Pro-Israel activists in the United States and Israeli defense officials are already getting energized in opposition to the idea of a NATO military force in Palestine, as part of an arrangement for security guarantees in connection with an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. General James L. Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, spent much of the past year on a Palestine mission for the State Department, and he favors the idea of a NATO presence there.
Personally, I agree with the opposition to the idea. Jones, a former NATO commander, is an outspoken advocate for an expanded, out-of-area role for NATO. But there’s no need to station NATO forces along an Israeli-Palestine border.
In Israel, the Jerusalem Post says that Israeli defense officials are mounting a preemptive strike against Jones’ plan:
During his meetings with Israelis, Jones has proposed that a NATO-based international force deploy in the West Bank in the interim period between an Israeli withdrawal and the Palestinian forces becoming able to curb terror activity. …
“NATO is a very bad idea,” [an Israeli] officer said. “No other country in the world has successfully dealt with terror like Israel has. There is a need for continuous combat; NATO will not want to endanger its soldiers on behalf of Israeli citizens.”
Still, Israeli is building closer ties to NATO, and this week Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a candidate for prime minister, flew to Brussels for talks with NATO.
In Washington, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israeli thinktank, is also wary of the idea. At a “Security First” forum at WINEP last week, J.D. Crouch and other analysts were skeptical of the idea. Said Crouch, according to a WINEP summary:
An international force could become a target for rejectionist groups, such as Hamas or al-Qaeda affiliates, or a propaganda tool for Iran. Also, the Palestinians might see the force as occupiers, not intermediaries. For their part, Israelis do not want to outsource security, since potentially either the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or Israeli settlers could come into direct conflict with that force. Furthermore, given the current environment, the third party would effectively be a peace enforcer, not a peacekeeper. The force would have to conduct robust counterterrorism and intelligence operations, but it is unlikely that a NATO force would be available with the will and capability to sustain such a commitment.
With everything else on this plate, there will be a temptation for Obama to avoid dealing with Israel-Palestine. That would be a big mistake. Both Clinton and Bush II left it to the waning days of their terms in office, with disastrous results. (To be fair, Clinton paid more attention to it than Bush, who initially refused utterly to deal with Arafat and the PLO and who supported Israel’s massive invasion of the West Bank and its assault on Lebanon, with no balance.) But starting with proposals to inject NATO into the region is a bad idea. NATO is an anachonism, and it ought to be disbanded, not expanded.