Security and Foreign Affairs
Security and Foreign Relations Platform
Israel was founded as the nation state of the Jewish people and it should remain a state with a Jewish majority with defensible borders. Israel must maintain its qualitative military edge (QME) over all the countries and terrorist organizations which pose a potential threat.
Israel is faced with many threats: Declining deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas in the Gaza Strip after Operation Protective Edge and the danger that Hamas will regain its strength due to the lack of diplomatic agreement including the demilitarization of Gaza from all strategic weapons; the Iranian nuclear program and the real threat that Iran will become a nuclear threshold state; the continued strengthening of Hezbollah on the northern border; the deteriorating strategic relations between Israel and the United States; Israel’s increasing isolation in the world stemming from the lack of a diplomatic initiative and the failed and reckless management of Israel’s foreign relations, its public diplomacy and hasbara over many years; the increasing support in the world for the unilateral steps being taken by the Palestinians regarding the recognition of a Palestinian state without an agreement; the legal campaign against Israel in international courts; the growing influence of radical Islamist movements following the changes in the Arab world and the creation of a terror axis which threatens the more moderate states in the region; cyber terrorism; the continued deterioration of relations with Turkey since the cancelation of the strategic alliance; the campaign of de-legitimization against Israel in Europe and the United States by the unholy alliance of academics and radical movements from the right and left and anti-Semites of the oldest kind – all of which are funded by oil from the Muslim world.
The entire world, including our closest friends such as the American administration, demand that Israel returns immediately to negotiations which will lead to a separation from the Palestinians while ensuring strict security guarantees and the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state.
The continuation of the status quo without negotiations towards an agreement but with continued investment in infrastructure in isolated and distant settlements, over investment in the periphery, without the parameters of an agreement, moves us further away from finding a solution and is a real danger to the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Yesh Atid is not part of the campaign of self-blame which part of the Israeli Jewish left is involved in regarding an agreement with the Palestinians. We believe that the Palestinians, as Abba Eban famously said, ‘have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity’, and rejected time and again Israel’s outstretched hand for peace: During the first and second intifada; after the disengagement from Gaza when instead of building schools and hospitals they preferred to shoot thousands of rockets and mortars towards civilian populations; when they rejected far reaching offers from previous governments; when Abu Mazen chose to end the negotiations with Israel and unite with Hamas.
And yet, all this doesn’t remove the need for us to try to find a solution through a regional and lasting agreement while maintaining the security needs of Israel’s citizens. A regional solution will allow us to tackle the range of threats mentioned above and provide an opportunity to reduce them significantly and for the long term. A diplomatic agreement will also lead to a dramatic improvement in the Israeli economy for the long term and increase significantly the potential growth for the market.
And so, Israel should formulate a national security approach which is based upon both the development and enabling of defense, economic and political resources and a foreign policy of initiative and action.
Working for a regional agreement:
The recurring crises and the stale thinking with regards to foreign policy harm Israel’s security, our place in the world, our economy and even our continued existence as a Jewish and democratic state so long as we continue to de facto control the lives of millions of Palestinians for the long term. Israel’s existence and strength is dependent upon its ability to correctly read the reality in the region and the wider world and to initiate steps both in terms of security and diplomacy which are viable in those arenas.
Opportunity due to shifting trends and shared threats
The joint struggle against the radical Islamist axis and the shared need to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state allows Israel to join a coalition of moderate countries in the Middle East along with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States in conjunction with the Arab League. A regional diplomatic accord which will bring a separation from the Palestinians and be based upon strict security measures, will result in international legitimacy which will support its implementation.
For that to happen, Israel needs to initiate and lead an opening move towards regional negotiations with the moderate states in the region. The aim should be to achieve a long term and sustainable diplomatic agreement which will include normalization of relations between Israel and the moderate Arab states and the Arab League, strict security measures, regional economic cooperation and separation from the Palestinians. Any agreement will also guarantee the preservation of Israel’s strategic advantage, Israel’s security and the improvement of Israel’s diplomatic standing in the Middle East and the wider world.
The economic parameters of a regional accord
A regional diplomatic accord with the moderate Arab states and the Arab League, which will include an agreement on the Palestinian issue, will have far reaching consequences for the Israeli economy and the market in Israel. The impact will be felt in all the economic indicators including increased exports, economic growth, increased foreign investment, regional economic cooperation and reduced defense costs. The improvement will reach average households with increased disposable income which will be converted directly into improved quality of life and improved social services provided by the state.
Geo-political stability and less uncertainty will have a dramatic positive impact on growth rates, on investments in Israel, Israel’s credit rating and employment. A regional accord will instill hope and optimism which will bring about economic stability for Israel and the surrounding economies.
