1967-2007: Israel's Options Under Darkening Clouds of Islamic Jihad over the Middle East

I. Six Days in June 1967

I was an eighth grade school boy when the first Jordanian shelling began. Several hours passed in the school shelter before one of my uncles showed up and hurried me home. Barely a week later, the nation erupted with great relief and a sense of Zionist rebirth. I was too young then to realize the complexities of the new reality. Now, the 40-year aftermath of the Six Day War threatens the existence of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.

How, then, to secure for generations the future of Israel in the spirit of the 1948 Declaration of Independence?
…THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

…WE EXTEND our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

Towards its 60th year of independence, Israel is still seeking internationally recognized boundaries. Progress can and should be made toward a permanent Israeli-Palestinian settlement based on the "two states for two peoples" principle. In 2000 Israel inaugurated a new era of military redeployments intended to facilitate peace. The first of these was Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000.

Israel has shown restraint for over six years. In May 2000 Israel took the politically difficult step of fully withdrawing from southern Lebanon, having been compelled a few years earlier to establish a security zone there to prevent terrorist attacks and rocket shelling of Israeli towns. The UN Security Council acknowledged Israel’s complete withdrawal from southern Lebanon in full compliance with Resolution 425. The Lebanese Government was given an opportunity to take full control of the south and establish a peaceful border with Israel. Instead, it chose to succumb to terror rather than vanquish it, allowing Hezbullah to occupy the areas adjacent to the border and accumulate a vast arsenal of rockets and missiles.

In August 2005, despite the outbreak of Palestinian terrorism and violence almost five years earlier, Israel unilaterally withdrew its military forces and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria, hoping the pullouts would contribute to regional stability. However, instead of achieving stability, the pullouts facilitated the growth of terrorist networks and pushed Israel towards an increasingly aggressive foreign policy. 

II. The Islamic Jihad Challenge 

Hamas and Hezbullah, Syria and Iran, as well as Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda are primary elements in the Terror Axis threatening not only Israel and America but the entire Western world. They are driven by an extremist jihadist ideology which calls for the immediate destruction of the State of Israel – as part of an international campaign to wage ‘Holy War’ against the ‘infidel’ free world. Militant fanatic Islam is becoming a global plague with a terrifying legacy of terrorism.

Syria and Iran support these groups, not only because they share their ideology, but also because they provide Damascus and Teheran with a tool to strengthen the influence of their own regimes and to divert attention from other issues which have exposed them lately to international pressure. Foreign policy in the Arab world is linked to the region’s longstanding relationship with terrorist organizations.

Iran’s increasing nuclear capabilities and its blunt refusal to accommodate any of the UN’s requirements will preoccupy the West in the coming months and years. Seen in this light, both the 2006 war in Southern Lebanon and the recent intensive fire emanating from the Gaza Strip are merely the opening act.
There is no democracy in the world that would tolerate missiles fired at its cities without taking every reasonable step to stop the attacks. The big question raised by Israel's military actions in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza recently is, what counts as "reasonable”? The answer, according to the laws of war, is that it is reasonable to attack military targets, so long as every effort is made to reduce civilian casualties. If legitimate military objectives cannot be achieved without some civilian casualties, these must be "proportional" to the civilian casualties that would be prevented by the military action.
While Israel does everything reasonable to minimize harm to civilians – unfortunately not always with success – Hezbullah and Hamas want to maximize civilian casualties on both sides. Islamic terrorists, a diplomat commented years ago, "have mastered the harsh arithmetic of pain... Palestinian casualties play in their favor and Israeli casualties play in their favor."
If the free world is unable to form a united front against Hezbullah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other such groups, it will be unable to convince Teheran that it is truly serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Israel realized decades ago a lesson that was reinforced in recent years: terrorism must be confronted with determination, vigor and resolve. Along with the US and a few other brave countries, Israel is determined to ensuring that terror-supporting regimes understand that the price they’ll pay internationally will be unbearably high. 

III. Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations

All legitimate steps toward regional stability depend upon a functioning Palestinian Authority, which can only be achieved after the fulfillment of three Israeli demands: recognition of the State of Israel, reaffirmation of the agreements signed with it, and a cessation of hostilities against Israelis.

Still, a dialogue must be maintained with those not bent on annihilating us, a category into which a majority of the Palestinians falls. Most Israelis, like most Palestinians, hope the conflict between the two peoples will end with a permanent settlement. The problems lying at the heart of the conflict will not solve themselves and the price Israel will have to pay for a long lasting solution is constantly rising.
Ultimately, every political initiative leads broadly to the same fundamental elements of a permanent settlement. A fair, balanced, reasonable historic compromise and good starting point for talks on a permanent settlement would blend former American president Bill Clinton's plan of December 2000 with a draft agreement the parties discussed between 1999 and 2001. These proposed permanent solutions were the product of intensive talks between the parties; they constitute a semi-official, stable, objective basis for protecting Israel's long-range interests while also fulfilling the basic needs of the Palestinians. The recent endorsement of the Saudi Initiative by the Arab League should also be viewed in this context.

I believe that the core elements of these plans which should form the basis for further negotiations are these:

First, ending the historic conflict between the Palestinian and Jewish peoples;

Second, the repartitioning of British Mandatory Palestine between a sovereign Palestinian state and Israel, on the basis of the June 4, 1967, borders, with mutually agreed modifications that would reflect the current situation, namely the inclusion of most of the large settlement blocs in Israel's territory;

Third, the Palestinian state will be defined as the Palestinian people's sole national home and Israel will be defined as the Jewish people's national home.

Fourth, the Palestinian refugees will be rehabilitated in the countries of their present residence, in the Palestinian state and in additional countries that express their willingness to absorb them;

Fifth, the Palestinian state will be demilitarized and adequate long-term guarantees will be given to ensure the security of Israel;

And finally, the Jerusalem region will include two capitals: Jewish Jerusalem and Arab Al Quds. The "Historic Basin" surrounding Jerusalem's Old City will enjoy a special regime that will guarantee freedom of worship and access to adherents of all religions. In the interim, a proposed outline for a special regime should be introduced, in a way that will allow its incorporation into the permanent solution. 


IV. The Separation Imperative

Only if negotiations fail, after exhaustive, sincere and continual efforts to make them work, would Israel be forced to take steps to ensure its Jewish, Zionist, democratic identity. It would do so by disengaging from the Palestinians, defining its boundaries roughly along the contours of the security fence. Such provisional boundaries are essential to safeguarding Israel's future. The Jewish People has a right to self-determination within borders that will protect Israel's vital interests, improve its social fabric while strengthening national unity and security. Israel cannot wait forever for a reliable partner to emerge.

Excerpts of lectures and briefings given by Gilead Sher in Washington D.C. and Latin America in summer 2007.