'Realists' were wrong on Russia and they are wrong on Palestine - opinion

I have yet to hear a single voice emanating from the realist or any other school of thought in international relations theory that Israel needs to achieve a win or not be humiliated.

 Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Foreign policy realists have recently found a new panacea to the world’s problems, let aggressive and autocratic nations win. This idea was well encapsulated in a tweet by Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, when he suggested: “A bold idea: NATO offers to withdraw nukes from Europe (militarily useless, ineffective deterrents as we’ve just seen and recklessly dangerous) in return for ending the invasion. Putin gets a win, which costs us nothing worth having.”

A more sophisticated version was enunciated by French President Emmanuel Macron a few weeks ago when he declared: “We must not humiliate Russia.” The bottom line to this vacuous strategy is to ensure that the more bellicose a nation is the more it must be appeased with something akin to a victory.

It is precisely this line of thinking that has surrounded the endless Western concessions to Iran during the lead-up to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015. Nevertheless, this line of thinking rarely seems to extend to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

Despite Israel agreeing to continually cede land and assets, the rapacious hunger of the Palestinians egged on by many in the West for more is rarely satiated. The very same realists have never said that Israel must be allowed to win or not be humiliated. On the contrary, Israel is constantly and consistently held back by voices in the West who prevent Palestinian violent rejectionism from being defeated.

 PALESTINIANS CLASH with PA security forces during a protest over the death of Nizar Banat, in Ramallah, last year. (credit: FLASH90) PALESTINIANS CLASH with PA security forces during a protest over the death of Nizar Banat, in Ramallah, last year. (credit: FLASH90)

When it comes to Israel, all bets are off

These philosophical contortions demonstrate, once again, that when it comes to Israel, all bets are off. The realists claim that, regarding the conflict in Ukraine, the best way to arrive at honest negotiations and a cessation of hostilities is by ceding to Russian demands. They understand that, as the aggressor, Russia must be the one that decides the war is over and they will only be able to do so once it has attained some tangible results.

While this view is morally repugnant and will merely embolden autocrats worldwide to start wars, it has a certain amount of cold logic to it. However, when the same logic is applied to the Israel-Palestinian conflict it falls down.

It was the Palestinians who started in the conflict over a 100 years ago, with the express aim of preventing a Jewish state from being formed on a centimeter of land and despite Zionism’s success in reestablishing Jewish sovereignty in its indigenous and ancestral homeland, the Palestinian war aims remain the same.

THAT IS why they refused all the countless overly generous offers of statehood and an end to conflict. They did not want a win unless it was total victory, meaning an end to the national homeland of the Jewish people. On the other hand, despite Israel agreeing to most if not all the Palestinian publicly declared and ostensible demands, the realists back the violent rejectionists until they extract enough to endanger Israel.

I have yet to hear a single voice emanating from the realist or any other school of thought in international relations theory that Israel needs to achieve a win or not be humiliated.

Attempts to humiliate the Jewish state are boundless in the international arena, with international institutions and NGOs relentless in their delegitimization of Israel’s right to exist. It is possibly this very reason why one of the most overused talking points by foreign leaders as a concession to Israel is backing its right-to-exist terminology never used for any other nation on earth.

The perpetual double act of NGOs stating Israel has no right to exist, while global leaders claim that it does, is seen as the greatest concession of the international community towards Israel. It is as if with this mere declaratory statement, Israel should then be expected to take steps that will eventually bring about its downfall. This is not a win for Israel and the Oslo process should have ensured that any such realist sympathies in Israeli decision-making are banished.

Israel has witnessed and experienced enough to amply demonstrate that there is only one win that can ensure its continued existence, and that is by ensuring Palestinian violent rejectionism is defeated, not compromised or allowed its own win, but utterly demoralized to the point where its war aims of ending Jewish sovereignty are consigned to the dustbin of history. Once this happens, negotiation, and even compromise and concessions can happen. 

This is what the realists of the world should be pushing for because the Palestinian pursuit of power at the cost of Israel is one that continues to fan the flames of conflict. Theirs is a zero-sum game and thus, cannot be appeased.

It is time that the realists accept reality because they are getting it wrong on Russian aggression, and more importantly for us, getting it wrong on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, ensuring more conflict and bloodshed awaits.

The writer is a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Political Science, Government and International Affairs at Tel Aviv University, and deputy editor for The Jerusalem Strategic Tribune.