NSC: `The national priority is a Jewish majority and democracy'
By Aluf Benn
[Ha'aretz - 23 Aug 2002)
Israel's top national security priority is "the long-term maintenance of a firm Jewish majority and democracy," followed closely by "the need to be strong, just and united," according to an assessment presented to the cabinet by the National Security Council on Wednesday.
The document is the first security assessment in Israel's history to view economic and social issues - the major elements of a "strong, just and united" society - as an integral part of national security, rather than focusing strictly on defense-related issues. Practically speaking, however, the document concludes that "a substantial improvement in the security situation" is a precondition for dealing with the country's economic and social problems. Thus, its more important recommendations relate to the goal of preserving a Jewish and democratic state.
On this issue, the report concludes that in light of the numerous demographic forecasts predicting an Arab majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea by 2020, Israel must determine its final borders within the next few years - and if no Palestinian partner is found, it must do so unilaterally.
The document does not make any recommendations on what Israel's borders should be, but says they should be determined by "demographic and security considerations." It warns that the alternative to finalizing a border is for Israel to retain control over an ever-growing number of Palestinians with no political rights, thereby endangering the state's Jewish and democratic characters alike.
With regard to the conflict with the Palestinians, the assessment opposes a return to the Oslo process, saying that Israel's approach should instead combine "a war on terror throughout the territories," construction of a strong, continuous barrier along the line separating Israel from the West Bank (including around Jerusalem), humanitarian aid to the Palestinians and a diplomatic initiative along the lines outlined by U.S. President George Bush. It also rejects any acceptance of a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, either in principle or in practice.
Though the assessment was based on input from a large number of people - including representatives of all the government ministries, every branch of the defense establishment and outside experts - the final result largely reflects the opinions of outgoing NSC Chairman Uzi Dayan.
On economic issues, the report recommends adopting the proposed 2003 budget as it is. However, warning that the economy cannot sustain the growing burden of defense expenditures, it also proposes several additional ideas for cutting the defense budget by restructuring the army. Some of the savings, it adds, could be used to increase the size of the standing army and thereby reduce the burden on reservists - which Dayan views as a critical goal.
The report also criticizes lax law enforcement that has led to a "de facto lack of sovereignty in certain areas," such as Arab towns in the Wadi Ara region that the police are unwilling even to enter. It therefore recommends that once the seam-line barrier is erected, responsibility for patrolling it be given to the army, in order to allow the police to concentrate on fighting crime.
Additionally, the report calls for fighting poverty by changing the current policy of encouraging the birthrate, and for greater integration of Israeli Arabs.