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October 23, 2022 3:05 pm
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The Perils of Palestine

avatar by Martin Sherman / JNS.org

Opinion

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem June 26, 2022 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool

“It is difficult to imagine any other issue for which the international media have been so successfully exploited—from the point of view of the Arabs—as has the Palestinian issue. Not since the time of Dr. Goebbels has there ever been a case in which continual repetition of a lie has borne such great fruits.” — Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, in “Palestinian Lies,” Haaretz, July 30, 1976.

Little analytical acumen is needed to grasp that a Palestinian state would be a multi-dimensional threat to Israel.

Support for a Palestinian state is driven either by malice or ignorance: Malice is expressed by the desire to undermine Israel’s national security and/or the personal safety of its citizens. Ignorance is reflected in a gross lack of knowledge and/or appreciation of the consequences that a Palestinian state would have for Israel.

Lamentably, the specter of Palestinian statehood is once again at the forefront of the public discourse. This is not only because of the election of President Joe Biden, but also the recent injudicious address to the UN by Israel’s interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

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Ironically, the perils entailed in a Palestinian state were articulated with chilling accuracy by none other than an arch-architect of the Oslo Accords, Shimon Peres, who almost half-a-century ago warned, “The establishment of such a state means the inflow of combat-ready Palestinian forces (more than 25,000 men under arms) into Judea and Samaria; this force, together with the local youth, will double itself in a short time. It will not be short of weapons or other [military] equipment, and in a short space of time, an infrastructure for waging war will be set up in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.”

“Israel will have problems in preserving day-to-day security, which may drive the country into war, or undermine the morale of its citizens,” Peres continued. “In time of war, the frontiers of the Palestinian state will constitute an excellent staging point for mobile forces to mount attacks on infrastructure installations vital for Israel’s existence, to impede the freedom of action of the Israeli Air Force in the skies over Israel and to cause bloodshed among the population … in areas adjacent to the frontier line.”

Arguably, the most dramatic illustration of Peres’ argument is provided by a brief review of the topography of the region.

The area designated for a future Palestinian state in any conceivable configuration dominates Israel’s heavily populated coastal plain, which extends below the limestone highlands that comprise much of the putative Palestinian state. From those highlands, it is possible to control and oversee any and all activity in the coastal heartland of Israel, including:

  • Virtually all of Israel’s civilian and military airfields, together with the country’s only major international airport.
  • Nearly all of Israel’s principal seaports and naval bases.
  • Israel’s centers of civilian government and military command and control.
  • Vital infrastructure installations and systems, such as power generation and conveyance, water production and conveyance, and major transport axes—road and rail—including the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6).
  • About 80% of Israel’s civilian population and commercial activity.

All of these will be hopelessly vulnerable to attack by weapons already employed against Israel and Israelis by hostile elements deployed in territory transferred to Arab control.

Moreover, surrender of territory in Judea and Samaria for a Palestinian state would entail increasing the length of Israel’s eastern border at least fourfold—and possibly more—depending on the parameters of the agreement reached. Instead of 75 kilometers of relatively straight border in the Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea, Israel would have to contend with a torturous and contorted frontier hundreds of kilometers long, snaking perilously close to numerous population centers and transportation axes.

Some proposals, which include autonomous enclaves, would blur the line between sovereign Israel and the Palestinian territories—to anything up to 1,000 kilometers and perhaps even more—making the ability to clearly demarcate and secure the areas under Israel’s sovereignty virtually impossible.

The establishment of a Palestinian state will also entail Israel more or less reverting to its pre-1967 borders, which include a narrow 100-kilometer-long strip, in places barely 15 kilometers wide, comprising the country’s most populous area.

Yigal Allon, the former head of the Palmach and later Israel’s acting prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, emphasized that the pre-1967 lines “extend along the foothills of the Judean and Samarian mountains and along the Mediterranean coastal plain—that is, flat territory without any topographical barriers. This leaves central Israel with a narrow area that comprises the Achilles’ heel of the lines prior to June 4, 1967.”

