Yehuda Lukacs
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The day after: A Palestinian State and Israeli accession to NATO

The Biden administration and the Netanyahu government have locked horns over the aftermath of the Gaza war.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said during the Munich Security Conference: “Virtually every Arab country now genuinely wants to integrate Israel into the region to normalize relations…so that Israel can feel safer,” and “to proceed to a Palestinian state that also ensures the security of Israel.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu vehemently opposes a two-state solution. He believes such a state would lead to another invasion just like on October 7: Israel “will not submit to international dictates regarding a future agreement with the Palestinians,” he said.

He echoes the post-October 7 sentiment held by most Israeli Jews toward Palestinian statehood.

Biden is the most pro-Israeli president in history. But he seems to be at a loss on how to persuade Netanyahu and his public that their country’s future survival is inextricably linked to the opening of a new chapter with their 5 million Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank and Gaza.

Can these conflicted visions be reconciled?

Full Integration of Israel into NATO would supplement the Biden package with a potent security blanket and serve as an added incentive that might make a difference in the minds of Israelis. An iron-clad guarantee of ‘never again’ offered by 32 countries may overcome Israelis’ insecurities, suspicions, and disinclination to support Palestinian statehood even if it is demilitarized.

The Israel Institute of Democracy (IDI) recently polled the public on elements of the Biden plan: 59 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose a deal that includes a Palestinian state, peace with Saudi Arabia, and American guarantee; only 29 percent of respondents expressed their support.

Five months after the barbaric October massacre, Israelis still suffer from deep traumas. Even many leftists who previously were sympathetic to the idea of a Palestinian state are now adamantly against it. Tempting Israel with a peace treaty with Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s leader, as envisioned by Biden, is necessary but insufficient to allay the existential fears and the deep emotional scars felt by Israelis.

Before October 7, Israel’s national ethos espoused self-reliance. The Hamas attack has weakened this conviction. Many Israelis felt extremely vulnerable and abandoned by their state, previously hailed as an invincible regional superpower.

Israel was unable to deter Hamas nor was its military available to save the residents of the Gaza envelope communities or prevent the taking of hostages.

Nearly five months have passed since the onset of the war, 30,000 Palestinians killed, over 100 hostages are still in captivity, and Hamas remains defiant.

Most Israelis (Arabs and Jews) believe it is unlikely that an “absolute victory” will be achieved, according to a survey conducted by the Israel Institute of Democracy a few days ago.

Sooner or later, Israelis will realize that their security and well-being cannot be guaranteed solely by force, given the multiple regional threats they face.

Once the Gaza war is over, the US and Germany, Israel’s closest allies, are best suited to explore the idea of an Israeli accession. The Ukraine war and domestic politics within member-states will certainly play a major role in the process. Sweden’s application, for example, held up for over 20 months by Hungary, was finally ratified by its parliament. Viktor Orban’s close ties to Vladimir Putin who views NATO’s enlargement as a threat were responsible for the delay.

A consensus is required to admit a new candidate to the alliance. Undoubtedly, this will be a monumental undertaking, especially since Israel is located outside of Europe. Nevertheless, it merits serious consideration by Congress and the White House.

Most NATO members, except Turkey, support Israel. However, several have strongly condemned its handling of the war and urged an immediate ceasefire. The organization’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared after the October attack: “Israel does not stand alone.”

The United States and the other 31 alliance members have a deep interest in a stable and peaceful Middle East. The attacks by the Houthis on ships in the Red Sea, for example, have disrupted shipping routes and oil supplies worldwide.

Massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations and demands for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza have taken place in several European capitals; antisemitic incidents have significantly increased, and terrorist threats have multiplied. The Gaza war has now become a socially explosive time bomb inside the continent.

Over the years, Israel has maintained close cooperation with the Atlantic Alliance in several areas; it was designated in 1987 by the US as a Major non-NATO Ally. In 2016, it inaugurated a permanent diplomatic mission at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels.

Turkey, Israel’s estranged ally and a vocal supporter of the Palestinians would oppose the accession. However, if membership is tied to establishing a Palestinian state, its opposition might be softened. A rapprochement between NATO’s largest Muslim member and the Jewish state is also in the alliance’s interest.

The reaction of Arab states and the Palestinians to an Israeli accession is uncertain. Saudi Arabia, however, which seeks a defense treaty with the US as part of the Biden peace package will not oppose Israel’s joining the alliance.

NATO’s defense of Israel, as part of its Article V commitment to assist any member under an attack, would also be applied vis-à-vis Iran. Israel’s top national security anxiety can be alleviated once Iran is deterred by the alliance. Its aggressive regional footprint would also be checked.

Accession to NATO along with regional Arab-Israeli peace and the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state — would constitute a bold, long-term structural blueprint that could lay the foundations for a durable peaceful future in the world’s most troubled region.

About the Author
Yehuda Lukacs, born in Budapest, received his Ph.D. in International Relations from American University's School of International Service. He is Assoc. Professor Emeritus of Global Affairs at George Mason University. In addition to George Mason, he taught at American University, University of Maryland, Corcoran College of Art and Design, University College Cork (Ireland), Eötvös Loránd University-ELTE (Budapest); and as Lady Davis Doctoral Fellow at Hebrew University's Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace (Jerusalem). His books include Israel, Jordan and the Peace Process (Syracuse Uni. Press); The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Documentary Record (Cambridge Uni. Press); Documents on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Cambridge Uni. Press); The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Two Decades of Change with Abdallah Battah (Westview Press). He is the Executive Producer of the documentary film Migration Studies filmed in Hungary and Serbia in 2017:
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