No countries for old men

After serving nearly six years as the special advisor to the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, I came home convinced of one thing, cognizant of another. The first was that a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not only in the vital security interests of Israel and the ...

AFP/Getty images
AFP/Getty images
AFP/Getty images

After serving nearly six years as the special advisor to the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, I came home convinced of one thing, cognizant of another. The first was that a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not only in the vital security interests of Israel and the future state of Palestine, but also the United States. The second, initially noted two years ago by a former IDF Chief of Staff, was that, "The USSC, the IDF and the Palestinian Security Services were buying time, time for the politicians.... [A]nd they're wasting it." As we approach the United Nations General Assembly session in September, the first conviction remains immutable, while sadly, the reality of the general's observation appears not to have changed in the slightest.

T. E. Lawrence wrote in the aftermath of the First World War, "...[W]hen we achieved, and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew... We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly, and made their peace."

After serving nearly six years as the special advisor to the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, I came home convinced of one thing, cognizant of another. The first was that a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not only in the vital security interests of Israel and the future state of Palestine, but also the United States. The second, initially noted two years ago by a former IDF Chief of Staff, was that, "The USSC, the IDF and the Palestinian Security Services were buying time, time for the politicians…. [A]nd they’re wasting it." As we approach the United Nations General Assembly session in September, the first conviction remains immutable, while sadly, the reality of the general’s observation appears not to have changed in the slightest.

T. E. Lawrence wrote in the aftermath of the First World War, "…[W]hen we achieved, and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew… We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly, and made their peace."

It is ironic then that nearly a century later, both a Palestinian and an Israeli security professional would note something similar by asking me why Congress was threatening to abandon them in wake of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s recent hearing, "Promoting Peace, Reexamining U.S. Aid to the Palestinian Authority." My Palestinian friend wrote, "Look what we did for ourselves — with your help. Compare that to Iraqis and Afghans where you’ve had to do it for them.  Don’t they understand the potential magnitude of our work?"

My Israeli friend intoned: "Your Congress professes concern for our security needs and then threatens to undermine it without realizing it. Our security cooperation with the Palestinians is worth infinitely more than another missile or airplane package and is all the more vital at a time when the time honored political process is stuck. [The Palestinian Security Forces] have become true professionals, not for you and certainly not for us. That is why we trust them now, they are acting in their interests for their future. Tell your Congress to finish what you have started. Threats to cut aid! What are these people thinking?"

Great progress has been achieved on the ground, often at great sacrifice by the security organizations on both sides. Yet the "old men" are on the verge of taking the victory achieved by courageous Palestinian and Israeli security men and women, and remaking it in the likeness of the former world they knew. Is there truly no way out of this stalemate?

Let’s consider this path forward: The first step is a realization in the United States that Israel’s security, while clearly tied in a strategic sense to Washington, will in the final analysis best be worked out on the ground with its Palestinian neighbors. The Israeli defense establishment clearly understands this as it continues to quietly deepen its coordination with a professionalizing Palestinian security establishment. This nascent cooperation has been facilitated by the office of the USSC, with participation by Canada, the UK, a variety of European countries, and Turkey.

The result is a security situation in the Palestinian territories that is unprecedented, where Israeli Defense Force commanders suffer more attacks from radical Israeli settlers than Palestinian "terrorists." In the aftermath of the second Intifada, the currency and miracle of this dynamic is made a reality today via the daily actions of those who do not predicate their actions on promotions, election outcomes or potential future political appointments, but rather on the long term interests of the peoples they serve and protect. Their selfless service has created the true basic foundations that enabled the renewal of a negotiations process, and underlay the facilitation of Palestinian economic and civil governance progress.

Renewed security cooperation has been the enabler, not a retardant, through the renewal of Palestinian Israeli security coordination — and a modicum of U.S. aid — combined with the presence of a trusted senior U.S. military coordinator. Now is not the time to throw the security "baby" out with the "political" bath water.  It is time to recognize the value of the hard-won endeavors of the past five years, preserve the accomplishments, and then act in a worthy political manner.

Through the dedicated efforts of the Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Canadians, British, and others on the ground, we have approached "victory" of the sort described by Lawrence 90 plus years prior. We have worked for a "new heaven and new earth," and the progress is remarkable. But the "old men" are there, whether they are backward-looking Islamist rejectionists, backward-looking Israeli settler zealots, or well-intentioned but ill-informed members of the U.S. political establishment. And the danger of remaking our success into "the likeness of the former world they knew" is very real. Unless…

Steve White is a Washington-based independent consultant currently writing the history of the United States Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

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