Forwarded from The Jerusalem Post of August 20, 1996

When Treaties Do Not Bind

By Martin Sherman

The Oslo accords cannot be considered a binding treaty for the Netanyahu government.

Almost immediately after taking office, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu placed inappropriate and needless limitations on his freedom of action as far as foreign policy is concerned. In one of his first public statements, he made the unfortunate declaration that governments are bound to honor agreements signed by their predecessors.

Not only was this pronouncement hasty and inapt, it was totally unnecessary. For on this matter Netanyahu is wrong, dangerously wrong. He did of course make the reservation that honoring agreements is contingent on full reciprocity in the fulfillment of mutual obligations. But here again he is in error. There are some agreements which governments, especially democratic governments, are bound to repudiate regardless of the other party's behavior. The Oslo Agreement, which was initialed exactly three years ago, is one of these agreements, and its repudiation is not the right of the present government but its democratic duty. Leaders are not free to commit their people irrevocably to any obligation that may take their fancy, certainly not those which jeopardize the capacity to provide the nation with good government and protection.Clearly, if any elected leader feels that the policy of his predecessors endangers this, it is his duty to reject the continuation of such a policy.

Honoring the Oslo accords definitely precludes any possibility of providing protection and good government for the country. As such, it cannot be considered a binding treaty for the Netanyahu government. True, it may prove very difficult to explain to the international community why Israel cannot honor the former government's commitments. It will, however, be far more difficult to explain to the Israeli public (and history) why it can. For the implementation of these accords will render the Jewish state militarily indefensible and economically untenable.

HONORING OSLO will mean reducing the width of the country to far below the required minimum of 50 to 150 kilometers necessary for the deployment of a strategic defense system to protect the coastal metropolis. Honoring Oslo will mean reestablishing an eastern border about 500 km. long, winding along the very fringes of major Israeli cities, no more than walking distance from large population centers.

Thus the "enemies of peace" could easily infiltrate by night, perpetrate acts of terror and withdraw under cover of darkness. This possibility will of course oblige Israel to take measures to seal the border. For a country whose army relies heavily on reserves, this constitutes a crippling social and economic burden. Honoring Oslo will mean that the entire Israeli infrastructure will be under the control (in terms of fire, observation and optical and electronic surveillance), of whoever occupies the hills of Samaria and Judea, which command the coastal lowlands from Haifa Bay to the environs of Ashdod, much as the Golan Heights command Galilee and the Hula Valley.

Airfields -- military and civilian -- principal sea ports, the main arterial road, railways, major power stations, the sweet water system, the chief communications systems, centers of civilian government and military command, major cities, will all be within the range of simple, cheap weaponry, available to nongovernmental terrorist organizations (or "enemies of peace"), who could totally disrupt any semblance of social and economic routine in the nation's metropolis, turning Israel into a very unattractive venue for investments.

Honoring Oslo will mean abandoning Israel's most important sources of drinking water to Arab control. US News and World Report in December 1991 aptly described the perils involved in such a measure, warning that uncontrolled Palestinian drilling of wells could cut off supplies to Israel and cause permanent ruin to Israeli water sources west of the Green Line.

The security hazards (both at the strategic and tactical levels) inherent in the implementation of the Oslo accords are so great, and the resources, both social and economic, required to address them so enormous, it makes the provision of protection and good government to the population totally unfeasible.

The rationale of the policy initiated by the previous government takes no account of "worst-case scenarios." Indeed, its success is totally dependent on the occurrence of the "best-case scenario." In a world of inherent uncertainty, this is unconscionable recklessness. It is a policy which far exceeds any reasonable risk that a responsible government can legitimately ask its nation to bear. It is thus a policy that must be abandoned.

Convincing the world of this is the single most important challenge facing Netanyahu. He has no margin of error, no room for failure. For failure will spell doom for Israel and the end of the 100-year dream of Jewishindependence.

(c) Jerusalem Post 1996

Martin Sherman teaches political science at Tel Aviv University.

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