A blueprint on Israeli-Palestinian security for a future American Administration?

Tuesday saw the publication of the report Advancing the Dialogue: A Security System for the Two-State Solution by the Centre for a New American Security (CNAS).  BICOM’s Director of Research Calev Ben Dor analyses the findings below.

The report’s stated aims are to “generate a discussion both in Israeli and Palestinian society about how to meet Israeli security requirements in a way that is compatible with Palestinian needs for dignity and sovereignty” as well as “to demonstrate that well thought-through security measures in the context of the two-state solution can provide Israelis and Palestinians with a degree of security equal or greater to that provided today by Israel’s deployment into the West Bank, and that such measures can be consistent with Palestinian needs for sovereignty and dignity.”

Security was traditionally seen as a resolvable issue. But in the Kerry talks it became a sticking point. In previous rounds of negotiations – most notably during the Governments of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, the components of a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians regarding security were more or less understood (the talks broke down over borders, Jerusalem and refugees). In these talks, it was agreed that the State of Palestine would be non-militarised and an international force would patrol the Jordan Valley. However, during the Kerry-Abbas-Netanyahu talks security became a harder issue to resolve. David Makovsky related that while the sides had been close to agreement on territory and refugees, they were unable to resolve the security issue, even after special U.S. administration envoy John R. Allen suggested options to the sides.

In this context, it will be interesting to see the influence this paper has on this discussion. One of its authors, Colonel Kris Bauman, was Chief of Staff to General John R. Allen.

One can read the full report and executive summary here. But most notable is the suggestion of much greater and intimate American involvement than we have seen previously.

Boots on the Ground

The report suggests “employing American forces for training, equipping, evaluating, and monitoring, and conducting highly limited operations along the Jordan River”  The idea of American forces along in the Jordan Valley is interesting. The Netanyahu government has consistently maintained that in the context of regional instability, a long term Israeli presence (though not sovereignty) in the Jordan Valley was vital to maintain Israel’s security, although the Palestinians considered this demand to be an extension of occupation. And while negotiations between Olmert and Abbas had suggested a NATO force, the deployment of American troops would be a first and would signify a much deeper engagement in Israeli-Palestinian peacekeeping than administrations have traditionally committed to. Whether an American National Security policy that emphasises aligning away from the Middle East would be willing to commit to such a suggestion remains to be seen.

Not just mediating but refereeing

The report also suggests greater American involvement not only as mediators but also as arbiters. The report states that “A security implementation verification group (SIVG) consisting of Israeli, Palestinian, and American security professionals would be established to plan and implement the transition. Amongst other things, the report suggests that if the verification group judged that the Palestinians had met a particular series of criteria, then the IDF redeployment from a specific area would proceed as planned. In the past, American administrations were happy to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians but shied away from arbitrating between them. This report thus signals a move towards a more activist policy.

 The ‘Regional Track’ helps Israel’s security

Similar to other think tanks, CNAS emphasises the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative which offers Israel full normalisation in exchange for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The regional track increases the potential gains for Israel in establishing a Palestinian state and is becoming a mainstream argument in Israeli policy circles.

Since the Arab Spring, some Arab leaders have suggested that rather than full normalisation in return for full withdrawal, relations with Israel could simply be tied to progress towards a two-state solution. Despite positive noises from Israel’s Prime Minister and new Defence Minister time will tell to what extent movement will be made along this paradigm.

 Gaza must be part of solution

The authors of the report also emphasise that Gaza has to ultimately be part of the solution. The report calls to initiate the planning processes associated with a port facility in Gaza which ties in to the current debate amongst Israeli security officials and ministers who advocate the very same thing, believing it would alleviate the humanitarian situation, reduce the chance of renewed violence, create employment for Gazans, reduce international pressure on Israel and reduce Israel’s responsibility for Gaza.

Several proposals have been aired, with the most ambitious, publicly backed by Israeli transport minister Israel Katz, being an offshore island port with the potential for an airport, power and water production on the same site.

Initial Steps

One principle the report suggests is to “minimise Israeli visibility to Palestinian civilians and pursue significant early steps that signal a fundamental change on the ground to Palestinians.” This would involve an end to Area A incursions; the turning over of significant portions of Area C to Palestinian civic and security control; early redeployment from the northern quarter of the West Bank where there are relatively few settlements; and rapidly reduced visible Israeli presence on the border crossings between Jordan and Palestine.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials have already had discussions over reducing IDF incursions into Area A. However, while the other ideas may help advance a reality of two states they are unlikely to happen in light of the distrust between the sides and the current political and security situation in Israel.

Could this be a blueprint for a future American Administration?

It remains unclear who will become the next President of the United States or how involved the Administration will want to be in final status issues between Israel and the Palestinians. But the CEO of the Centre for a New American Security Michèle Flournoy has close ties with Hillary Clinton and would be a candidate for a senior role in a Clinton White House. Might this document provide a guideline for a future administration’s thinking on the issue?