Border Clash

10.09.11

Israel Is Under Attack

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s son explains why Israel can never return to the pre-1967 borders the Palestinians—and Obama—are demanding. The state itself is under attack.

The word “spring” is a symbol of blossoming and renewal. But right now the Arab world is filled with demonstrations, shootings, and the replacement of one dictatorship for another. (Except for Saudi Arabia which has announced it will allow women to “vote” and drive by the year 2015!) And, most significantly for Israel, there is a PLO petition for statehood at the United Nations.

The Egyptian opposition newspaper Sawt al-Umma has just been shut down and the issues already distributed on the streets of Cairo containing criticism of Omar Suleiman, former Vice President of Egypt, confiscated. Exit Mubarak, enter the military junta, with democracy nowhere in sight. In Syria, the rising toll of the regime’s murder victims speaks more loudly than words about the concept of freedom. Nations in the world issue warnings to Assad, enact sanctions, and a few leaders call for his resignation but do little else with no sign of NATO coming to the rescue. In Libya, however, because of its oil reserves and proximity to Europe, the world has been quick to intervene. Indeed, we live in a cynical world.

And where are America and Israel in all this? The United States has always been Israel’s most important and significant ally. The two countries’ mutual values of democracy, freedom, and the determined stand against radical Islamic terrorism bind us together in a common fate and close relationship. The 9/11 terror attacks further reinforced the relationship and sense of identification. This alliance does not depend on specific leaders. Of course, it is better to have good personal relations of mutual appreciation and trust, similar to the one between my father, Ariel Sharon, and President George W. Bush, but nonetheless the alliance goes well beyond the personal.

It seems to me that the Obama administration has erred in its attitude toward Israel and perhaps now is reaping the results. When President Obama came to the region and visited Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt but seemingly intentionally skipped over Israel, he sent a negative message to the countries of the Middle East regarding America’s relationship with Israel. It wrongly implied that the bonds had frayed when in truth they had not. Perhaps this gave Erdogan the confidence to go full tilt against Israel, making threats and reducing diplomatic relations. Nor would the Egyptians have dared allow a mob to break into the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

And then the Palestinians bit the hand that literally feeds them by ignoring American requests to continue to negotiate with Israel, and instead went to the UN directly to ask for statehood within the pre-1967 borders; a state that would be “free of Jews,” as their UN envoy was quoted as saying.

One of the arguments upon which the Palestinians based their request at the UN was resolution 181—which dates back to November 29, 1947. The very same resolution they rejected then and started a war, joined by neighboring Arab countries, whose goal was to destroy the fledgling state of Israel. Had the Palestinians accepted the partition plan at that time, there would not be a single Palestinian refugee and they would have a state the same age as Israel.

For the 19 years from 1948 to 1967, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza were under Jordanian and Egyptian rule respectively. Neither country thought of giving the Palestinians independence. And, significantly, in the first Palestinian national charter, published in 1964—three years before the Six-Day War—it stated in Article 24, “This organization {the PLO} does not exercise any regional sovereignty over the West Bank {or} on the Gaza Strip. . . ” In articles 16 and 17 of the charter it stated “The liberation of Palestine. . . . is a defensive act” and “the partitioning of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of Israel are illegal and false.” This was written at a time when all of the territories presently being demanded from Israel were under Arab control.

Yet they were not content. Thousands of terrorist attacks in the 1950s and ‘60s claimed the lives of thousands of Israelis. The intent of the 1967 war was to destroy the state of Israel. Israel prevailed—but ironically all the victims of the pre-1967 terrorist attacks were forgotten, and the results of the war gave the Palestinians a “cause” for their hostilities and acts of violence. The world began to view the dispute as an issue of occupation and territory and not the real issue—that the Arabs never accepted the right of the Jewish state to exist in its land.

It would seem then as if the Arabs treat the wars against Israel as win-only options. They started the wars but when they lost they demanded a return to the pre-war status quo. Which means that if they win, they will push Israel or destroy it completely, but if they lose, they risk nothing. If that is the case, what is to prevent them from going to war against Israel again?

The international Quartet (The US, UN, EU, and Russia) is urging Israel and the Palestinians to enter into negotiations, finish them quickly, and reach agreement on all the points of contention. There is a global consensus on that demand and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas to sit down with him and reach a final settlement. However, I strongly disagree. It is impossible to reach agreement on all these points of contention. The Palestinians will not give up their demands to allow refugees into Israel, to go back to the pre-1967 borders, and the status of East Jerusalem.

If the Jordanian monarchy falls, Israel might face a Palestinian state four times the size of Israel.

Israel will never agree to these demands. It cannot return to the pre-1967 borders. In the Netanya area, in the center of the country, the border is less than 10 miles wide: these are not defensible borders. We can never accept the entrance of Palestinians into Israel. The Arab countries are planting false hopes in the hearts of their fellow Arabs who live amongst them—hope that the descendants of the Palestinian refugees, who became refugees because of the war they forced on Israel, will one day be able to return to it. That is never going to happen.

What, then, can we do? Are we condemned to eternal war? Perhaps not. The Palestinians can establish a state in provisional boundaries—narrower than their present demands; Israel does not have permanent borders yet either. The Palestinians already rule over more than 90% of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip. They can realize their dream of a state and indeed all of the major Israeli parties have already accepted that principle, while leaving open the boundaries of that state. As time goes by, the tensions will abate, the Palestinians will enjoy economic prosperity, and the Israelis will be able to live without the specter of terrorism hanging over their heads. In the best-case scenario, trust might grow.

One of the Palestinians’ main arguments for including the pre-1967 borders in their state is based on their contention that they do not have enough land. And that is why we need to put Jordan into the equation: there is a strong likelihood that the monarchical dictatorship that rules that country and its solid Palestinian majority will fall. If that occurs, Israel might find itself facing a Palestinian state that begins at the border of Iraq in the east and extends to the outskirts of Tel Aviv in the West, and another Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip. This would create a Palestinian state four times the size of Israel. Aside from other considerations, this alone is a strong argument for not returning to the pre-1967 borders, from which we were attacked without provocation in the past.

As this “Arab Spring” unfolds throughout the Middle East, I hope that Israel will remain strong in the face of international pressure, that it will not acquiesce to untenable ultimatums for indefensible, outdated borders and Palestinian demands.

Gilad Sharon is the youngest of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s three sons and was a confidant to his father. Sharon holds a master’s degree in economics and writes a frequent column for a major Israeli newspaper. A major in the Israel Defense Force reserves, Sharon currently manages his family’s farm in Israel. His book about his father, Sharon: The Life of A Leader will be published by HarperCollins on October 25, 2011.