Commentary Magazine


Drafting Diplomatic Alternatives for Israel

The one-day-old Israel Security Council, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, seeks to fill a crucial gap in Israeli public discourse by crafting alternatives to accepted diplomatic dogmas.

JCPA chief Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained to reporters that Israel’s biggest international-relations problem is its inability to articulate what it actually wants. Any Palestinian Authority official can recite his goals: a Palestinian state, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem. But “if someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

What Gold didn’t mention, but is equally true, is that the same problem plagues Israel’s internal discourse. Virtually the only Israeli who ever articulated a clear diplomatic vision is the left-wing Yossi Beilin. And this remains the left’s best argument against the center-right. Whenever someone points out the Beilinite vision’s dangers, leftist politicians retort: “So what’s your solution?” And since center-right politicians have no real answer, they wind up adopting Beilinesque solutions once in office.

Granted, a “solution” shouldn’t be necessary. In real life, not all problems have instant solutions, and Israeli politicians should be capable of saying so — just as successive American presidents acknowledged that there was no instant solution to the Soviet problem, so the free world simply had to hold the line against Communist expansion until a solution became possible. This has the great advantage of being true: until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, no diplomatic solution will be possible.

But Israeli politicians have never succeeded in making this argument. Thus Gold and his colleagues, who represent a broad center-right spectrum, are wise to seek to craft an alternative vision.

The council’s second vital goal is to restore security, and especially Israel’s need for defensible borders, to the center of the diplomatic discourse. At a JPCA symposium on Israel’s security needs earlier this year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a council member, noted that contrary to accepted dogma, high-trajectory weapons make defensible borders more important, not less.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrated one reason. The Israel Air Force destroyed all of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range missiles the first day, because these missiles are easier for intelligence to detect. But short-range missiles are almost impossible to detect and destroy by air; the only solution is to keep them out of range by physically occupying territory. That’s why Israel is currently unwilling to leave the West Bank, which is in rocket range of all its major cities.

But Dayan also cited another reason: Israel’s small population means a small standing army, so its defense depends on the reserves. But rocket fire could disrupt their mobilization, requiring the standing army to fight for longer before they arrive. Moreover, the air force might be too busy with the missile threat to help. Both factors make strategic depth critical.

If the council succeeds in changing the diplomatic discourse on these issues, it will make an invaluable contribution to Israel’s future. So wish it luck.

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