Opinion: Israel needs a 'grand strategy' [p. 13]

A realistic assessment of Palestinian intentions along with incentives for change.

That the Hamas victory stunned Israeli policymakers demonstrates how little we understand about the processes that shape Palestinian society. Even now there are those who imagine that economic growth alone could contribute to a "saner" Palestine. The responsibilities of governance will, in fact, not divert Hamas from its agenda. Rather, the Islamic Resistance Movement is likely to adopt a long-term strategy that includes, among other things, a military buildup, subversion of the Jordanian (and then Saudi) regime, enhancing its alliance with other anti-Western countries and mobilizing support among Israeli Arabs. It will do all this with the ultimate goal of liquidating Israel. At the same time, Hamas can be expected to employ the tactic of reasonableness aimed at misleading those who continue to maintain optimistic visions about its evolution. Thus, in the absence of determined external intervention, the prospective Palestine could easily become a fanatic country for decades to come, causing grievous damage to the region, to global stability, Israel and the Palestinian people themselves. AND YET a fanatic state of Palestine need not be inevitable. Oslo I did take place; the Clinton-Barak proposals could have put the Palestinians on a trajectory toward coexistence with Israel. In other words, history is not linear. When a chance is taken it could, theoretically, go either way. The PA could, arguably, have used those opportunities for good. In the same way, Hamas could, as a result of social and economic processes combined with appropriate external pressures and incentives, evolve in a more positive direction. In other words, a "sane" Palestine is not an impossibility. Such alternative scenarios - Hamasatan vs a sane and peaceful Palestine - pose a critical challenge to statecraft. Every possible effort must be channelled to help the Palestinians evolve away from solidifying themselves as a fanatic state, and toward one that can live in peace. However, to succeed in this demanding task policymakers need to start thinking about a grand strategy, one that rises far above the present Israeli and Western ad-hoc policies. Developing such a grand strategy in the context of a broad Middle East and global perspective should be a top priority for the countries of the region, for states depending on Middle-Eastern oil, for the entire West, as well as for non-fanatic Muslim countries. While Israel should do everything possible to facilitate appropriate steps by other actors, it cannot wait or depend on them. IT'S WAY past time Israel designed a radically innovative, long-term grand strategy toward the future Palestine; one nested within an overall regional and global political-military approach. As far as possible, such an effort should be coordinated with the US (and other willing countries); but if necessary, Israel should act on its own. Absent a grand strategy, ad-hoc actions can be counterproductive. For instance, further unilateral withdrawals and the security barrier are no substitute for an actual strategy. They may be justified as measures against enemy violence, or for assuring Jewish demographic survival. But as free-standing actions they are inadequate, maybe even dangerous. In a vacuum, further unilateral withdrawals could increase support for Hamas, strengthen the belief that terrorism fosters Israeli concessions, and reinforce momentum toward an ever more fanatic Palestine. And while the security barrier is useful for reducing conventional terrorism such as suicide bombings aimed at our civilian population, it does not prevent the Palestinians from building up aggressive capacities and then escalating attacks that would go around or above the barrier. THEREFORE, AN Israeli grand strategy should aim both at Palestinian capacities and changing intentions. Allowing a future Palestine to develop its military capabilities is a sure prescription for disaster - especially in the long term, and not just for Israel but (more immediately) for Jordan.
  • Therefore, any Palestinian state must be effectively disarmed and kept that way by force, if necessary.
  • The security barrier, after revising its trajectory so as not to abandon strategic high ground and other territories vital to our security, should be completed.
  • An effective deterrence must be developed based on harsh retaliation for any Palestinian aggression. Enemy leaders, as well as perpetuators of terrorism and their supporters, must be hit. "Disproportionate" counter-strikes or those that also have a painful punitive effect may be necessary.
  • We must seek security agreements with other states such as Jordan that find themselves endangered. This proposed grand strategy must also include attempts to modify hostile Palestinian attitudes. It requires an innovative combination of incentives such as employment measures (inside the Palestinian areas), plus efforts to influence Palestinian thinking. To illustrate: It was a cardinal mistake not to accompany our disengagement from Gaza with a public works program that would have provided jobs for Gazan Arabs willing to work. As far as influencing thinking is concerned, this could ideally be achieved by some kind of international trusteeship that would take charge of teaching, influencing religious exhortations, reforming the educational curriculum and fostering a mass media that socializes for tolerance. But, in the meantime, much could still be achieved using sophisticated mass media programs transmitted from outside Palestine. ALL THE while, such a strategy demands freezing our readiness to recognize a Palestinian state as long as Hamas's annihilationist ideology prevails. On the other hand, and in parallel, we should offer a generous peace agreement if and when the Palestinians demonstrate they are willing to live alongside a thriving Jewish and democratic Israel. This is but a bare outline. Elaborating and implementing a grand strategy along these lines is the critical task for the next Israeli government. The writer is professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute and recipient of the 2005 Israel Prize for his work in public policy and strategic planning.