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Algora Publishing - Israel: Security Means Leaving the Territories and Settlements
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Tuesday,
Israel: Security Means Leaving the Territories and Settlements
Henry Siegman IHT NEW YORK A profound conceptual fallacy underlies Israel's inability to deal with the violence that has left the peace process in shambles.

The authors of the Oslo accords anticipated a process of incremental change that would lead up to successful permanent status talks. One of the features of this process that at the time attracted Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin required Yasser Arafat to assume responsibility for controlling the violence of Palestinian extremists.
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Mr. Rabin famously said it was a task he gladly assigned to Mr. Arafat because Mr. Arafat did not have bothersome civil rights groups to criticize him for his use of extralegal measures. The remark expressed Mr. Rabin's impatience with, if not contempt for, watchdog groups in Israel that had criticized him for his policy of breaking the bones of Palestinian demonstrators during the first intifada. It was not one of his more inspiring pronouncements.
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The requirement of the Oslo accords that Palestinians combat violence and terrorism against Israel during a five-year transition period somehow became transformed into a false and dangerous Israeli notion that they could subcontract their security to Yasser Arafat.
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So instead of grappling with the difficult challenge of devising policies that enable Israel's government to provide for the security of its own citizens, policymakers focused on how they could compel Mr. Arafat to continue to control Palestinian violence and terror, a task that after eight years of a failed Oslo peace process he is clearly not willing to do.
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Israel's leaders must finally tear themselves away from the notion that they can subcontract their security to their adversary, a notion that is absurd on the face of it. Responsibility for the security of its citizens rests solely on the government of Israel, and a government that refuses to shoulder that burden, or can't figure out how to do it, forfeits its legitimacy.
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By now it should be clear to everyone in Israel that trumping every Palestinian act of violence and of terror with Israel's superior ability to punish Palestinians does not provide the security that Israel's citizens are demanding.
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Indeed, no Israeli government can provide that security as long as it persists in its efforts to maintain its presence beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders and to retain territories inhabited by 3 million Palestinians.
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The expectation that a Palestinian government will provide Israeli settlers the security they need to live undisturbed lives on those lands suggests an arrogance echoing colonial sensibilities of an earlier age that Western democracies - one hopes - now find an embarrassing memory. There is only one way out of the current spiral of violence. It requires that Israel limit its national sovereignty to areas within which it can on its own assume responsibility for its citizens' security. This means a return to Israel's pre-1967 borders. To be clear about it, it requires that Israel give up not only isolated Jewish settlements but the major so-called "settlement blocks" as well. Palestinians will not yield on this territorial issue unless Israel offers them in exchange territory within Israel that is comparable in size and quality, an exchange that even Ehud Barak was not prepared to accede to. Even if there were an Israeli government prepared to consider such an exchange, it is far wiser and more conducive to Israel's long-range peaceful coexistence with its neighbors to transplant the settlers who now live in these settlement blocks to the areas within Israel demanded by Palestinians in exchange for the existing settlements. This could also provide an answer to the Palestinian refugee problem, for the evacuation of the settlements would enable Palestinians to resettle the refugees in these former Jewish settlements. Indeed, if it achieved only this - a resolution of the refugee problem - a complete evacuation of the settlements by Israel should be seen as the single most important measure for its future security. But even if the issue of settlements is not linked to the refugee problem, a physical border between Israel and the new Palestinian state that is not twisted and distorted to accommodate Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza would allow Israel to assume responsibility for the security of its own citizens.
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If the new Palestinian state is negligent in its responsibility to prevent cross-border revanchism, a defensible border vastly facilitates Israel's ability to deal with such violations. With Palestinians no longer under Israeli occupation, Israel is freed to use its superior military power - which it could not take advantage of against a population with which it is fully intermingled - to put an end to such threats. It has been able to do that with neighbors far more powerful than a Palestinian state ever can hope to be.
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Most important, the ending of the occupation would enable Israel to assist the new Palestinian state to develop a viable economy and a stable society. There is no more important condition for the security of Israel than a viable and successful Palestinian neighbor. The writer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, contributed this to the International Herald Tribune.