Know Comment: A strategy for Israeli victory?

A new lobby wants Israel to ‘win’ over Palestinians, not compromise with them – for now.

Israel's national flag is projected on the wall near the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem May 20, 2017 (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Israel's national flag is projected on the wall near the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem May 20, 2017
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Prof. Daniel Pipes, president of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, is on a campaign to “let Israel win” the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; to create the conditions, particularly in Washington, for an “Israel victory approach.”
To this end, he initiated in April establishment of a Congressional Israel Victory Caucus. Next week a multi-party Knesset Israel Victory Caucus will be launched, co-chaired by MKs Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu) and Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid).
In the January issue of Commentary, Pipes laid out his tough approach, which begins with the assertion that Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy of recent decades sadly fits the classic description of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
“The identical assumptions of politically correct diplomacy – land-for-peace and the two-state solution, with the burden primarily on Israel – stay permanently in place, no matter how often they fail.
Decades of what insiders call ‘peace processing’ have left matters worse than when they started. Yet the great powers persist, sending diplomat after diplomat to Jerusalem and Ramallah, ever hoping that the next round of negotiations will lead to the elusive breakthrough,” Pipes wrote.
Instead, Pipes seeks to focus on the essence of the problem, which he says is Palestinian rejectionism. Polls indicate that only about 20% of Palestinians are truly ready to live peaceably with the Jewish state. The challenge is to increase this number to 60% and more, so that this group at last can wrest control of the Palestinian national movement from rejectionists.
Conventional wisdom has long been that if only Israeli and Palestinian leaderships could reach a concrete peace accord, the deal itself would create constituencies for peace; moderates would be bolstered and carry the day.
But Pipes sees no possibility of a deal with current Palestinian leaders and no evidence of a Palestinian Peace Now movement developing. Instead, radical forces in Palestinian society are gaining strength, just as radical Islam is on the march regionwide.
This leaves Israel with just one option to win Palestinian acceptance over the long term, Pipes argues: Imposition of its will on the enemy, compelling Palestinians through loss to give up their war ambitions.
“Wars end, the historical record shows, not through goodwill but through defeat.
He who does not win – loses. Wars usually end when failure causes one side to despair, when that side has abandoned its war aims and accepted defeat, and when that defeat has exhausted the will to fight.”
“Palestinians will have to pass through the bitter crucible of defeat, with all its deprivation, destruction and despair as they repudiate the legacy of the mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and acknowledge their century-long error. Then, as the reality of defeat sinks in, new voices will inexorably be heard and will strengthen, calling for an end to the century-long catastrophe of rejectionism.
“When Palestinians emerge from this ordeal, they will greatly benefit from throwing off the burden of anti-Zionism. Finally, they can begin to build their own polity, economy, society and culture. Finally, they can learn from their remarkable neighbor.
All will gain when the proud Palestinian people turns its attention to creating the institutions of civil society and to teaching children skills, rather than hatred.”
Thus an Israel victory, Pipes says, would “liberate” Palestinians. Defeat would compel them to come to terms with their irredentist fantasies and the empty rhetoric of revolution. Defeat would free them to improve their lives. “In all, given their far lower starting point, Palestinians would, ironically, gain even more from their defeat than the Israelis would from their victory.”
The Congressional Israel Victory Caucus, headed by Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), would have Washington robustly support Israel’s path to victory. That translates into not just backing episodic Israeli shows of force, but a sustained and systematic international effort of working with Israel, select Arab states, and others to convince the Palestinians of the futility of their rejectionism.
This means undoing the Palestinian “refugee farce,” rejecting the claim of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and cutting off US aid to the Palestinian Authority in response to terrorism and incitement, among other steps.
Pipes wants Israel to go further, such as preventing PA officials from returning to the West Bank from abroad, and expanding Jewish settlement, in response to PA aggressions.
Pipes: “Of course, these steps run exactly counter to the consensus view in Israel today, which seeks above all to keep Palestinians quiescent. But this myopic viewpoint was formed under unremitting pressure from the world, and from the US government especially, to accommodate the PA. The removal of such pressure will undoubtedly encourage Israelis to adopt more assertive tactics.”
In short, Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, including the new effort of the Trump administration, is premature until Palestinians accept the Jewish state. For now, Israel needs to win, Pipes says.
The veteran Prof. Pipes is one of the best analysts of Middle East politics, including the role of Islam in public life, Turkey, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and US foreign policy.
I share his view of the sterile history of peace processing. And it is useful to have an initiative under way in Washington to build counter-pressure against the inveterate, ideologically rigid, peace-processing policy elites.
However, his initiative would seem to be at odds with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current diplomatic position, which is to cooperate with President Trump in launching a new round of negotiations with the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, I can think of a few ways to square the circle; a path that combines Pipes’s emphasis on forcing Palestinians to come to terms with Israel’s permanence, with Netanyahu’s willingness to advance diplomatically.
Trump and Netanyahu should put issues like immediate Palestinian refugee resettlement outside of Israel, and the sharing of prayer rights on the Temple Mount, at the top of the agenda when peace talks resume.
In peace process orthodoxy, these are classified as “final status” issues – problems so difficult that they can be addressed only after all the supposedly easier ones (like land and security) have been resolved.
But in fact, these issues go to the heart of the Palestinian rejectionism. Palestinian positions on these issues – demanding a “right” of refugee return to pre-’67 Israel, and insisting on Muslim-only prayer on the Temple Mount – amount to Palestinian insistence on achieving what is not negotiable: Israel’s disappearance.
So confronting these matters early and head-on would be a way of coercing the Palestinian ideological changes that Pipes correctly seeks. It would upend Palestinian delegitimization of Israel, and set diplomacy on a slightly more realistic path.