Into the fray: Incompetent, impotent, irrelevant

Against the backdrop of unspeakable brutality raging in Israel’s immediate environs, continued negotiations for Palestinian statehood reflect the abject failure of ‘right-wing’ advocacy.

July 11, 2013 21:57
A Palestinian waves a flag in front of the W. Bank Jewish settlement of Ofra, April 26, 2013.

Palestinian with flag W. Bank370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Torokman)


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The Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation. The Palestinian Arab people believe in Arab unity... However, they must, at the present stage of their struggle, safeguard their Palestinian identity. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history.

The partition of Palestine in 1947, and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time.
- Palestine National Charter, currently posted on the official United Nations website

The prime minister may believe his offer of Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank is a “win-win” for Israel, but he is gravely mistaken.... An agreement with Abbas won’t be the end of the conflict... there will be additional demands made on Israel and there will be rockets falling on Israel – but the heart of the Land of Israel, Judea and Samaria, will have been abandoned by Israel.
- Moshe Arens, “Where is Benjamin Netanyahu taking us?’ Haaretz, July 9.

Every elected prime minister [since 1992]...has broken his word on how he would deal with the Arabs. [E]ach one of them has adopted an unexpectedly concessionary approach.
– Daniel Pipes, “Is Netanyahu Turning Left?” The Washington Times, July 5

With all the unmitigated brutality of the ongoing horrors across the Arab world, it beggars belief that the government of Israel is still actively engaged in continuing discussions in pursuit of a formula that will bring the country closer, and make it more vulnerable, to the source of these horrors.

Given the acts of unspeakable barbarity – the beheadings, the rapes and even occasional cannibalism – that have become the hallmark of Arab society in the post-Spring era, coupled with the disastrous failures of past attempts to cajole the Palestinian- Arabs in to a peace treaty by territorial withdrawal and political appeasement, it seems inconceivable that the notion of Palestinian statehood could still retain a shred of credibility.

Should be terminally toxic

Of course, the knee-jerk response would be to blame an inimical Obama administration, and its overly ambitious secretary of state, John Kerry, for applying undue pressure on the Netanyahu government to reengage Mahmoud Abbas in peace negotiations.

This is undoubtedly true – and equally irrelevant.

For while it is certainly correct that such pressure is applied, years of dereliction have not only facilitated its efficacy, but have invited its application.

For had there been any “right-wing” advocacy worth its salt over the past two decades, the idea of Palestinian statehood would have been so discredited that no self-respecting statesman would dare to embrace it. The fact that it has not been, is an enduring monument to the incompetence and impotence of the political “Right” in Israel – both in terms of its political parties and of its supportive civil society organizations. After all, given the irrefutable realties – past and present – any policy proposing further Israeli withdrawals to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state, should appear today so ridiculous that it would be terminally toxic to the career of any Israeli politician in the Zionist mainstream to be associated with it.

Likewise, in light of the horrific history of past attempts to implement the landfor- peace formula, that have left thousands of Israelis dead and tens of thousands maimed, any foreign politician, professing friendship for Israel, should know that pressure on the elected government of Israel to persist in such attempts would be greeted with such eruptions of public outrage that no incumbent leader could remotely consider complying with it.

More perilous than ever

Of course, establishing a Palestinian state on the strategic highlands that overlook the Israeli urban metropolis has always been a wildly irresponsible proposal.

This was true even when Israel’s regional neighbors were ruled by allegedly stable, relatively restrained autocratic regimes, that some hoped could exercise a moderating influence on the envisaged Palestinian state.

As unrealistic as that hope was then, today, with the spreading collapse, or at least, grave erosion, of central authority, and the ascendance of vehemently Judeophobic Islamist elements in nearly all nearby Arab states, whatever scant hope there might have been, has evaporated.

While some might see the internal melt down in Arab society as a positive sign for Israel, significantly reducing the military threat from regional state actors, there are profoundly menacing aspects to the phenomenon that are likely to sharply increase the threat entailed in any future sovereign Palestinian entity.

For as the centralized control of states over their territory decreases, and radicalization of the political climate within their frontiers increases, both their ability and their resolve to rein in renegade extremists will wane.

We are beginning to see a disturbing illustration of this in Sinai, where the entire peninsula is descending into a lawless haven for jihadi warlords and criminal gangs, evolving into a security nightmare for Israel, irrespective of decline in Cairo’s military prowess.

Even the recent unseating of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government by the Egyptian military should give little cause for complacency. The dire state of the economy, the impending clash with Ethiopia over the Nile, and the possible suspension of US aid in the wake of what can be plausibly seen as a military coup are likely to leave the armed forces stripped of the strength and the stamina to impose law and order for any length of time.

East of “Palestine”

Little imagination is required to envisage the already wobbly regime in Jordan falling to radical Islamist elements, or at least succumbing to their influence and being coerced to do their anti-Israel bidding.

Moreover, it is far from implausible that Jordan could degenerate into a battleground between rival fundamentalist factions vying for control of the kingdom, or a patchwork of medieval desert fiefdoms ruled by Shari’a-compliant strongmen, for whom the Jews are the “descendants of apes and pigs.”