On the other hand, continued paralysis and the deterioration of Israel’s international standing could also have a far reaching impact on the Israeli economy. Israel’s economy is export orientated, making it susceptible to external pressure. Decreased international trade with Israel and foreign investment could lead to significant damage to growth, employment and public spending with more resources directed to defense.
Engines of economic growth as a result of regional diplomatic accord
Increased exports – Following a regional accord new markets will be open to Israeli exports with the countries in the region and Muslim countries further afield – this will include technological exports, agriculture, knowledge based services, project management and export of natural gas. There is also an expected increase in export to western countries as a result of an improvement in Israel’s economic relations, Israel’s international standing and an end to attempted economic boycotts of Israel which gain traction when the diplomatic process doesn’t progress.
Improvement in Israel’s credit rating – A regional accord will lead to an improvement in Israel’s geopolitical situation and reduce the risk to investors which will lead to an increase in Israel’s credit rating. With that improved credit rating the cost of credit will decrease and so will Israel’s interest payments on the public debt which are billions of shekels every year.
Increased foreign investment in Israel – A regional accord will draw companies to Israel who are seeking to utilize the high technological infrastructure, the high quality of human capital and unique geographical location which leads to a convenient entry point to developing markets in the Middle East. International sources of wealth, national and private funds which don’t invest in Israel in significant enough numbers today will turn to the Israeli market which will become an attractive investment opportunity, heightened by the improved credit rating.
Reduced investment in settlements – A regional accord which will include the need to remove small and isolated settlements will lead to a budget savings both through the reduced defense spending which are heavy on those settlements and reduced infrastructure spending on places where the cost per head is high because of their isolation.
Increased incoming tourism to Israel – Past experience shows a direct correlation between the security and geopolitical situation in Israel and the number of tourists who arrive in the country. A regional accord will bring a significant increase in incoming tourism to Israel, including tourists from the surrounding countries and Muslim world.
Separation from the Palestinians
The regional accord will include a separation between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two people as part of which the major settlement blocs (Ariel, Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim) will remain as part of Israel. The accord will include strict security measures and will guarantee Israel’s right to act to defend itself and against any terrorist threat without limitations, as well as the demilitarization of the Palestinian state.
The separation from the Palestinians is the only reasonable response to the demographic threat and the ideas of “a state for all its citizens” or “bi-national state” which extremists from the right and left are trying to push. These ideas do not fit with the idea of Zionism.
To progress the idea of separation we recognize the fact – as recognized by previous Israeli governments – that the dilemma between keeping sections of the land of Israel and maintaining a Jewish majority requires us to give up Israeli territory. The two state solution – which was recognized by all Prime Ministers of Israel in the past 30 years from Rabin to Netanyahu – is the only solution which can guarantee Israel’s existence and security. We do not take the need to compromise on historical territory lightly as part of this solution. We see the settlers as real Zionists and as part of a future accord, with a heavy heart, we will need to ask some of them to give up their life’s work for the sake of the state and its long term existence. The concessions of some of the territory of the historic land of Israel is a necessary part of the fight for the survival of a Jewish state in the land of Israel with a Jewish majority and which is a democratic state with safe and recognized borders.
Principles of the diplomatic negotiations:
1. Israel, the moderate Arab states and the Palestinian Authority will open negotiations which will include discussion of the outlines of a regional agreement and a separation from the Palestinians.
2. The aims of a regional agreement – long term strict security measures including the demilitarization of Judea and Samaria and the disarmament of Hamas from its strategic weaponry; normalization between Israel and the moderate Arab world and the Arab League; a separation from the Palestinians through the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state as part of a regional agreement; the end of the conflict and all claims.
3. During the negotiations there will be a freeze on building outside the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria with the exception of natural growth in existing settlements.
4. The discussions on final borders will be based upon Israel’s security needs and will take into account the reality since 1967. Both sides will recognize the mutual interest to keep the settlement blocs in Israel’s hands. If there is a need there will be negotiations over land swaps.
5. The issue of the refugees will be settled within a future Palestinian state and under no circumstances in Israel.
6. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and its unity is a national symbol of the first degree. Jerusalem will remain united and under Israeli sovereignty as Jerusalem is not only a place or a city but also the center of the Jewish-Israeli ethos and the holy place to which Jews turned their eyes across the generations.
7. A total end to incitement against Israel in the Palestinian education system will be part of any future agreement.
8. The fight against terror will continue without any connection to negotiations. Israel reserves the right to act in its own defense including within the territory of a future Palestinian state if necessary.
