…in any peace agreement, the Palestinian area must be demilitarized. No army, no control of air space. Real effective measures to prevent arms coming in, not what’s going on now in Gaza. Israel must govern its own fate and security. (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 14, 2009)[1]

We said that Palestine will be an independent state, with limited militarization but not limited dignity, and it will have sovereignty and full control over its land, air space and regional water. (Former Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, June 15, 2008)[2]

Security is one of the four core issues, along with borders/settlements, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem, that will have to be resolved to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The following addresses only the security issue, and does so based on the hypothesis that a two-state solution--Israel and a new state of Palestine--is the objective of both sides. It also suggests that an international force could serve the security needs of both parties and be an essential part of a peace deal.

The fundamental positions of the Israelis and Palestinians are clear and understandable. Israel wants to be certain that, after occupation ends and a Palestinian state is created, Israeli security will not be degraded. Palestinians want to ensure that, when they are free of occupation and no longer may act only with the agreement of Israel, Palestine will be an independent and sovereign country with control of its national territory.

Israel is the superpower of its region. It has the full array of weaponry and capabilities, including cruise missile capable submarines, highly advanced aircraft, ballistic missiles and missile defense, reconnaissance and intelligence satellites, advanced tanks, and also nuclear weapons. Israel has highly trained and capable personnel, sophisticated leadership and excellent intelligence capabilities. The country prepares for threats across the entire spectrum, from weapons of mass destruction to terrorism. Israel gains many security advantages from its occupation of the Palestinian territories, though there are also costs. In past negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel has focused on how to retain or make up for those advantages that could be lost or affected when a Palestinian state is created.

Israelis are concerned about two kinds of national security issues in the context of an independent Palestine. The first is “outside threats,” that is, a degradation in the ability to deal with potential threats arising from outside the new state of Palestine. The concern here is about the loss of strategic depth and forward deployment resulting from any IDF withdrawals from the West Bank and the loss of early warning stations to provide additional time in case of attack from the east, both by land and from stand-off weapons including ballistic missiles. The second issue is “inside threats,” that is, degradation in the ability to deal with potential threats arising from within the new Palestine. The concern here is whether Palestine could be trusted and would have the capacity to meet its obligations to ensure that no actions in its territory threaten Israel. Some Israelis believe that loss of freedom of action to use Palestinian airspace or the electromagnetic spectrum (e.g., radar, radio) would affect both inside and outside threats.

Occupation enables Israel to deal with both kinds of threats even while occupation itself exacerbates both threats. Israel has high tech early warning sites and sizeable IDF deployments in the West Bank, including in the Jordan Valley along the border with Jordan, with which it has a peace treaty. Israel has unfettered use of the electromagnetic spectrum and airspace for surveillance, training and reconnaissance, both within occupied territory and beyond. Israel controls all entry into and exit from the West Bank and uses the IDF and military law of occupation to control the Palestinian population.  

After a peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state, this freedom of action to carry out these deployments and activities would disappear. To make up for this loss Israel has proposed specific rights and arrangements for itself in the new Palestine.

Regarding outside threats, given its geo-strategic position Israel’s security concept includes the principles of deterrence and preemption, which call for wars to be fought on the territory of the adversary. Consistent with this concept, and to have a trial period to test Palestinian performance, Israeli negotiators have demanded extended transition periods after a peace deal during which the IDF would continue to be a major presence in the Jordan Valley, continue to operate a number of early warning stations in Palestine and retain rights to redeploy the IDF eastward into and across Palestine in case of emergency, the latter perhaps in perpetuity. The IAF would have the right to use Palestinian airspace both for training and operations. On an important technical matter, Israel would have major rights regarding use and control of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Regarding inside threats, Israel has insisted on a nonmilitarized Palestine with strictly limited weapons and security formations directed only at internal security and policing, clear Palestinian commitments to ensure that no threats could arise from its territory and assurances that Palestine would not make treaties or commitments that could be inimical to Israeli security. The continued IDF presence in Palestine during the demanded extended transition period could also be brought to bear on inside threats. 

