Into the Fray: Israel’s infuriating impotence

Last week’s Gaza cease-fire proved the government incapable of delivering the goods militarily; this week’s UN vote proves it cannot deliver the goods diplomatically.

Abbas at the UN 390 (photo credit: Screenshot Al Jazeera)
Abbas at the UN 390
(photo credit: Screenshot Al Jazeera)
Our basic aim is to liberate the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. We are not concerned with what took place in June 1967 or in eliminating the consequences of the June war. The Palestinian revolution’s basic concern is the uprooting of the Zionist entity from our land and liberating it. –Yasser Arafat.
We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein
I apologize, dear readers, for the re-use of the introductory Albert Einstein quote, cited over a year ago at the start of my August 18, 2011 column “Come September,” in which I dealt with the previous unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood.
Although the prior attempt was made in the Security Council for full UN membership, while this time it is being mounted in the General Assembly for non-member status, the citation has lost none of its relevance.
The root of all evil
For anyone with an iota of common sense and shred of intellectual integrity, one thing should be glaringly obvious: It is patently impossible to solve the Palestinian problem by the very kind of thinking that created it – i.e. the idea of Palestinian statehood.
After all, what created, or at least elevated the Palestinian problem to its present prominence was Israel’s Oslo-related recognition of the Palestinians as a legitimate national entity.
Accordingly, it can only be resolved – or at least reduced to its former insignificance – by retracting that recognition.
Although over half the present population has no real firsthand recollection of the kind of political realities that prevailed in pre-Osloian Israel, for those of us who do, there can be little doubt that while the Palestinian issue was an important item on the national agenda before the 1993 accords, it had nowhere near its current intensity, severity or centrality.
True, there was the first intifada which began in 1987. But by 1993, it had all but petered out, leaving Palestinian society dispirited, exhausted and fractured, with the number of Palestinians murdered by internecine fratricide equaling the number killed by Israeli security forces. True, there were also Israeli casualties, but these were barely 15 percent of those in the post-Osloian second intifada (2000-2005) in which over 1,000 Israelis died.
Although there were several incidents of the use of firearms in the pre-Oslo intifada, Palestinian terror attacks were largely limited to “cold” weapons – knives, axes and stones – and with Molotov cocktails.
By contrast, Israeli concessions and withdrawals in the post-Oslo era provided the Palestinians with access to high grade explosives which culminated in the horrendous wave of suicide attacks in the decade following recognition of Palestinian claims for statehood.
Complicity with duplicity
Yet despite the accumulating evidence, successive Israeli governments – from 1993 onward – have all steadfastly refused to read the writing on the wall.
They have all stubbornly recoiled from drawing the unavoidable conclusions: The greater the concessions, the greater the carnage; the greater the readiness to accede to Palestinian political claims, the greater Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as the Jewish nation-state.
Instead, all governments did quite the opposite! With varying degrees of enthusiasm (or reluctance) they all elected to pursue a policy of Israeli complicity with Arab duplicity.
They all proved unwilling/unable to jettison the disastrously failed Osloian paradigm.
They all proved they could neither muster nor marshal the necessary resolve and intellect to formulate and propagate, with any effectiveness, a convincing comprehensive counter-Osloian paradigm – devoid of the notion of Palestinian statehood west of the Jordan River.
They all proved they had neither the political acumen nor the ideological commitment to mount a sustained assault on the Palestinian narrative, its factual authenticity, moral validity and political legitimacy. They all proved incapable of undermining the manifestly duplicitous Palestinian case for statehood or dispelling its material, intellectual and emotional underpinnings – or at least proved disinclined to do so.
This ongoing capitulation to what is commonly perceived as the dictates of political correctness – no matter how dramatic their divergence from factual correctness/ political truth – is producing perilous predicaments for Israel, for both its physical security and its political viability. Their gravity can hardly be overstated.
Bibi, Bogie and Bennie
Sadly, and despite the high hopes pinned on it after the calamitous term of the Olmert administration, the current government has hardly proved its mettle. Indeed, in many ways, it may yet prove to be one of the most – arguably, the most – disappointing and demoralizing one yet.
