An Uncertain Road: Testing the Durability of an Israeli-Palestinian Borders and Security Agreement

In March 2011, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution held a simulation to test the resilience of a hypothetical agreement between Israelis and Palestinians on the issues of borders and security. The exercise did not invalidate the concept of such an agreement, but it did illustrate a number of potential problems. In this Middle East Memo, Kenneth M. Pollack analyzes the simulation’s implications for an Israeli-Palestinian border and security agreement.

Since the collapse of the latest round of Israeli- Palestinian peace talks in the fall of 2010, numerous commentators, and even officials in the U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian governments, have suggested that Israel and the Palestinians instead pursue an agreement limited only to border and security considerations as a way to overcome the many problems inherent in both final status talks and further interim agreements. Indeed, in his May 2011 speeches, President Obama himself suggested that Israelis and Palestinians concentrate first on security and borders issues, although he did not go so far as to advocate a pure borders and security agreement.

With this background in mind, the war game sought to test four key variables that would be critical to the success of a borders and security agreement:

1. The extent to which Israel would feel willing to trust the Palestinians and/or the Americans to handle issues it deems critical to its security in the face of clear threats and actual terrorist attacks.

2. The extent to which Palestinian political strife could create problems between Israel and the Palestinians or among Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States.

3. The willingness of the Palestinians to tolerate infringements on their sovereignty to ensure that Israeli security requirements are met.

4. The willingness and ability of the United States to mediate disputes between Israel and the Palestinians while simultaneously addressing the security and sovereignty issues related to both.