The Palestinian response has been to insist on full sovereignty for their state, but they have acknowledged Israeli security concerns and made counterproposals. The Palestinian objective is to get a real state with no Israeli presence or ongoing rights reminiscent of occupation. Palestinian experience with the occupation does not give them confidence that Israel, if it had ongoing presence or rights in Palestine, would be sensitive to the new situation of a sovereign state. The Palestinians have also told the Israelis and the United States that a protracted IDF presence in Palestine after a peace treaty could jeopardize the peaceful implementation of the agreement and would create a continued source of friction.

On the inside threat issue, the Palestinians have said that they would accept a nonmilitarized state with no army or air force, very limited armaments and security forces that would be tasked strictly with internal and border security. The Palestinians also have accepted their responsibility to ensure that no threats to Israel should arise from their country and that they may not enter into any inimical treaties or commitments. Relevant provisions already exist in Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, especially elaborated in the latter. Palestine doubtless would accept the same.

On the outside threat issue, the Palestinians have counter-proposed a shortened transition period with no extended deployment of IDF forces in the Jordan Valley, no Israeli-staffed early warning stations and no rights for Israeli redeployment into and across Palestine. On airspace, Palestinians have indicated that standard international rules could apply for civil aircraft and that some type of coordination and permission system could be arranged for military needs. Electromagnetic spectrum use could also be governed under standard international rules and by special bilateral arrangements that would accommodate Israeli needs but not disadvantage Palestinian usage.

An International Force?

To counter Israeli demands for IDF continued presence and operations in the new state of Palestine, the Palestinians have proposed the deployment of an international force in their country, particularly in the Jordan Valley and to operate early warning stations on Palestinian high ground. A third party would also be invited to help Palestine build the policing and internal security capacity to ensure Palestine’s internal security and to enable it to meet its corresponding commitment to Israel.

The deployed international force could be given a specific robust mandate to verify and ensure agreement compliance, border security and infiltration prevention and to operate the early warning stations. It would need to have interdiction capabilities and authority. This would not be just a monitoring mission. It could feature strong U.S. leadership and participation and a NATO imprimatur and participation, and a “blessing” of the UN Security Council. Israel could be included in a formal liaison system that would have continuous presence of IDF and officers of the international force. This liaison system would ensure full and timely knowledge by Israeli officials of any events and provide rapid ability to resolve questions and problems. The international force would be deployed only in Palestine but would provide security assurances to both countries.

Experience, models and various ideas already exist on what an international force and mandate could look like. The United States Security Coordinator (USSC), established in 2005 and composed of Americans and security experts and partners from eight other countries, has an excellent record of helping build Palestinian capacity for internal security and in building trust and confidence between the Palestinians and Israel. An independent study group headed by Geoffrey Aronson and Philip Dermer affiliated with the Stimson Center has developed a concept for an independent monitoring and verification organization. Dermer and Steven White have addressed the security conundrum in Pathways to Peace.[3] The experience of the Egypt-Israel peacekeeping operation, the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), could be instructional, in particular because the parties themselves prepared the mandate and appoint the director general, who is answerable to them, and because they established and ensure the functioning of the liaison system, all with strong American involvement. And, the Geneva Accord, a Track II joint Palestinian-Israeli project, has developed a detailed security plan for a two-state arrangement.