9. The countries of the world will provide guarantees for a future agreement with clear and harsh sanctions in case of clauses in the agreement are breaches.
The United States is Israel’s greatest and most important strategic ally. Our relations with the US are a powerful, unique asset which plays a central role in Israel’s security. The State of Israel needs to do all it can to develop its special relationship with the US and can’t allow them to be degraded. The relationship is built upon rock solid foundations of shared values and mutual interests. The personal relationship between the leaders is also an important factor. In the past years senior office holders in Israel, including the Prime Minister himself, behaved (more than once) in an irresponsible manner and damaged the fabric of the relationship and the complete trust between the sides. We will work to maintain the special relations with the US while preserving the close connection and trust with the American leadership even at times of disagreement.
Hamas in Gaza
Hamas is a murderous terrorist organization which doesn’t recognize Israel’s existence and acts and incites against Israel. As long as Hamas rejects the Quartet conditions the basis of which are rejecting violence and terror, and continues to fly the flag of incitement of the worst kind and refuses to recognize Israel’s existence then Israel must not cooperate with or enter into dialogue or negotiations with the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
Israel needs to increase its deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas and respond with force to any rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli territory. No country in the world can ignore rocket fire upon its civilians. Israel has the right to respond with force and undertake large scale military operations, including ground operations, against those who fire rockets and those who send them.
The residents of Gaza, who do not affiliate with Hamas or other terrorist organizations, are not Israel’s enemies. Israel will seek to ease the conditions of the closure around Gaza on humanitarian grounds and will allow for the development and rehabilitation of Gaza – but this is only on the condition that Hamas is disarmed and strict oversight takes place at the crossings to ensure that the goods and materials which enter Gaza will not be used by Hamas and the other terror organizations, to re-arm and build military strength in anticipation of another round of fighting with Israel.
The fact that Operation Protective Edge ended without a complimentary diplomatic process is a strategic mistake which requires fixing. We should create a diplomatic mechanism which will connect between the rehabilitation of Gaza and the disarmament of Hamas from its attacking weaponry, so Gaza will be rehabilitated when it is disarmed. This mechanism will be part of the regional negotiations.
Israel’s foreign relations and restoring our international standing
Israel’s foreign relations and its international standing are at a low point the likes of which is difficult to remember. Across the western world there is an energetic campaign of de-legitimization of Israel, which includes within it anti-Israel and antisemitic organizations, and is aimed at the general public including in places which were traditionally supportive of Israel like North America or European countries like Holland and Germany.
This situation is not a result of fate. In the 1990s Israel’s standing in the world was at an unprecedented peak. Even in 2009, during the days of Operation Cast Lead, there were rallies in support of Israel in Europe and the US, the leaders of the free world including Europe came to visit Israel in solidarity and the President of the United States called a press conference to express support for Israel.
The key to Israel’s international standing is a return to the negotiating table and restarting the diplomatic process. Simultaneously we should fix issues within the management of Israel’s foreign relations and advocacy structures.
The failures in management of Israel’s foreign relations
Since the foundation of the State of Israel, the management of Israel’s foreign relations has been plagued by significant flaws and failures. Including:
1. The strength of a country is measured first and foremost by its standing in the international arena resulting from its bilateral relations and involvement in international alliances and coalitions, and not only based upon military strength. In Israel there is still a widely held traditional belief that our national security is not based upon foreign relations but only on military strength.
2. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the senior government body responsible for managing and implementing Israel’s foreign relations and public diplomacy, is at a dangerous and unprecedented low point. Its main responsibilities were taken from it and dispersed among other government ministries and its perception among other bodies is problematic. The weakness of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs including an inability to function in certain important areas of policies leads to a dominance of the security system in managing Israel’s foreign relations.
3. Israel’s foreign policy is largely reactive and based upon extinguishing fires in the short term rather than a result of medium or long term planning.
4. Throughout the years government ministries were created, for political necessity, which took away from the responsibilities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a way which harmed the standing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the manner in which important issues were tackled without an appropriate infrastructure in the ministries which took responsibility.
For example: The Ministry for Strategic Affairs which was created for personal political purposes by the Prime Minister who wanted to give an office to a particular minister from his party became over the years a wasteful and unnecessary office to which substantial foreign policy issues were transferred whose rightful place is in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a result, serious foreign policy issues are not properly managed without coordination while arguments take place over issues of ego between senior officials. One example is the fight against the campaign of de-legitimization and boycotts against Israel or the fight in the international legal arena.
