A Response to Mr. Frantzman

Mr. Seth J. Frantzman’s recent opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post, “Terra Incognita: Israel’s dangerous anti-strategic game” (Feb. 7, 2016), raises interesting questions regarding Israel’s “difficult strategic problem” vis-à-vis the Palestinians and their desire for a state.  But, although the problems he identifies are real, he offers not a single solution to any of them.  I believe this striking omission follows from the fact that the problems he identifies are in the present circumstances insoluble.  So, what Mr. Frantzman diagnoses as a decision by the Israeli political classes to play a “dangerous anti-strategic game,” is in fact the inevitable, pre-ordained, and very reasonable response to the very particular and peculiar “game” Israel’s Palestinian opponents have chosen to play. 

The main thrust of Mr. Frantzman’s argument is this:


“Palestinians reject the existence of the State of Israel and see any sort of agreement as merely a stage on the way to the eventual disintegration of Israel.

“Whether it is the large-scale and constant discussion of the ‘right of return’ or just maps that never depict Israel, it’s clear that this is the case.
“Israel’s strange reaction to the concept that its enemies ‘reject peace’ is to therefore give them what they want; no change in policy. Israel surrenders its own strategic choices by putting the ball in the Palestinian court and saying ‘until you accept peace, you can have the ball.’ Israel’s strategy is thus made in Ramallah or the Gaza Strip. ‘They reject peace’ therefore means there cannot be change.” 

What Mr. Frantzman seemingly fails to appreciate is that, if two parties are engaged in a military or quasi-military conflict, and one of the two parties in fact refuses to inter into a genuine peace agreement with the other party, that refusal limits tremendously the strategic options available to the more flexible party. 

Typically, if two parties are in conflict, one possible strategy for both sides would be to arrive at a formula for a peace agreement that both sides can figuratively and literally live with.  But, if one side determines that it is unwilling to ‘live with’ the other side in peace, the peace-making strategy goes out the window for the other party, as well.  This failure could not fairly be attributed to a dangerous game the more flexible side is playing; it could only be attributed to the rejectionist attitude of the less flexible side.  Thus, Israel’s strategic policy with regard to peace truly is made in Gaza—Mr. Frantzman is right about that—but that is not because Israel is playing a dangerous anti-strategic game.  It is because the Islamist terrorists who control Gaza and would undoubtedly control any future Palestinian state have their own strategy: no peace with Israel.  The song says it takes two to tango.

I have said that the Palestinians have chosen to play a very particular and peculiar strategic game of their own.  Their particular strategy is to reject a long-lasting, genuine peace deal with Israel.  What makes it peculiar in the modern world is that the strategy is based, I believe, on sincere convictions as to what Islam requires of pious believers.  Those Palestinians who fight under the banner of Hamas and other Islamist terrorist groups sincerely believe that they have a religious obligation to rid Palestine, from the river to the sea, of any Jewish sovereignty.  In their view, that land is Islamic land, and a majority Jewish government may not be permitted to rule over it.  Whether or not a majority of Palestinians agree or disagree with the terrorists is for practical purposes irrelevant.  The men and women with the guns, and missiles, and suicide vests, and with shovels digging terror tunnels, all agree.  And those are the Palestinians who would have to lay down their arms for there to be a genuine, long-lasting peace between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Mr. Frantzman says more than once that Palestinian rejection of peace should not eliminate the possibility of a “change” in Israeli policy, although he does not say what specific change he would endorse.  Still, he is obviously correct in saying that Palestinian rejectionism does not prohibit all change on the Israeli side.  In the absence of a possibility for genuine peace, Israel might decide to escalate military action against Palestinian terrorists, or it might decide to decrease the intensity of that action.  It might decide to ask other nations, particularly Arab ones, to pressure the Palestinian terrorists to abandon, sincerely and for all time, their goal of eliminating the Jewish state.  It might decide that, for the foreseeable future, the terrorists will have to be dealt with on a tit-for-tat basis—if they strike, there will be a harsh response; if they don’t strike, quietude will prevail.

If there is some ingenious change in strategy Israel can make that will substantially improve its standing with Palestinians or with the rest of the world, I for one am not clever enough to discover it.  Nor has Mr. Frantzman identified such a magically ingenious change.  It might be frustrating for all those who wish Israel well to think that Israeli policy is made in Gaza, but to a large extent that is the plain truth.  Whenever two parties are engaged with each other, one party can determine what the other party is able to achieve consensually.  That is because, where both parties must consent, one party’s refusal to consent defeats the other party’s strategy of consensus.