Of particular relevance may be the study and recommendations prepared by General James Jones under a mandate in 2007 from then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Jones reportedly was charged to consult with the Palestinian and Israeli authorities, conduct assessments of existing missions and design plans for security both within Palestine and between Israel and Palestine. The results of this project, still not released to the public, reportedly did set out security requirements for Israel and Palestine in a two-state agreement, including an international force. President Abbas has said that his proposals to Prime Minister Olmert during their 2008 negotiations were based on Jones’ conclusions and that Olmert had agreed. Both have subsequently said that, though nothing was formalized or signed, they had agreed on security arrangements in a peace deal, arrangements that included a strong third party role on the ground in Palestine‑‑specifically mentioned was a U.S.-commanded NATO force.[4]

The work undertaken by General Jones has now been renewed. On May 23, 2013, Secretary of State Kerry announced in Jerusalem that General John Allen “was here on the ground working with his counterparts on the issue of security.”[5] Kerry’s staff later told the press that Allen had been appointed special advisor on security issues related to peace efforts by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in coordination with Kerry.[6]

There are several reasons why the Olmert-Abbas negotiations came to nothing. Facing corruption charges in 2008, Olmert became a lame duck by the end of that July and was forced from office in February 2009. Additional burdens were the Gaza-West Bank Palestinian split and the fact that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s positions were at odds with those of her prime minister. Neither Olmert nor Abbas presented their conclusions to their publics at the time so  how this might have played out in the publics is an open question.

Regardless of what happened in 2008, the third party question could be difficult in future negotiations. During that same period in 2008, Foreign Minister Livni and IAF General (Ret.) Udi Dekel protested strongly to Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat and Ahmed Qurei against a third-party presence in Palestine. Dekel reportedly rejected the idea of any international force and asserted that it would not be foreigners who would protect Israelis. This opposition possibly was based on a fear that international forces would not have the necessary freedom of action or ability to deter and preempt potential problems that the IDF would have. Dekel also may have been apprehensive that Israeli officials could be marginalized if, as peace agreement implementation issues arose, the third party tended to align more with the Palestinians than with Israel. Tasking, technology and distribution of results could be issues in third-party operation of early warning stations. And, even though the proposal involved NATO and not the UN, long-standing Israeli dissatisfaction with UN mandates and operations also may also have been a part of Israeli opposition.

The part of Israel’s founding and continuing narrative that Israel has had to and must always rely solely on itself for its security could fuel ongoing opposition to a third-party role. The principle is that the country must not put its security, its national survival, in the hands of others; Israel will defend itself by itself. This objective is normal and desirable, yet security alliances and relationships also are normal. In Israel’s case, the military, political and financial arrangements with the United States are vital. Reflecting the “by itself” narrative is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s March 5, 2012 reference during a speech in Washington to the American decision not to bomb Auschwitz, adding that things are different now with “a state of our own.”[7] Likewise, President Eisenhower’s strong pressure on Israel to vacate the Sinai in 1956 is not forgotten. In August 2012, in Kerem Shalom after the terrorist attack that penetrated into Israel from Egypt, Netanyahu again underlined that only Israel could and would continue to defend itself. And Netanyahu frequently repeated this theme during the March 20, 2013 press conference with President Obama in Jerusalem. On May 1, 2013, Netanyahu told a meeting of senior foreign ministry officials in Jerusalem that in a peace agreement with the Palestinians “Only the IDF could provide Israel with the security it needs. Not even an international peacekeeping force would suffice in that regard as a peace agreement doesn’t necessarily bring security.”[8]

Another potential barrier to Israeli acceptance of a third-party role is the nature of Israeli psychology that has developed since the occupation began in 1967. Israel as occupier rules the West Bank under its military law and may work its will there subject only to this law and to its own ethical and moral strictures. Outsiders, including the United States, have had very limited impact on what Israel does in the West Bank, with Israel justifying its actions as essential to its national security and the safety of its citizens. Changing this freedom of action situation to one in which Israel would have limited rights in Palestine, or none at all, or a situation in which Palestine and a third party there as part of the peace deal might not always be responsive to Israel’s concerns, are very difficult for many Israelis to accept. This is all the more true given that Palestinian independence and the subsequent Palestinian international standing and agreements will be irreversible. But it must also be said that the occupation has costs for Israel‑‑social, economic and political, both foreign and domestic. Most significant, perhaps, is the corrupting effect of illicit flows of Israeli government funds to non-approved settlement activity, ongoing violations of domestic and international law including illegal seizures of Palestinian land, and the negative impact of excessive occupation practices on the occupying soldiers, to say nothing of the impact on Palestinians. International frustration and disapproval continue to grow, including attacks on Israel’s legitimacy.

