jordan, and probably also in the pragmatic Arab nations, currently more willing than ever before to conduct strategic relations with Israel.
Remarks by Author Amos Oz
"If there isn’t a two-state solution soon, it is very possible that in order to delay the establishment of an Arab state from the sea to Jordan, there will temporarily rise a dictatorship of fanatical Jews, a dictatorship with religious and racists traits, a dictatorship that will oppress with an iron fist both the Arabs and its Jewish objectors. Such a dictatorship will not last long. Nearly no dictatorship of minority oppressing those of the majority has lasted long in this new era. Even at the end of this road, a dictatorship of a Jewish minority over an Arab majority, even at the end of this road, lies an Arab state, from the sea to Jordan, and perhaps even an international boycott, or a bloodbath, or both these punishments together."
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have all sorts of wise guys here, perhaps even in his very hall who tell us over and over again that there is no solution to the conflict, and therefore they preach the concept of “managing the conflict”. Perhaps it is worthwhile to turn their attention the fact that “managing the conflict” will look exactly like last summer. “Managing the conflict,” means, in fact, a continuum of the Second Lebanon War and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. A continuum of the Operation Cast Lead, and Pillar of Defense. and Protective Edge; and crossbows at the ready and iron boots and beatings. And perhaps also an intifada or two in Jerusalem and in the territories until the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the rise of Hamas, or an even more extreme and more fanatical faction than Hamas. This, in my eyes, is the meaning of “managing the conflict.”
Israel has no substitute for its strategic alliance with the United States. Israel depends on the United States in many ways: security (aid, the qualitative edge, the image of deterrence), economic, international status, and regional status. The current crisis in the relationship stems from clashing situational interests: how to keep nuclear capabilities out of Iranian hands; how to curb Iran’s growing influence in the region given the fight against ISIS; how to promote the process in the Palestinian arena; the need to help consolidate el-Sisi’s regime in Egypt; and the ramifications of the military buildup of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Political statements made in Israel do not help foster understandings between Israel and the Obama administration on the question of how best to handle disagreements and strengthen the underlying basic, value-laden interests forming the foundation for the strategic alliance. The way in which the Prime Minister’s invitation to address both houses of the US Congress was handled is liable to lead to a loss of the current consensus of the Republicans and Democrats over support for Israel.
There have been tensions between Israel and the United States in the past, but the open nature of current public debates is worrisome and makes it more difficult to settle differences of opinion. Furthermore, it is important to note that all the assertions that the US has decided to step away from the Middle East, made with great intensity in light of the current crisis, are simply wrong: the United States was and remains the leading world power in the region.
Despite the huge effort made since 1967 to preserve the Jewish identity of Jerusalem, the reality is that the effort has failed. The Jewish majority is fading; by 2020, the city’s population on Jerusalem municipal land can be expected to include fewer than 60 percent Jews. After the Oslo Accords and the construction of the security fence, the status of Jerusalem as a metropolis of the Arab residents collapsed, as most of the private sector moved to Ramallah. The Arab population in Jerusalem is busy trying to survive. After 48 years of neglect, the worthy efforts of the Jerusalem Municipality to rehabilitate East Jerusalem, led by Mayor Nir Barkat, are a drop in the ocean. Rehabilitation of East Jerusalem must be a national priority because the task is beyond the capability of the city alone. Improvements to the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem are a vested Israeli interest, both in the current climate and in a reality of a negotiated settlement.
The dire socioeconomic situation in East Jerusalem is the powder keg that lay behind the wave of violence Jerusalem experienced in the summer of 2014. The violence of Jews against Arabs, the takeover of Arab homes and Jewish settlement in the heart of Arab neighborhoods, and the tensions on the Temple Mount are all potential fuses liable to detonate the city.
Gaps in Israeli Society
The conference also dealt with gaps and cracks in Israeli society threatening its stability in both the short and long term, including: the disparities between those opposed to the two-state solution and those seeking to separate from the Palestinians; the split between Jewish and Arab citizens and struggles over rights, identities, and the equality principle; the growing gap between the center and the periphery; the gaps between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular; the lack of equal opportunities for women, and the importance of having women in key positions to reduce tensions and improve the future of the country. While these issues do not lie directly in the heart of national security, their resolution is critical, a prerequisite for Israel’s ability to attain the stability it needs as it looks ahead to the regional challenges it will have to face.