Dore Gold, formerly an Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and a foreign policy adviser to Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, has an encyclopedic memory of the historical details that make the Arab-Israeli conflict so complicated. He remembers the carnage that ensued, in 2005, when Israeli troops last withdrew from the Gaza Strip. (“Rocket fire increased by 500 percent between 2005 and 2006,” he told me.) And he disputes the notion that Israeli settlements are destroying the peace process, pointing out that they take up only 1.9 percent of the West Bank.
Gold believes that the Palestinian effort to obtain statehood through United Nations membership poses an unthinkable security risk to the Israeli people, which is why he will argue that the international community should reject Palestine’s petition to join the U.N. as a member state at the Slate/Intelligence Squared Debate on Jan. 10. Recently I caught up with Gold—now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs—about the Arab Spring, the problem with Hamas, and whether or not his many years around the negotiating table have tarnished his view of human nature.
Here are excerpts of our conversation.
Slate: You’ve expressed reservations about the Palestinian hope to carve out a state along the 1967 borders. What’s a more rational starting place for negotiations about borders?
Dore Gold: First of all, let me be very specific. My objection to the Palestinian position is chiefly over the issue of borders and security. On this point, Israel has vital needs which have been expressed by the main authors of the national security doctrine, such as Rabin, Sharon, and Dayan, since 1967. Therefore, my concern is how to protect those vital Israeli interests in any future negotiation.
Slate: What are some of those vital interests?
Gold: The fathers of Israel’s security doctrine always viewed the Jordan Valley as the front line of Israel defense. When Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, it learned again the importance of controlling the outer perimeter of the territory where it is waging a counterinsurgency campaign. For example, when Israel left the Philadelphi Route, which was the outer perimeter of Gaza, the entire area was penetrated by massive arms smuggling, including Grad rockets from Iran. This gave Hamas the ability to strike deep into Southern Israel, which previously it did not have. By analogy, should Israel abandon the Jordan Valley, it is very likely that major Jihadi organizations, from Southern Syria down to Yemen, would seek to smuggle weaponry into the West Bank, putting Israeli civilian aviation over Ben Gurion airport and most of Israel’s large cities at risk.*
Slate: So Israel’s biggest objection to the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership is that the borders Abbas has proposed [the 1967 lines] would leave Israelis unsafe?
Gold: The Palestinian Authority's bid for U.N. membership is part of a unilateralist course that it decided upon a few years ago. Rather than pursuing a negotiated peace, which would require the Palestinian leadership to make certain concessions, just like Israel, Mahmoud Abbas decided to lean on the international community to obtain statehood, without having to agree, for example, to demilitarization.
Borders are another issue. Israel is entitled to "secure and recognized boundaries," according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. It is not required to withdraw to the pre-1967 line, which was never an international border, but only an armistice line, where the armies stopped in Israel's 1948 War of Independence.
Slate: Earlier this month, the General Assembly issued a statement affirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Where does this leave the Israelis? What are they thinking now?
Gold: I think the point is that any move of the Palestinians towards statehood has to be negotiated with Israel. Israel learned the hard way that if it just abandons territory without putting any security measures into place, it will face unbridled escalation. If you compare the number of rockets that were fired at Israel in 2005, the year we got out of Gaza, to the number of rockets fired in 2006, the year afterward, there was a 500 percent increase in rocket fire. So we cannot—Israel cannot—permit a situation to arise in the West Bank which simply replicates the chaos of what appeared in Gaza.
Slate: But if a state emerged from the U.N. proposal—in other words, if Palestinians got the borders they wanted—wouldn’t there be less motivation to attack Israel?
Gold: That was part of the thinking of the Sharon government back in 2005. But alas, as I said, it doesn’t seem that the 1967 line is the line that will reduce the hostility on the other side. There are other factors involved.
Slate: What would reduce the hostility?