Fixing the failures in the management of foreign policy
Yesh Atid worked, and will continue to work, to close wasteful and unnecessary government ministries. In this context we will work to close the Ministry for Strategic Affairs and returning the responsibilities for managing public diplomacy and foreign relations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and transforming the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into the body responsible for the overall implementation of Israel’s diplomatic affairs and foreign policy.
The Iranian threat
Israel cannot allow a nuclear Iran which will drag the entire region into an arms race, which will bring the entire region into existential danger. With that we must remember that one of our greatest strategic assets is our strategic alliance with the US and we must make every effort to preserve that alliance which allows Israel to maintain with its quantitative military and technological edge over its enemies – and to allow the US and the western world to continue to engage in negotiations with Iran to attempt to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power through diplomatic channels.
Israel should support international action which combines diplomacy, sanctions and military action if necessary which will stop Iran’s nuclear program before it crosses the point of no return. Israel maintains the right to use other means to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
The Northern threat
Israel seeks peace with Syria just as it seeks peace with the entire Arab world. With that, the situation in the Arab world and the civil war in Syria are proof that in the current reality there is no stable regime on our northern border with which to negotiate and so Yesh Atid strongly opposes any negotiations regarding the Golan Heights which is an inseparable part of the State of Israel.
Currently Israel’s aim on the northern front is to closely and carefully monitor the developments in Syria and Lebanon and preserve our effective deterrent vis-à-vis the terror organizations operating in the area. At the same time Israel must make clear to the government of Lebanon – through the United Nations and with international pressure – that Hezbollah must be disarmed and that Israel maintains the right to respond with force to any rocket fire against Israeli civilians.
Public Diplomacy and Advocacy
The international reality and the trend of de-legitimization in the world curtails Israel’s ability to fight terror and the ability to garner support and backing from the international community for military operations and diplomatic initiatives. Israel is facing an international legal campaign, investigative committees against Israel, economic boycotts, calls to divest from Israel and refrain from visiting Israel, and mostly a significant attack on Israel’s image in the world.
Improving Israel’s international standing is a national interest of the highest order. Israel’s advocacy needs to operate efficiently and professionally and with an understanding of modern media which requires a united bank of messages for spokespeople. Israel advocacy today is divided between a range of bodies (Ministry of Hasbara, Department of Hasbara and Public Diplomacy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and others) who are not coordinated with one another and do not operate according to a coherent policy.
We see significance in ending this ongoing failure in advocacy and public diplomacy and creating an organized, structured, initiating and professional mechanism which is fit for purpose to face the challenges of today which will be within Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We should unify Israel’s civilian advocacy operation, which will coordinate with the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, and ensure it is allocated sufficient budgets to succeed. Building this structure will be a critical foundation in improving Israel’s standing in the world, improving Israel’s foreign relations and the ability of the country to deal with the challenges we will face in the coming years.
Yesh Atid’s plan to make Israel’s advocacy and public diplomacy structure more efficient and effective, within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1. Defining the responsible authority for advocacy – the unification of Israel’s advocacy work under one roof will remove the bureaucracy caused by duplication, the wasted resourced and will create a single message bank which is the basis of modern communication. The advocacy structure in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be determined by a government decision as the body responsible for Israel’s advocacy and public diplomacy in the world. Its responsibilities will be expanded and it will be given the necessary tools to professionally coordinate all the relevant bodies. At the same time the Ministry of Hasbara and the National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office will be closed. As part of the government decision the government will present clear boundaries for government ministries work with the media and they will be instructed to coordinate and approve diplomatic messaging with the advocacy body in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The head of the advocacy mechanism will take place, as a rule, in ministerial meetings, government meetings and relevant security cabinet meetings.
2. Clear outline of responsibilities during regular work and in emergencies – The Government will detail in its decision clear responsibilities for ongoing work and in emergency situations. The responsibilities will include an annual working plan to meet the goals set by the government, leading and managing Israel’s ongoing diplomatic advocacy work, building professional capabilities and creation of a mechanism capable of responding in emergency situations (defense and non-defense related) which can operate at any time and immediately in coordination with all the relevant bodies.
3. Inter-ministerial coordination – To ensure the advocacy and public diplomacy body has a clear picture of Israel’s advocacy needs an inter-ministerial committee will be founded which will be the advisory body when building the national advocacy plan and determining aims. The committee will recommend, among other things, the aims for the short and long term, will assist in building the annual work plan and will oversee the ongoing work.
4. Advocacy in new media – In the era of new media in which we live today, online advocacy in its various forms has the ability to create immediate and widespread exposure which can impact public perception and global public opinion. The State of Israel, one of the world leaders in technology, must place an emphasis on implementing these abilities with regards to advocacy and public diplomacy as part of the important effort to strengthen Israel’s image in the international arena.