On the significance of this, he warned, “The innovations and sophistication in weaponry … that have taken place, therefore, not only fail to weaken the value of strategic depth and natural barriers but in fact enhance their importance. This is even more true given Israel’s difficult geographic position.”

Peres himself made a similar warning, saying, “The lack of minimal territorial expanse places a country in a position of an absolute lack of deterrence, which in itself constitutes an almost compulsive temptation to attack Israel from all directions.

He asserted that, in the modern era, “with the development of the rapid mobility of armies, the defensive importance of territorial expanse has increased.”

Underscoring the dramatic vulnerability of pre-1967 Israel, Peres cautioned that Israel’s “‘thin waist,’ which constitutes Israel’s most densely populated area,” would be indefensible against modern armaments. Ominously, he observed, “Without a border that affords security, a country is doomed to destruction in war.”

Allon also warned of Israel’s “narrow waist,” which would serve “as a constant temptation to a hostile army in possession of hilly Judea and Samaria to attempt to inflict a fatal blow against Israel by severing it in two in one fell swoop. Moreover, this weakness would permit… an [Arab] army not only to strike at Israel’s densest population and industrial centers, but also in effect to paralyze almost all of Israel’s airspace.”

The western slopes of the Judea-Samaria hills, designated for a prospective Palestinian state, overlie important ground water sources, known as the Yarkon-Taninim Aquifer in the west and the Nablus-Gilboa Aquifer in the north. For decades, they were a crucial component of Israel’s water supply. Excessive extraction and pollution in these aquifers could gravely, indeed irreversibly degrade the supply of water to Israeli consumers.

Just how gravely this danger was viewed, even by elements on the left, was clearly conveyed in a report by the late Reuven Pedazur, military correspondent of the far-left daily Haaretz on April 24, 1989: “Anyone who controls the water sources of the West Bank can, quite simply, dry out the coastal plain in Israel. Control of the two major aquifers, drilling of deep bore-holes and subsequent intensive pumping in western Samaria and in the Jenin and Tubas area are liable to leave the Jewish farmers of the Sharon without irrigation water, and the fields of the Jezreel Valley devastated.”

Over a decade later, Aluf Benn, today editor of Haaretz, wrote an article expressing skepticism as to the viability of any agreement with the Palestinians regarding water. In it, he warned, “The principal danger is rooted in the feeble ability of the Palestinians to implement an agreement [as to the operation of shared water sources] and, as a result, the proliferation of ‘wild-cat’ drilling and excess extraction that will reduce the quality and quantity of the aquifers’ water.”

Today, with the incorporation of large-scale desalination installations into Israel’s national water system, the country’s dependence on natural water sources has been considerably reduced. But this has not eliminated the hydro-strategic importance of the aquifers of Judea-Samaria. Indeed, a comprehensive survey commissioned by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, now the INSS, by two senior hydrologists of TAHAL (then Israel’s Water Planning Authority), warned that for various hydrological and ecological reasons “even when desalination becomes a significant source of supply, the importance of the Yarkon-Taninim aquifer will not decrease as a seasonal and long-term reservoir.”

Indeed, even today, excess extraction, unsealed or poorly sealed municipal garbage sites, and untreated flows of urban sewage or industrial effluent in the areas designated for a Palestinian state can gravely imperil Israeli water sources—including subterranean storage areas in the aquifer. Without an Israeli presence on and authority over the western slopes of Judea and Samaria, Israeli would be powerless to contend with these threats.

In view of the preceding analysis, it is intriguing to discover what senior Palestinian figures think of the two-state principle. In a 2009 article, the Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon and member of Fatah’s Central Committee, Zaki Abbas, candidly asserted: “With the two-state solution… Israel will collapse… What will become of all the sacrifices they made—just to be told to leave?… The Jews consider Judea and Samaria to be their historic dream. If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse. It will regress of its own accord. Then we will move forward.”

Things could hardly be clearer.

Dr. Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team and a participant in the Israel Victory Initiative.

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