To gain additional insight into Israeli thinking on its security requirements in a two-state agreement, it is useful to note that Israel does not issue periodically a single document that establishes doctrine, such as the American Quadrennial Defense Review. Only fairly recently has Israel established a structured process within the government to analyze requirements and develop doctrine. The security establishment of Israel has tended toward the view that Israel exists in a dynamic environment and that formal doctrine could inhibit flexibility and would not be useful. According to Shay Shabtai and other Israeli researchers, doctrine was first broadly articulated in October 1953 when Prime Minister Ben Gurion set out the Israeli national security approach in five points: ensure a qualitative edge; develop a nuclear deterrent; establish special relations with a major world power; maintain economic and technological superiority; and build Israel’s resilience through immigration and close relations with the diaspora. In operational terms, deterrence and preemption were the guidelines, as noted above.

These points and guidelines were based on the conviction that the Arabs were bent on Israel’s destruction and that to survive the country had repeatedly to demonstrate its will, readiness and capability to fight, using disproportionate force as necessary to ensure that the message was received. (The moderates, led by Moshe Sharett, preferred to work for a climate that could encourage peaceful accommodation, but they had lost the argument.) Israel’s small size, the lack of strategic depth and very small Jewish population (ca. 660,000) compared to its Arab adversaries (ca. 20 million in Egypt alone) were also important considerations.

The victories of the 1967 war with the occupation of the Golan Heights, the Sinai and the West Bank provided strategic depth, and the concept of defensible borders was added to this doctrinal package. There has been no thoroughgoing re-evaluation of this package as technology has changed, the occupation of the West Bank has continued, and settlements have been expanded both in size and number. In particular, no acknowledgement has been made that the acquisition of tactical and even strategic missiles by adversaries has reduced the value of holding territory. This is important because failing to take this into account when considering security requirements in a two-state agreement could limit Israeli analysis of actual needs and trap Israeli policy-makers into maximalist positions.

The methodology of the occupation also has undergone no basic change, with an ongoing use of counterterrorism methods that have been shown often to be counterproductive. The 2012 book, Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010[9] recounts the oppressive and often brutal Israeli methods and growing Palestinian bitterness. Likewise, the 2012 documentary film, The Gatekeepers, which featured interviews with the six surviving Israeli internal security service (Shin Bet) heads, raises profound questions about Israel’s strategy and tactics in the occupation. From this evidence one could argue that the employment of counterinsurgency methods, that is, the application of political, economic and civic actions as well as military actions, would best serve Israel’s long term interests. Some Israeli leaders seem to recognize this when they emphasize that the Palestinians should be provided a “political horizon,” that is, negotiations with outcomes that would improve the Palestinian situation beyond economic and quality of life matters.

Whether the United States would be willing to commit military and other assets to an international effort to help ensure compliance with and success of an Israel-Palestine peace deal is a fair question. Both Israel and Palestine would need American leadership for any international security role in their peace agreement, but an American “yes” is not a given. The United States faces major cuts in military budgets and services personnel levels. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have caused a general fatigue and wariness in the American public and among military and civilian national security leaders of any new open-ended military commitments not related directly to U.S. defense. Yet it is also the case that considerable military and political benefits would flow to the United States from an Israel-Palestine peace, as noted by Kerry on January 24, 2013 and General David Petraeus on March 16, 2010.[10] Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in his 2008 book, America, Our Next Chapter, called Arab-Israeli peace a “core strategic objective.” Then too, there are relevant precedents. President Clinton offered Prime Minister Barak an army brigade for an Israel-Syria peace agreement, and the U.S. Army currently has two battalions plus headquarters personnel in the MFO in the Sinai to help ensure the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. In a burden-sharing arrangement with NATO members and others from the international community, a “yes” from Washington becomes possible. Given the widespread benefits of a peace, getting others on board would likely follow.  

