Palestinian statehood and jihadist terror

The primacy of twisted 'faith.'

Palestinian flag/protest good illustrative 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Palestinian flag/protest good illustrative 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Throughout portions of the Islamic world, an utterly unbreakable link exists between violence and the sacred. This insidious nexus prevents peace from breaking out in the Middle East. It is, moreover, the indisputably core reason why a Palestinian state would pose an egregious or even existential threat to Israel.
In the matter of Palestinian statehood, US President Barack Obama's proposed plan for a “Two-State Solution" would degrade both US and Israeli security. Oddly enough, after so many years of bearing witness, even genuinely well-intentioned supporters of Palestinian statehood still miss a fundamentally crucial point, one concerning intersections of violence and religious faith. This is that a 23rd Arab state carved out of the still-living body of Israel would inevitably accelerate and enlarge jihadist terror in the region.    
Such faith-based terror-violence would have little if anything to do with normal military calculations of strategy or tactics. Rather, it would represent an expression of forces that lie latent "above" ordinary war and politics. More precisely, it would express the ritualistic and rhythmically primal expressions of religious sacrifice.
Hamas, with assorted ties to al-Qaida, and also to Iran, would likely dominate any Palestinian state. Then, in keeping with its inherently primary commitment to terror, the Islamic Resistance Movement would quickly launch visibly expanded forms of "freedom fighting" and "national liberation."  Significantly, because such irrepressible violence would express Shahada, or Death For Allah, there could be no room for undertaking any further negotiations over "peace."
The open objective of any newly sovereign Arab entity would be an imperative end to "Occupied Palestine" (aka Israel), and an irredentist Palestinian state that extends "from the river to the sea." Jurisprudentially, this objective could easily be taken as an expression of unhidden genocidal intent. To be fulfilled, after all, would require assorted crimes against humanity.
There are certain noteworthy conceptual matters that now warrant immediate examination. Links between sacrifice and political violence have a long and relevant history. Plutarch's Sayings of Spartan Mothers identified the exemplary female parent as one who had purposefully reared her sons for civic sacrifice. Routinely, this mother was relieved to learn that a son had died "in a manner worthy of his self, his country, and his ancestors." Alternatively, those Spartan sons who had somehow failed to live up to this communal sacrificial standard were sharply humiliated and reviled.
The roots of jihadist terror from a new state of Palestine would originate, at least in part, from cultures that embrace similarly crude views of sacrifice. In these particular cultures, however, the rationale of sacrifice always goes far beyond any mere expectations of civic necessity. Here, sacrificial practice becomes a profoundly sacred expression of religion. Even more exactly, such sacrifice derives, in its irreducibly core meaning, from an always-hoped for conquest of personal death.
Although this point has yet to be fully understood, there is never any greater power in world politics, than power over death.  In essence, this message is not really all that difficult to understand. Indeed, various promises of immortality underlie virtually all forms of human religious belief.  
Everywhere, whether in Shiite Iran or Sunni Egypt, the jihadist loudly claims to “love death,” but this claim is everywhere a lie. Paradoxically, this terrorist kills himself/herself and innocent others, to ensure that he/she will not die. Therefore, the so-called “death” experienced in such a “suicide” is anything but final. It is, rather, a tiny blip of altogether minor discomfort, a momentary inconvenience, on the incomparably ecstatic trajectory to eternal life.
Martyrdom operations have always been connected with Jihad. These meticulously orchestrated explosions of violence draw upon long-codified Islamic scripture. Unequivocal and celebratory invocations for such operations can be found in the Koran (9:111), and, sometimes, far more explicitly, in the canonical hadith.
For the US and Israel, the security implications of any enemy doctrinal fusion involving religion and violence warrant especially careful consideration. Convinced that Shahada violence against the US or Israel will lead to martyrdom, the Hamas or al-Qaida or Hezbollah terrorist will "normally" not be deterred by any ordinary threats of military reprisal or retaliation. It follows, inter alia, that our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sustained from the start as deliberately calculated forms of counter-terrorism, are quite literally beside the point.
Truth can emerge from paradox. Although sounding counter-intuitive, it is, in fact, the jihadists’ overriding terror of death that leads them to “suicide.”  Because any short-term "dying" in the act of killing “infidels” or “apostates” is presumed to free them from the penalty of a real death, these faith-based terrorists aim to conquer mortality by self-immolation.
In Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza, the pertinent dangers arise not only from Hamas and al-Qaida, but also from more "moderate" Fatah, specifically, Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the military wing of a group that is headed by "moderate" Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
America's and Israel's terrorist enemies have very unique orientations to peace. This uniqueness puts us all at a marked, but foreseeable disadvantage.  While these Islamist enemies manifest their breathless expectations for immortality, both individual and collective, by the doctrinal slaughter of “heathen,” our own leaders remain unaware of the significance of these enemies’ doctrinal fusion of violence and "faith."   
For Palestinian jihadists in Judea and Samaria or Gaza, killing Americans and Israelis offers them nothing less persuasive than a full and unsurpassable reprieve from personal death. In more narrowly psychological terms, the death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the sacrifice, of the "other." This diminution is best captured by Ernest Becker's oft-quoted paraphrase of Nobel laureate Elias Canetti: "Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good."
To be sure, our jihadist enemies do not intend to do evil. Always, they commit to the killing of Americans and Israelis with an absolute purity of heart.  Though mired in blood, their search for sacrificial victims is persistently tranquil and self-assured, born of a reassuringly certain knowledge that the ultimate goals of any Holy War are, by definition, abundantly sacred.
Any Palestinian state could become conspicuously lethal to Israel, and simultaneously, starkly injurious to America. Beginning with a much greater understanding of prospectively pertinent linkages between violence and the sacred, both Jerusalem and Washington must now acknowledge that any emergent "Palestine," even one that had previously agreed to its own "demilitarization," would regard the entirety of Israel's remaining territory as "Occupied Palestine." In consequence, Arab demands for additional Israeli territorial surrenders would continue even after a bestowal of full Palestinian sovereignty.
At long last, Obama's preferred "Road Map" should be rejected for its elaborately twisted cartography, misconceived directions leading not to any enhanced regional distributions of justice and fairness, but to incessantly exploding detours of war and terror.    ------------LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and publishes widely on world politics, terrorism, and international law. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945, his latest articles have appeared in the Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College;  and Oxford University Press Blog. Professor Beres' popular writings are published in The New York Times; The Washington Times; Haaretz; US News & World Report; and The Atlantic. He is a frequent contributor to The Jerusalem Post.