The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps…. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state…. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, nonmilitarized state….
These words from President Barack Obama’s speech on Thursday are the most chilling message ever sent by a U.S. president to Israel, and possibly by any head of government to a supposed “ally.” It is often mentioned that, soon after the Six Day War of 1967, the then Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban referred to those 1967 lines as the “Auschwitz borders.” It is also often mentioned, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did after his meeting with Obama on Friday, that these borders leave Israel all of nine miles wide at one of its most populous points.
Under Obama’s dispensation, Israel is left with these borders and no others. A “full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces” from the West Bank means no Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, stipulated as essential in all Israeli military assessments, and certainly not in the West Bank’s mountain ridge, where the 1967 U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff study, as well as a 1974 follow-up study by the U.S. Army’s Command and Staff College, also viewed an Israeli military presence as strategically indispensable.
Moreover, the two parts of the Palestinian state, the West Bank and Gaza, are supposed to be “contiguous,” a demand that Yasser Arafat used to raise in Oslo-era negotiations with Israel. A glance at a map of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza reveals that demand as little less than astounding. There is no way to make the West Bank and Gaza contiguous except by some sort of passageway connecting the two, slicing Israel in half, creating a security nightmare and a compromise of Israel’s integrity and sovereignty such as exists in no country of the world and that Obama, it is safe to say, would not contemplate for a moment regarding the United States or any part of it.
Note also Obama’s use of “nonmilitarized,” which in the lingua franca is distinctly different from the “demilitarized” frequently used by Netanyahu. A nonmilitarized Palestinian state would probably be formally denied heavy weapons like tanks and planes, while maintaining ground forces of some sort (clearly necessary, at the very least, to maintain public order). Yet, apart from the fact that demilitarization agreements have a history of crumbling—let alone in the volatile and violence-ridden Middle East—even modestly armed Palestinian forces on the mountain ridge overlooking Israel’s coastal plain could make life intolerable for the country. They could do so by:
* Sniper fire. The West Bank terrain is so close to Jerusalem that snipers could shoot into Israel’s capital itself—as they did during Israel’s 1948-1949 War of Independence, forcing one-quarter of the Jews then living in the city to flee it, and as they did frequently from East Jerusalem into West Jerusalem in the succeeding years. Since the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, sporadic sniper fire at Israeli farms along the Gaza-Israel border has created a serious security problem. In 2008 a volunteer worker at one of those farms was killed by sniper fire. West Bank snipers would also be well in range of major Israeli traffic arteries.
* Rocket fire. Whether openly perpetrated by a Palestinian government or by rogue—or subtly tolerated—terrorist forces, the 1967 borders entail a nightmare of vulnerability to rocket fire for Israel. Even cheap, homemade Qassams could reach, for instance, the coastal town of Kfar Saba, Jerusalem, and Ben-Gurion International Airport. In other words, even mere Qassams could create a strategic threat to government buildings in Jerusalem and to the airport, Israel’s only link with the outside world (not to mention shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles). As for somewhat longer-range Katyusha rockets, they could reach Tel Aviv, Beersheva, most of Israel’s airbases, and much more.
* Terrorist infiltrations. Although since the 2005 disengagement Israel has mostly been able to stop terrorist incursions from Gaza—though not always, as in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit and killing of two other soldiers in the 2006 Kerem Shalom attack—the West Bank border is, again, vastly longer, more meandering, and incomparably more difficult to police. Indeed, from 1949 to 1967 when the West Bank was in Jordanian hands, the permeability of that border exacted a death toll from terrorist infiltrations for Israel.
If these problems are generally—but, as noted, not necessarily—on a tactical level, gravest of all would be Israel’s radical strategic vulnerability in the situation envisaged by Obama. Even a Palestinian state that more or less complied with “nonmilitarization” could allow—or be forced to allow—Arab armies from the east to traverse the short distance to Israel’s coastal plain, where a mere nine-mile push by a tank force would suffice to sunder Israel and put an end to Jewish sovereignty. Would Israel’s large, capable army be able to stop the invasion? Very likely not—because the bulk of that army consists of reserve forces, which require 48 hours for a full mobilization. An Arab force could cross the West Bank in much less time. Meanwhile the reserve forces rushing along exposed arteries to exposed mobilization centers would be subject to various forms of debilitating fire—very likely including missile barrages from states and terror enclaves bordering Israel.
It is inconceivable that, in Obama’s meetings with Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials since becoming president, these and similar points have not been raised. What is chilling to the bone, then, is that his words on Thursday reveal that they have made no impression on him. He either is so dominated by the notion of Palestinian victimhood that he cannot contemplate—despite the rather voluminous evidence to the contrary—Palestinians constituting a threat to Israel; or he does not care. Was Netanyahu, in his talk with him, able to bring Obama back to earth? There is no way of knowing. What is clear is that this is the time for Israel’s real friends to show their mettle by expounding the truth and effectively opposing the president’s designs.