Given the long negotiating history on security arrangements for a peace deal, the parties need not start again from zero. All aspects of the issue and possible arrangements have been thrashed out. Perhaps they will pick up directly from what Olmert and Abbas said they achieved. Yet the political scene is much changed from 2008, and it is doubtful that could happen. For example, a common settler position is to support a single state outcome with limited rights for Palestinians, or that Palestinian rights should be fulfilled in Jordan. Further, the idea that Prime Minister Rabin asserted in a speech to the Knesset on October 5, 1995, that the “Palestinian entity” would be “less than a state,”[11] has attracted many on Israel’s right. Rabin was assassinated on November 4 just a month later and never publicly elaborated this idea, and neither have present advocates. Even Israelis who publicly support the idea of a Palestinian state may be thinking of some sort of client state with continuing Israeli security rights there. It is difficult to see how Palestinians could accept the proposition that a former military occupier would retain rights sharply limiting the status of Palestine as a sovereign state.


If the Israelis and Palestinians both want a two-state agreement, compromises and trade-offs must be made by both. On security, the basic question comes down to whether the Palestinians would accept more than a moderate transitional period of IDF presence and operations and agreed settler withdrawal. (The Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979 provided for a three-year transition for complete IDF and settler withdrawal.) The other side of this question is whether Israel would insist on extended IDF roles in Palestine and refuse an international force to do the missions.

Convincing Israeli skeptics to agree to an international role would take a powerful force. Could the United States, NATO and the international community put such a force together and sustain it indefinitely? Could they bear the cost? On a burden-sharing basis, the likely answer is “yes.” For Israel, an argument could be made that Israeli security would be enhanced, as Israel would get widespread benefits, including those flowing from the Arab Peace Initiative, a broad regional security arrangement and universally-accepted borders. These could be a driver of a positive Israeli decision. Israelis perhaps could conclude that they have reached the position stated by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in 1923 that Israel has constructed an impregnable wall and the time for serious discussions has arrived. For the Palestinians, they would be rid of the hated Israeli occupation, get their universally-recognized state and gain security assurances by the international force. Fundamentally, Israel and Palestine have a mutual interest in the security of the other.

On December 23, 2000, President Clinton called the Palestinian and Israeli teams that had been at the July Camp David summit negotiations back to the White House. The teams had reconvened December 19 at a nearby air force base. The President said later that he had wanted to give them “the best I could do” on what it would take for a peace agreement. What he told them has become known as the Clinton Parameters. Reading at dictation speed in the White House Cabinet Room, he began his comments on security as follows: “The key lies in an international presence that can only be withdrawn by mutual consent.” After these many years, this is still the case.

[1] Speech given at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar Ilan University, Israel.

[2] Negotiating session with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and General Udi Dekel, The Palestine Papers, Al Jazeera Transparency Unit, transparency.aljeerza.net.

[3] Daniel Kurtzer, ed., Pathways to Peace (New York:  Palgrave MacMillan, 2012).

[4] Bernard Avishai, “A Plan for Peace that Still Could Be,” New York Times, February 7, 2011.

[5] U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs website, email alert to author, May 23, 2013.

[6] Barak Ravid, “Gen. John Allen Appointed U.S. Security Envoy in Peace Process,” Haaretz, May 23, 2013.

[7] His remarks are available on C-Span: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/304740-7.

[8] Aaron Kalman, “Netanyahu Calls for Peace Deal to Avert Binational State,” The Times of Israel, May 1, 2013.

[9] Breaking the Silence, Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territorie, 2000-2010 (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012)

[10] John Kerry, Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing. January 24, 2013; David Petraeus, Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. March 16, 2010.