True, it does have several impressive achievements to its credit. In most of the country –apart from the South – it has kept terror attacks down to almost imperceptible levels; it has navigated the Israeli economy better than most, if not all, countries in the industrialized world; it prevented the Palestinian membership bid at the UN last September, it resisted pressure to apologize to Turkey for the use of lethal force on the Mavi Marmara when it attempted to breach the maritime quarantine of Gaza and managed to deter a second flotilla from a similar endeavor; it has kept unemployment – perhaps the most pernicious of all social ills – down to enviably low levels relative to most societies in the West.
None of these are trivial accomplishments and all are worthy of praise. Yet, despite the inclusion of vehement critiques of the two-state-paradigm, the administration of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has neither been able to prevent Israel’s strategic slide down the slippery slope toward the untenable borders that paradigm entails, nor to propose a persuasive countervailing one.
This is precisely what may well cause many to despair; precisely why the performance of this government has been so disappointing, disillusioning and demoralizing – and hence, potentially so devastatingly detrimental.
Bar-Ilan’s bitter fruits
Both the indecisive outcome of the fighting in Gaza last week, and the emerging diplomatic debacle in the UN on Thursday, can in many ways be traced back to Netanyahu’s regrettable volteface in the speech he delivered at Bar-Ilan University shortly after his reelection as prime minister. In it he endorsed, for the first time – in strident contradiction to his long-held position – the possibility of a Palestinian state.
Although he attempted to “hedge” his acquiescence with various unrealistic reservations and far-fetched restrictions, he had, in a stroke, capitulated strategically, and fundamentally transformed the debate from one over whether there should, or should not, be a Palestinian state, to one over what the characteristics of the Palestinian state should be.
The crucial point to grasp is that once the prospect of Palestinian statehood is accepted, so is the permanence of a collective Arab entity in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. This in turn implies that any ground operation into Gaza must necessarily be temporary.
But, since experience in recent years has demonstrated unequivocally that the long-term security of the South can only be secured by seizing and holding the areas from which attacks are launched, temporary incursions, without a permanent IDF presence, will be inadequate, hence unsatisfactory and hence open to criticism of being inadvisable and imprudent.
Thus, despite the preposterous proposal that Gaza could be transformed into the Mideast Hong Kong – recently regurgitated in an op-ed, “ Hong Kong in Gaza,” by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Gershon – its continued existence as a self-governing Arab entity precludes providing the South of the country any semblance of normalcy (see the Arafat citation above).
Temporary lulls are increasingly unacceptable, making life in the South increasingly untenable both economically and emotionally.
If this continues much longer, depopulation of the South and the denudation of the Jewish presence there is an evermore tangible possibility.
Unless there is a realistic prospect of permanently ceasing the attacks, why would any responsible parent consider remaining and bringing up their children there? By adhering to Oslo-compliant paradigms and eschewing political alternatives that envision the deconstruction of Gaza and resettlement/rehabilitation of its Palestinian population elsewhere, military campaigns will always be driven by a rationale that dictates objectives which are limited, temporary and hence, in the eyes of the other side –inherently unsuccessful.
Whistling in the dark?
Since the summer of 2006, Israel has waged three large-scale campaigns against lightly armed Arab militias. In each case, it has been seen (rightly or wrongly) as incapable of imposing a surrender and coercively silencing their fire.
This is credibly conveyed, and widely perceived as an operational failure of the IDF, and hence a victory for its adversaries – which precipitates a commensurate enhancement of status and influence, augmentation of quantities and upgrading of quality of weaponry, making them more menacing to more Israelis.
Accordingly, the cognitive restrictions entailed in eschewing political paradigms that reject the inevitability of Palestinian statehood necessarily preclude IDF victory, however impressive the damage it inflicts on the battlefield, and bestow the aura of victory on his foes.
This is precisely what happened in Gaza last week, and any attempt to portray the result as an Israeli victory is little more than “whistling in the dark.”
