Can Israel rely on foreign peacekeepers and security guarantees?

Former Ambassador to US Yoram Ettinger explains why Israel cannot rely on foreign peacekeepers and security guarantees.

Hillel Fendel ,

Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Hadas Parush/Flash90

In a six-minute video produced as part of his on-line seminar on the US, Israel, and the Middle East, Yoram Ettinger – an expert on U.S.-Israel relations who served as Israel's Minister for Congressional Affairs with the rank of Ambassador at Israel’s Embassy in Washington, D.C. - explains why one of the mainstays of the proposed two-state solution simply cannot work.

The two-state solution calls for an Arab Palestinian state alongside Israel, west of the Jordan River, and relies on foreign peacekeepers and security guarantees for Israel. However, Ettinger explains, such peacekeeping forces and guarantees do not stand the test of real-life conditions.

Israel would have to concede, for the sake of a future Palestinian state, the historically and militarily critical mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, in return for a foreign peacekeeping force and American security guarantees or defense pact. In order to be effective, Ettinger says, defense pacts and peacekeeping forces must be "reliable, durable, specific, and politically/militarily sustainable, [and] must also serve the interests of the foreign entity that dispatches the force, lest it be ignored or summarily withdrawn."

Ettinger notes that the litany of US commitments and defense pacts include four critical attributes - or escape routes - which are designed to shield US interests in a way that actually undermines the effectiveness of the commitments. The four are:

1. Non-specificity, vagueness and ambiguity, facilitating non-implementation;
2. Non-automaticity, facilitating delay, suspension and non-implementation;
3. Non-implementation if it is deemed harmful to US interests;
4. Subordination to the US Constitution, including the limits of presidential power.

For example, the NATO treaty – the tightest US defense pact - as ratified by the US Senate, commits the US to consider steps on behalf of an attacked NATO member, “as it deems necessary.”
Twenty-five years after President Dwight Eisenhower signed a defense treaty with Taiwan in 1954, President Jimmy Carter annulled the treaty unilaterally, with the support of Congress and the Supreme Court.

Other examples cited by Ettinger of American refusals to fulfill its "guarantees" include a decision in 1955 by then-Secretary of State Dulles to disallow Israel’s request to buy military systems to offset Soviet Bloc arm shipments to Egypt. This, despite the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 that included a commitment to maintain a military balance between Israel and the Arab states. The explanation? Dulles said that the "facts were still obscure."

In 1975, President Gerald Ford sent a letter to Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, stating that the US “will give great weight to Israel’s position that any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights.” Just four years later, President Carter – again - contended that Ford’s letter barely obligated Ford, but certainly none of the succeeding presidents.

The late and respected Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, in a 1975 AIPAC Conference speech, dismissed security guarantees as a harmful delusion: "Detente did not save Cambodia and it will not save Vietnam, despite the fact that we and the Soviets are co-guarantors of the Paris Accords. And that is something to keep in mind when one hears that we and the Soviets should play the international guarantee game in the Middle East."

Ettinger quotes Political Science Prof. Noah Pelcovits of UCLA: "[Regarding security arrangements], there is only one chance in three that the protector will come to the aid of its ally in wartime, and then only at the discretion of the protector.... What counts is the protector's perception of self-interest. Otherwise, the commitment is not honored...." Prof. Michla Pomerance, International Relations, Hebrew University, has taken a similar stance, stating that US defense commitments, including the NATO Treaty, "are uniformly characterized by vagueness, non-specificity... and the explicit denial of any automatic obligation to use force... "

Not only would security guarantees not help, they would actually hamper. "The stationing of foreign peacekeeping troops on Israel's border," Ettinger explains, "would cripple Israel's defense capabilities, requiring Israel to seek prior approval in preempting or countering belligerence, which would also strain US-Israel ties. At the same time, appearing to have enabled Israel to act freely, would damage US-Arab ties."