Thursday, June 08, 2006

# Posted 1:33 PM by Patrick Porter  

GOOD FENCES, GOOD NEIGHBOURS: Those interested in either security questions in the Arab-Israeli conflict, or in security issues generally, could do worse than read Israeli Historian Martin Creveld's recent book Defending Israel: A Strategic Plan for Peace and Historian.

One of the difficulties in debating security issues, or on interpreting the end of a crisis or conflict (such as the end of the Cold War) is that it can become a clash between those who stress coercion and those who stress diplomacy, lowering the debate into a set of reductive polarities.

So, for example, it would be difficult to imagine the Soviets at the negotiating table without the pressue of Reagan's arms build-up and confrontation, while at the same time, the chemistry of his relationship with Gorbachev provided the right kind of diplomatic relationship.

The strength of Van Creveld's book is that it astutely combines coercive and diplomatic measures. Van Creveld argues for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. This will help an overstretched IDF, who will be followed by the significant number of settlers who are not in the settlements for messianic or religious reasons, and it will help to isolate the general Palestinian population from extremists who are determined to subvert the secular Palestinian authority.

While I have reservations about whether this move itself would defuse antisemitic and genocidal sentiment, over time it would help to isolate the rejectionists politically. Once two states existed, it would become harder for militants to blame everything on the Great Satan, partly because one of the sources of friction would be reduced, and partly because withdrawal behind a walled perimeter would enable Israel to remove its daily military presence in the lives of many Palestinians.

But he also makes the case for a heavily fortified border, arguing the case that, actually, walls work:
History shows that walls, provided people are prepared to do what is necessary to defend them and prevent other people from crossing them, by using lethal force if necessary, work. If not for technical reasons - there never has been, nor can be, such a thing as an impregnable wall- then for psychological ones; and if not forever and perfectly, then fo rlong periods and to a very large extent.
He then identifies several historical cases where walls have great effect:

China's Great Wall; Rome's frontiers; the Berlin Wall (which, despite the tragedy of imprisoning East Berliners behind communist lines, also helped prevent a catastrophic conflict by easing the standoffs between American and Soviet tanks and gave people on each side clarity about how far they could go); the heavily fortified fence that separates the Two Koreas and the Greek Cypriots from Turkish ones, and the stabilising effects of Israel's own wall on its northern border.

It won't end the conflict, but it would, he argues, reduce the most common forms of terrorism, including knifings, shootings and bombings. It will reduce the number of targets presented to Palestinian militants, and end a large number of roadblocks and house searches. There will be fewer and more sparsely-populated settlements, which will drain IDF resources less.

My nagging doubt, though, is about a map for achieving this in Israeli domestic politics. Which would require a whole other book, I guess.
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