Strategy, visions, and planning for the future



We''re hearing another round of criticism that Binyamin Netanyahu has no strategy.

Critics are calling him the status quo Prime Minister, aspiring to nothing more than quiet, and seeing the status quo the best option for Israel in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Singing in the chorus are well known academics, who should know that "strategy" need not involve change, and retired generals who had been charged with planning and claim (along with the academics) that the Prime Minister never listened to them.

A more likely story is that the Prime Minister knew what they were saying, but did not agree.

Another verse of the same chorus is that the Prime Minister and his colleagues decide according to "gut feelings," and not the well thought out analyses of where Israel ought to be going, or what it must aim for as long term goals.

Again the essence of the criticism is that the country''s leadership Is not listening to me, or giving me a position as key adviser. 

What some of the critics mean is that the country is not doing what is necessary to make peace with the Palestinians.

The big however is that several Israeli prime ministers have pondered, and even tried to make peace with the Palestinians. 

Benyamin Netanyahu may be thinking with his gut, but it''s an experienced gut, trained over the decades close to, or in the midst of policy making circles. He''s had 11 years as a government minister, nine of which as prime minister. He may have learned something as national policymaker while running the country, but--unlike his American counterpart--he did not jump from speechmaking to national leadership, and did not have to learn it all while in the top  job.

A strategy of seeking to perpetuate the status quo may not be all that bad. It is a strategy, reflecting assessments about the nature of the status quo, the prospects of improving the national condition through a process of change, and the costs in money and lives that are likely to be spent in any effort to change the status quo.

It is possible to disagree with the priorities and the assessments that support them, as well as the tactics pursued in order to follow the strategy of preserving the status quo, or something close to it. 

It is also possible to disagree about just what is meant by the "status quo." Is it continued tension and a low level of violence with respect to the West Bank and Gaza, or seeking changes in agreement with the Palestinians that may not bring the nirvana of total peace, but allow greater opportunities for economic development and freedom of movement for the Palestinians?

We hear from Jews in Israel, Jews overseas and others who bemoan the loss of traditional Jewish values in the thinking of policymakers. Yet there are so many of those values , and they include so much confusion and contrasts, as to render that particular criticism an intellectual broadside with no meaning.

A more specific complaint is that Israel has violated morality and good sense by taking Arab land and settling Jews. Often this comes along with the political curses, "colonialism" or "Apartheid."

The least well informed accuse the present government of these sins, overlooking the it was the social democratic heroes David ben Gurion who followed the policies of land taking and expulsions of Arabs in the 1948 War of Independence, Yitzhak Rabin and other Labor Party figures  who helped carry them out, and Labor ministers who expanded settlements after 1967.

Those who would seek strategic justice by giving up major settlements might start with places where ethnic cleansing was more complete, such as Manhattan, the Louisiana Purchase, or what the US took as a result of its war with Mexico.

It was Likud hero Ariel Sharon who went the furthest by way of settlement withdrawal in Gaza. Much of what Netanyahu has done as Prime Minister on the settlement front is to add housing to existing settlements, and to approve cooperation with the West Bank Palestinians in their construction of Rawabi.

If you wish to ponder genocide, land taking, or even differentials in social indicators, you''ll find that the Arabs of Israel score like kings compared to Native Americans, and on important traits higher than African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and even the average for White Americans. Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza include well to do and well educated, as well as those who have lived on the dole of UNRWA for three and four generations. If you are looking for teenage pregnancies as a sign of social dysfunction, do not look toward Israeli Arabs or Palestinians, but you may not like what you see. Brothers kill sisters with a wandering eye before they can become pregnant.

Demands from the Prime Minister''s right for a change in strategy involve a more forceful attack on Hamas than has occurred. In some formulations this involves sizable numbers of ground troops, together with tanks and artillery. It may mean the conquest of all Gaza, which has implications for administering the lives of 1.8 million Palestinians likely to be unhappy with the change. Along the way there are sure to be many civilian casualties and an increase in the demands from international sources to hold Israel accountable, as well as IDF funerals that will lead Israelis to question the benefits of whatever is conquered. 

Look to the future is the call by many of those who demand a national strategy, or complain that the government, the Cabinet, or the Prime Minister has not fully considered the alternatives and planned appropriately for Israel''s future.

That sounds great, but who knows the future? Or who is certain about the few most likely scenarios that ought to be considered?

A verbal variation on the demand that the Prime Minister and his colleagues look to the future is the criticism that they have no vision.

Again we are at the point where those who disagree with the Prime Minister''s vision say that he has no vision.

To be sure, we cannot know what the Prime Minister''s vision is. However, if it is a depressing view of Islamic fanatics who will not desist, no shortage of allies to supply them with money and munitions, and western know nothings who are concerned mostly with protecting the human rights of those they perceived as deserving, then we might judge that it is a vision of reality, and arguably leads to a strategy of preserving something close to a quiet status quo.

One should be wary of anyone using the term vision. It is too close to the work of soothsayers and others of unsavory reputation.

That being said, it appears that Israeli citizens, media personalities, politicians, and those elected to high office along with senior military officers, economists, and other professionals who advise them have considered a variety of scenarios a countless number of times. Jews have been more literate and more argumentative than other people for more than two millennia, producing a great deal of literature to demonstrate those traits. Dispute continues on a daily basis. It is as convincing a trait of Israel''s democracy as periodic elections.

Looking at events of the recent months, one should not conclude that preserving the status quo is static and not responsive to threats or opportunities. The madness coming to Israel from Gaza brought forth a response that so far has wrecked great destruction as well as taking more than 2,000 lives. It has also included several Israeli agreements to cease fire, and willingness to concede some Hamas demands for an increased opening of its borders.

If the people in charge have decided that the status quo, or something close to it, is the best deal on offer, it is possible to disagree, as well as to disagree about each aspect of the tactics pursued with that strategy as the goal. Being a Jewish country, those arguments will continue. But one risks a charge of foolishness by accusing those currently in charge of not considering strategy.