After all, from its point of view, Hamas emerged with impressive achievements relative to the status- quo ante:
- Demonstrable concessions for its fisherman and farmers,
- Cessation of the targeted killings,
- International recognition, diplomatic triumphs and visits by foreign dignitaries.
Incredibly, all this was attained without any undertaking to cease the smuggling of weapons.
By contrast, Israel has made notable concessions. It has not only given Hamas respite to regroup, rearm and redeploy, but to:
- Tighten its counter-intelligence to constrict information on targets
- Improve concealment and hardening of targets
- Progress towards the establishment of an air defense system and equipping their rockets with multiple warheads (activated by simple spring-release mechanisms already being proposed on Pakistani and Chinese sites) to overwhelm Israel’s anti-missile defenses.
Moreover, Hamas now has more time and greater prestige to help forge coordination with the Hezbollah in the north, the Salafists in Sinai and like-minded elements in Judea and Samaria for multi-frontal assaults on Israel.
‘On Bibi’s & Liberman’s watch?’
The same sense of intellectual surrender, or at least, resignation, that flows from adherence to Oslo-compliant policy paradigms has precipitated the looming debacle at the UN. As I write this column, more and more reports are coming in of countries that have reversed their former decision to oppose the bid.
It would be an error to underestimate the gravity of this UN vote. Every brick laid in any “settlement,” every coercive measure undertaken by the IDF could be deemed “war crimes” and become the basis for indictment at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Indeed, the very presence of the IDF in areas across the 1967 lines could be construed as foreign invasion of the sovereign soil of a recognized (albeit non-member) state.
Suddenly, vast new frontiers for the denigration and demonization of Israel have opened up and the prospect of a Palestinian state, with all its attendant perils, has become far more tangible – and as one senior official was quoted as saying – “on Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s watch.”
So while the earlier Gaza cease-fire proved the government incapable of delivering the goods militarily; this week’s UN vote proves it cannot deliver the goods diplomatically.Inexcusable, inexplicable, infuriating
What makes the impotence so infuriating and inexcusable is the fact that the government had well over a year to prepare for the Palestinian initiative.
The first, and most immediate measure that should have been taken was to convey unequivocally to the Palestinians – and to their UN supporters – that if it is independence they demand, then independent they will have to be. Accordingly, persistence with their unilateral bid will bring Israel to terminate the supply of every service and all merchandise that it provides them today. In other words, no water, no electricity, no fuel, no postal services, no communications, no port facilities, no tax collection or remittances will be supplied by Israel.
If conducted with credible resolve this will either compel – or at least, could have compelled – the Palestinians to rescind their independence drive with massive loss of face, or to launch a huge and humiliating appeal for urgent international assistance, exposing their total dependence on the very entity from which they seek independence.
Either way, it will demonstrate the futility of the endeavor for Palestinian statehood, which almost two decades after the Oslo Accords and massive investment has not produced anything but an untenable, divided entity crippled by corruption and cronyism, with a dysfunctional polity, an illegitimate president, an unelected prime minister and a fragile economy that, with its minuscule private sector and bloated public one, is unsustainable without massive foreign infusions of funds and the largesse of its alleged “oppressor.”
Undoubtedly, there will be howls of horror that such a policy will precipitate a “humanitarian crisis.” And indeed, it will in all likelihood cause significant hardship. But such accusations should be countered by the offer of generous relocation grants for any Palestinian weary of the suffering his leaders have wrought on him and his family, and who wishes to seek a better life elsewhere.
Dark days ahead
Regrettably, however, the government of Israel has elected to act differently. The most robust measure brandished was a threat to suspend tax transfers for – gasp – a full two months and – another gasp – to deduct the money it is actually owed by the Palestinians (almost a billion shekels for unpaid electricity bills).
However, soon after the threat, came an announcement that the government was actually planning to transfer the sum of 200 million shekels to help the recalcitrant Palestinian Authority pay salaries it owes its employees. No kidding!
Bizarre huh? There are dark days ahead, very dark.
The question is how much more blood will be spilled trying to resolve the Palestinian problem with the same kind of thinking that created it.
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.