Under Siege

World must focus on threat from radicalism, says Israeli expert

Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli forces during a protest / AP
• June 4, 2013 5:00 am


Israeli government leaders should shelve a proposal to reignite peace talks with the Palestinians and focus on the evolving threat from the Arab world, said one Israeli security expert at a policy forum Monday.

Dan Schueftan, director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa and visiting professor of government at Georgetown University, spoke at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about the security challenges facing a new government in Israel.

The centrist Yesh Atid party finished second in parliamentary elections earlier this year, prompting right-leaning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to establish a new governing coalition.

Schueftan said the success of the centrist party affirmed a growing belief among Israelis that the prospects for peace with the Palestinians have only worsened since the Arab revolutions began in 2011.

"The Israelis see that there is no new Middle East that is pluralistic and democratic and willing to accept us an independent nation," he said.

This new centrist majority has developed a "national resilience" in light of the fact that deterrence against terrorist groups such as Hezbollah has not worked, he said.

"Now we aware of the fact that despite showing the Arab states the military, political, and economic strengths of Israel, the conflict is not fading away but only mutating," he said.

But Shai Feldman, director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, countered Schueftan’s assertion that the deterrence policy had failed.

"It’s not an accident that since the summer of 2006, we have not seen a Shia missile launched at Israel," referencing the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, he said.

Israel’s growing prosperity and security relationship with the United States may give Netanyahu room to negotiate a deal with the Palestinians, Feldman said.

"It’s very difficult for Netanyahu to build a comprehensive case that he’s bounded." Feldman said. "He clearly has room."

However, Schueftan stressed that Israeli public opinion has shifted against resuming peace talks and that the nation should disengage from negotiations with the Palestinians.

He said he supports a bilateral agreement between the United States and Israel that would discontinue some planned Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank territory but consolidate existing ones to preserve Israeli security.

The United States could shelter Israel from U.N. and European criticism in exchange, he said.

"I’m expecting the U.N. to charge Israel with killing the Dead Sea any day now," Schueftan said.

Schueftan was skeptical of reports that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is planning to return to the Middle East next week in an effort to restart peace talks.

"He will bring negotiations at best, and then we will negotiate and nothing will come of it," Schueftan said. "The chances are zero."

A senior Hezbollah leader has also announced in recent reports that the terrorist group would support Syrian attacks on Israel’s northern border.