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Op-ed

Palestinian Statehood and the Defense Structure of Israel

Laurelle Atkinson, June 21, 2011

Putting the grim picture of the terrorism that's rained down on Israel aside for the moment, the broader Israeli political position can be examined.

"The United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the U.N. or in any international forum, because Israel's legitimacy is not a matter for debate," U.S. President Barack Obama recently said. He also acknowledged the current situation in the Middle East is unsustainable.

This bilateral U.S. stance with Israel has been a bulwark in the region for more than half a century. During this time, myriad international declarations by America on its singular commitment to the state have highlighted Israel's recognition within the state system. Nowhere has it resonated more than at the regional level.And nowhere has it resounded so retroactively as with the borders of Israel and the Palestinian territories.Neitherpolitical stability with the Palestinians nor systemic accord with neighboring states has evolved. Rather, since U.N. legitimization of Israeli statehood comprising Palestinian territories, conflict and terrorism have reigned far and wide, alongside a burgeoning Israeli defense industry commensurate with the U.S. strategic relationship. Israel seems a virtual state of defense today based on forces far in excess of security requirements.

 "No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state," Obama said. How could it? With Palestine intertwined with a state that ignores U.N. resolutions, how could Palestine function effectively within a state system? Since residing on the laurels of U.S. power, Israel has snubbed international resolutions acting in the region towards unilateral "security" in terms of massive defense. Israeli security can seem defined by warfare and encroaching settlements of shifting borders rather than regional accord. None of which has realized comprehensive security. Yet all of which has further isolated Israel.

A state driven primarily by defense would surely have an effect on geopolitical rationale. Israeli policies have not realized the regulative authority between state relations for causal security. Based so heavily on border defense, policies designed for security seem to foster reciprocal strategies between states, manifesting inevitable arms races and border conflicts—not to mention the justification for military dictatorships, rather than relative arrangements of general security.

Whatever their scale, Israel's shifting borders haven't amounted to progressive rationale between states, or indeed within the state itself. Intelligence networks and behind-the-scenes dealing seem the norm of state relations beyond any consistent regulative authority. On the one hand, Israeli industries disregard the state's defense stance with Iran and the U.N. sanctions, whilst the government openly defies U.S. requests on settlements on the other. And capping it all off, American and Israeli officials are off the page with the Arab Spring apparently, their strategic alliance out of sync with its nascent regional accord. They're "struggling to balance national security interests against the need to adapt to a transformative movement in the Arab world" New York Times' Helene Cooper noted. So the question remains: After so many conflicts and wars with practically all its neighbors, has Israel lost the ability to exist within a systemic framework? The key could be the Palestinian state.

Structuring neighborly relations

"Israel's presence on our land is illegitimate and we can't recognize it," Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in response to Israel's resistance to a unified Palestinian political authority. Evidently acceptance of state authority takes more than battlefield victories or ceasefires. Clearly it doesn't materialize via acclamations and obeisance. Logically state recognition involves daily political interaction, and there's been none of that with Israel. Not for centuries. The grizzly actions of Hamas to stand up for Palestinian rights may well have derived from the way known to all, because it's been the scourge of Israel to defend their own likewise. For centuries Israel has been hammered, ostracized and denied political rights with citizens slaughtered and rendered homeless. Maybe suicide bombings weren't around in Herod's day, but give or take rocket power, what's changed? Democracy? Without a truly representative Palestinian political authority for Israel to deal with, the predominant mode of interaction keeps prevailing all round: armed conflict.

"We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel's right to exist, rejecting violence and adhering to all existing agreements," Obama said. Would Israel trust them if they obliged? Renouncing terrorism is one thing, but actions speak louder than words and already the door to interact otherwise is closing. Transforming out of the depths of terrorism could involve Israel's evolution from a strategic state of covert systems into the greater democratic governance of geopolitical relations.

A broader political framework assures an all-inclusive process transcending the prevalent one of defensive aggregation. Security for all states in the Middle East is increasingly subject to general responsibilities on resources and energy, for instance. And the essential regulative authority required to deal with them is impossible without Israel's regional integration and political interaction with the Palestinians. In sum, the basic responsibilities of peace that Obama is referring to could generate from deeper concerns that by necessity embody the state of Israel.

Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran—how many states in the Middle East cannot form political relations with Israel because of the plight of the Palestinians? Still, the timing for Israel couldn't be better. Myriad young people—not just Palestinians—are calling for political expression and representative governance. To a degree Hamas is in the same boat. Hamas, however, stands as testament to politics by other means, when political options are denied. "Everyone has the right to run," Gaza's spokesman Mahmoud al-Zahar said of Palestine's presidential election, just as Obama intimated in his speech on Palestinian rights to govern themselves. At least everyone's on the same page with the notions, but it's Israel that's in the axiomatic position of realizing them.

Respect for elections and the subsequent parliamentary interaction, when all is said and done, is the pillar of democracy—an edifice patently lacking in the Middle East. Its construction could amount to comprehensive regional recognition for Israel, especially by the youthful majority seeking representative authority.

On the other hand, if the uprisings of disillusioned protesters keep gathering momentum, without political redress the outcome is grim, going by Libya, going by Hamas. Given time, options evidently whittle down to the age-old equation of freedom fighter transmogrified into terrorist. The choice seems stark for Israel: Either bite the bullet and forge ahead on democratic principles, or maintain the status quo of conflict, terrorism and strategic alliances on the squalor of fellow Palestinians.

Secure borders

Logically a Palestinian state with minimal borders simplifies coexistence beyond separated territories within a state. Realistically it doesn't always work that way, looking at the Korean Peninsula and the Kashmiri morass farther north. Borders and partitions are evidently no guarantee of state security and accord. After centuries of warfare between protagonists, their bordered separation tends to represent a fighting front.

Geopolitical analyst George Friedman of Stratfor Intelligence stressed the logic Israel could thus apply to security arrangements of the Palestinian resolve. "The best argument for returning to the pre-1967 borders is that Israel was more capable of fighting well on these borders." From which he details the winning logistics of defending smaller territories according to previous wars. And whilst Israel's government might still prefer last century's "Eratz Israel" push for greater borders, is the bottom line any different? Are Israeli borders strategized for warfare or accord? 1967 borders are "indefensible," Prime Minister Netanyahu claims. What borders then does he have in mind?

For Palestinian borders to be stabilizing factors of accord within the Middle East, the U.S. defense policy with Israel comes into question. How well can Palestinian borders function in terms of regional security, while one side is predicated on bilateral defense arrangements with the world's superpower along with Israel's burgeoning defense industry? The threat of a reciprocal Palestinian arms race would be ever present. Likewise, how can Palestinian borders be upheld if on the other side they derive through battles and encroaching settlements, rather than the systemic authority of U.N. legitimacy?

Already Israel wants soldiers along the Jordan River and more settlement blocs. Soldiers along borderlines don't necessarily realize stability and amicable relations within the region. Take the Korean situation in the ASEAN region. Korean soldiers placed along the states' borderline seem to have heightened tension unto the nuclear standoff within that region today.

Defense regulation and collective security is a major stumbling block for stability in the Middle East. And Israel is now in a key position to structure the political foundations for addressing this issue.

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