When seeking a solution to something as seemingly intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is helpful to look at other nations to get some perspective. The United States has recently emerged from a highly preventable and embarrassing crisis. The tea party preferred shutting the government down to funding Obamacare, and a shutdown is what resulted. After 16 days, the shutdown ended and the tea party achieved nothing.
The tea party’s problem was that it lacked a clear goal. What were its adherents trying to achieve? How could they actually achieve it? What was the strategy? These questions were never postulated let alone answered, and the results caused pain to both their country and the movement. Yet their mistakes provide a critical lesson for negotiators and states involved in conflict everywhere, including the Jewish state.
In the 2012 Academy Award winning documentary, The Gatekeepers, a former head of the Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency charged with overseeing Israel and the occupied territories, summarized the failure of Israeli governmental and security agencies to foster peace among Israelis and Palestinians in four words: “No strategy. Just tactics.” In other words, Israel was outstanding at counterterrorism and intelligence operations. It could prevent most attacks and eliminate terrorists swiftly and quietly. Yet the Jewish state lacked a strategy — a clear vision of what it was trying to achieve and how it should go about achieving it. The result, according to another former head of the Shin Bet, was that Israel was “winning every battle, but losing the war.”
Many argue Israel has no other choice than to focus primarily on advancing its tactics, as Israel’s security and self-preservation is a top concern. Yet, as the tea party has demonstrated in the United States, tactics alone are not sustainable. Israeli politicians need to realize there are much more effective solutions to preserving Israeli security than building walls and clinging to territory. Rather, the truly effective way to achieve sustainable security for Israel is through the creation of a Palestinian state.
The potential benefits of the two-state solution demand consideration. The Arab Peace Initiative states that when Israel withdraws from the occupied territories and provides a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee crisis, the Arab countries will consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, enter into a peace agreement with Israel and “provide security for all the states of the region.” In other words, when the two-state solution take place, Israel would immediately gain many new partners in security, an advantage Israel has thus-far been sorely lacking.
If Israel does not pursue a two-state solution with utmost seriousness, it could face even greater security dangers. For example, Israel could lose its geographically closest security partner: the Palestinian Authority. As recently as late October, when Palestinian security helped to foil a Hamas-linked terror plot against Israel, there has been a significant level of security cooperation between Israeli intelligence and the P.A. According to Ami Ayalon, another former head of the Shin Bet, the Palestinians’ willingness to cooperate with Israeli intelligence is directly linked to their level of hope for a future Palestinian state. Ayalon once recalled a P.A. intelligence official telling him, “When we stop believing in the two-state solution, then forget about us.”
The loss of the P.A. as a security partner is not the only crisis Israel would be facing should it not get serious about a two-state solution.The occupation is a primary recruitment tool for terrorist organizations such as Hamas. Should the current round of negotiations fail, the status of Israel’s most dangerous and persistent enemies would be even further emboldened.
Of course, Israeli politicians are not the only ones who need to heed these warnings. As American Jews, we must embrace a big-picture, strategic approach towards a two-state solution, because there is no better way to ensure Israel’s security. And as Americans, we need not look further than our own capital to see the damage a policy of “no strategy, just tactics” can do. While here, our government’s credibility suffered, for Israel, the chance for peace and lasting security could be lost. As American Jews, we must not let this happen.
Fortunately, we have been presented with an incredible opportunity to push for a two-state solution. Negotiations have resumed and we have a secretary of state who is dedicated to the two-state solution. We must support this effort, not only because it is just, but also because it will allow for the sustained security of the Jewish state.
Matt Gang is a freshman at George Washington University and co-chair of campaigns for J Street U GWU.