When in 1942 American General Douglas MacArthur took command of the defense of Australia against imminent Japanese invasion, one of the plans he rejected was to withdraw and fight behind the Brisbane line, a move that would have given large swathes of territory to the Japanese.
Instead, he adopted a policy of forward defense: advancing northwards out of Australia to attack the Japanese on the island of New Guinea. MacArthur then went on to play a pivotal role in the defeat of the Japanese empire.
At the end of last year, during the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations involving U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, another extremely able and widely respected American General, John Allen, drew up a plan progressively to withdraw Israeli forces from the West Bank and hand over Israel’s forward defense to a combination of Palestinian Arab forces, international monitors, and technology.
Given the range of existential threats emanating from, or through, the West Bank today, known and unknown threats that will develop tomorrow, and the exceptional geographical vulnerability of the State of Israel, such a proposal is blatantly untenable. No other country would take risks with the lives of its people and the integrity of its territory by contracting out their defenses in this way–nor should it.
Britain, for example, where no such existential threats exist, even refuses to adopt the EU’s Schengen arrangements, which would hand over the security of UK borders to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Spain, Italy, and its other European neighbors. It is a long-standing opt-out that looks wiser by the day as international jihadist aggression against the West increases.
General MacArthur would never have recommended the “Allen Plan.” MacArthur, however, was not then under the same political pressure as General Allen. If he had been, he would have repulsed it. In 1934, as Army Chief of Staff, he argued against President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s intention to cut drastically the Army’s budget with such vehemence that he vomited on the steps of the White House as he was leaving.
Would General Allen–or any other general today–recommend a similar plan to his own president, if it were not Israel’s security, but the security of the United States, that was at stake? Of course he would not. Indeed, U.S. generals unsuccessfully argued the opposite course of action when U.S. President Barack Obama decided on a total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, a move that made inevitable the resurgence of large-scale violent jihad.
General Allen is now leading the American and allied forward defensive operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq [ISIS]. In the face of what he has defined as a “clear and present danger to the U.S.,” he is not recommending withdrawal of American forces back into the continental United States and reliance on Arab forces, peacekeepers, and technology to protect U.S. interests. The reverse, in fact, is true.
The reverse is also true for the forward defensive operations of the U.S. and its Western allies against violent jihad in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia, and elsewhere. All are significant threats to the West, yet none is as immediate and dangerous as the threat to Israel from an undefended West Bank.
Despite the determination of so many in the West erroneously to view the Israel-Palestine conflict as a mere territorial dispute that could be settled if only the so-called “occupation” ended, the forward defensive measures necessary for other Western nations are necessary for Israel as well. The stark military reality is that Israel cannot withdraw its forces from the West Bank–either now or at any point in the foreseeable future.
For those willing to see with clarity and speak with honesty, that conclusion has been obvious for many years. It is even more obvious, perhaps, for leaders with direct responsibility–such as General MacArthur had in Australia in 1942–than for those who do not have to live with the consequences of their actions–such as General Allen in Israel in 2013.
Recent events have made this reality even more certain. Through incessant rocket fire and the construction of a sophisticated tunnel system to abduct and massacre Israeli civilians on a large scale, Hamas has just delivered another powerful object lesson in the consequences of IDF withdrawal.
Fatah leaders may take a somewhat different stance for international consumption, but they ally themselves with the proscribed terrorists of Hamas. And, like Hamas, in reality they continue to reject the very existence of the State of Israel. They apparently continue to want only a one-state solution: Arab rule from the river to the sea, with the ethnic cleansing of the Jews that would follow.
They are consistently encouraged in this intent, both wittingly and unwittingly, by Western nations, particularly in Europe. Not least by Sweden’s commitment in September to support a unilateral Palestinian state, the UK Parliament’s recent vote for the same thing, and similar moves across Europe that are likely in the coming weeks and months.
Especially with such encouragement, there is no possibility that Palestinian Arab political leaders’ rejection of the Jewish State will modify in the foreseeable future. The launch pad that an IDF-free West Bank would provide for attacks against Israel is so dangerous it makes even Gaza look about as threatening as Switzerland.
The external threats are at least as serious as those from within the West Bank. Despite the wishful thinking of many Western leaders and the alluring grins from Tehran, the Iranian regime remains dedicated to undermining and ultimately destroying the State of Israel. By funding and fomenting violence, Iran’s leadership will continue to exploit the Palestinian Arab populations in both Gaza and the West Bank to these ends.
Those who are currently arguing for Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a sovereign state must have missed the war General Allen is fighting against the Islamic State [IS] and their jihadist bedfellows across the border in Syria. The Islamic State also has Israel in its sights and would certainly use the West Bank as a point from which to attack, if it were open to them. In the hands of international monitors and Palestinian Arab forces, the West Bank would be wide open to them.
We have only to look at the reaction to aggression of almost all international peacekeepers over the decades to know they would not last five minutes. And we have only to look at the performance of the battle-hardened Syrian and Iraqi armies when confronted by Islamic State fighters to know how long Palestinian Arab forces would withstand such aggression, whether by infiltration or frontal assault.
Whatever happens to the Islamic State in the future, this resurgent Islamist belligerence is not a flash in the pan. On the contrary, it has been building for decades, and President Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and other world leaders acknowledge it as a generational struggle.
This means that for Israel, as far as the West Bank is concerned, both the enemy within and the enemy without are here to stay. And if the IDF has no choice but to remain in the West Bank to defend Israel, there can be no two-state solution and no sovereign Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan, however desirable those things might be.
Nor can there be a one-state solution with democratic rights for all because that would spell the end of the one and only democratic and Jewish state and the beginning of a new autocracy and the next exodus of the Jews.
For those who do not want that to happen, the harsh reality is continuation of the status quo. But the status quo can be significantly improved, by gradual and progressive increases to PA autonomy in the West Bank, to the point where a state exists in virtually all aspects other than military security. That progress can only be achieved through low-key bilateral negotiations with concessions from both sides. It cannot be achieved by Kerry-like peace processes that demand big sweeping strokes to deliver groundbreaking, legacy-delivering announcements.
Nor can such progress be achieved in the face of a Western world that reflexively condemns every move Israel makes and encourages the Palestinian Arabs to believe that the fantasy of a two-state solution or a one-state solution on their terms can become a reality in the foreseeable future.
As so often in the paradoxical world of geopolitics, the well-meaning actions and words of national leaders and international organizations have unintended consequences. For the Israel-Palestine situation, the unintended consequences of Western actions are to deprive Palestinian Arabs of increased freedom and prosperity and to undermine the security of the only stable, liberal democratic state in the Middle East. If the West actually wants to help, its leaders need to face up to this unpalatable truth rather than continue to delude the Palestinian people as well as themselves.
Instead, Western leaders should use all available diplomatic and economic means to make it clear to the Palestinians that they will never achieve an independent and sovereign state while they remain set on the destruction of the State of Israel and while they continue to brainwash future generations to believe in that goal.
Colonel Richard Kemp spent most his 30-year career in the British Army commanding front-line troops in fighting terrorism and insurgency in hotspots including Iraq, the Balkans, South Asia, and Northern Ireland. He was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003. From 2002–2006 he headed the international terrorism team at the Joint Intelligence Committee of the British Prime Minister’s Office.
By Richard Kemp, Gatestone Institute