Just as there was little that could be done to prevent the realities that arose in other Arab countries, afflicted by post-Spring fever, there will be little that can be done to prevent the realities that societal conditions will dictate in what would become the eastern neighbor to any future Palestinian state.

In a recent article (June 10), Guy Bechor, head of Middle East Studies at the Lauder School of Government at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center, described the situation emerging in the Middle East today as a reversion to the conditions that prevailed 100 years ago during the Ottoman era, of a vast borderless expanse, devoid of national borders, in which one can travel from “Iraq to Lebanon through Syria... without encountering a single policeman.”

Even if this somewhat overstates the prevailing lack of control, it illustrates a point of major importance.

Palestine seamlessly welded

If a Palestinian state is set up in any configuration remotely coinciding with the pre-1967 lines, it is likely to be almost seamlessly welded not only to the present relatively benign monarchy in Jordan, not only to any more radical successor, but to all that lies – largely borderless – beyond that.

The only physical obstacle today separating Israel’s heavily urbanized Coastal Plain from the realities of the Arab world, of which the Palestinians see themselves an integral part, is the limestone mountain range in Judea-Samaria, on which the Palestinian state is supposed to be constituted.

The establishment of such a state would adjoin almost immediately and directly link the eastern fringes of Tel Aviv with the greater Arab world, with all the attendant societal and security ramifications such a measure would entail.

Even in the unlikely event that Israel manages to negotiate maintaining a military presence in the Jordan Valley (something that would comprise a major violation of the sovereignty of the putative state), this would be no more than a temporary measure. Furthermore, it would be a more-than-somewhat hazardous undertaking for the troops involved, being deployed in a narrow, topographically inferior strip of land, sandwiched between the Palestinian state in the West, and whatever might prevail in present-day Jordan to the East – reminiscent of a giant Philadelphi Route in the pre-disengagement Gaza Strip bordering Sinai.

It is difficult to see how such deployment could be sustained – operationally or politically – for more than several years, at the end of which urban Israel would interface directly with the realities that pervade the Arab world.

Tantamount to enemy action?

Past attempts to promote the “peace process” with the Palestinians have had grim consequences. The nature of present events, unfolding across the region, can hardly serve as a source of greater optimism for success in the future. Quite the reverse.

More than ever the establishment a Palestinian state in any format vaguely approaching the pre-1967 lines is likely to place hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians in mortal danger.

In light of past precedents, present circumstances and the high probability of a disastrous future outcome, pressure on the government to adhere to a policy that will imperil so many of its citizens should be considered tantamount to enemy action.

It is thus virtually inconceivable – or at least should be – that Israel’s closest ally is doing precisely that. Worse, it is doing so not only without any protest from the government – but rather is being commended for doing so. Indeed, several seasoned analysts – like Moshe Arens, Daniel Pipes, David Weinberg – seem to sense signs of surrender in Netanyahu on this issue. Increasingly, he appears to be merely biding his time so he can choreograph his capitulation with media-complicit panache.

Abject advocacy

This failure, not only to rebut and ridicule a manifestly disproven policy, but to prevent what is emerging as its adoption by a government elected to oppose it, is a massive indictment of the efficacy the political “Right” in Israel.

This failure is even more staggering when one realizes that for much of the post-Oslo period the machinery of government was – at least officially – in the hands of Likud-led coalitions, which initially vehemently opposed any idea of a Palestinian state – and certainly a return to frontiers approximating the pre-1967 lines.

Yet, despite the irrational underpinnings of its political doctrine, despite the repeated practical failures of its policy prescriptions, despite its infrequent periods of control of the reins of formal power, the Left has inexorably imposed – and continues to impose – its ideology on the political decision-making process.

This dismal outcome must force the political Right in Israel to reevaluate its advocacy endeavor at every level.

Yes, I know that there are many extenuating factors, external to the Israel sociopolitical environment – hostile international media, foreign funding of left-wing NGOs and so on. But until the Right devises methods that at least attempt to neutralize them, these must be considered excuses, not reasons, for what is emerging as abject, historic defeat, with irrevocable – and inexcusable – consequences.

Kicking over a hornet’s nest?

The fault lies with both the elected representatives of the Right and the activists in civil society organizations – and with many sympathetic philanthropists who have channeled considerable resources into endeavors that a priori could be identified – at best – as unproductive.

The advocacy efforts of the political Right have focused more on the tactical, rather than the strategic, on the tangible rather than the intellectual, on specific rather than general issues, on the symbolic rather than the substantive...

The Right appears not to have internalized the lesson of the disengagement i.e., “boots on the ground” mean little. Any “facts on the ground” without viable ideo-intellectual shields can, and will, be wiped off the ground with nonchalant ease.

I realize that I may well be kicking over a hornet’s nest with this article. I also realize that hitherto I have offered little by way of constructive criticism. I hope to rectify this in coming columns.

However, given the results to date, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the advocacy efforts of the political Right have been incompetent, impotent and largely irrelevant to the policy-making process.

Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.


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