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April 27, 2015 / 8 Iyar, 5775
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After Arafat – Distinguishing Power From Weakness In The Middle East


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Even now – after Arafat, after thousands of Israeli men, women and children have been systematically dismembered, burned and mutilated by the most barbaric terrorist movement in recent memory – much of the world remains willfully impervious to geopolitical truth.

Understood from the standpoint of Biblical imagery, the media generally continues to portray the Palestinians as “David” and Israel as “Goliath.” Apart from the stinging historical irony, this portrayal also represents a fundamental misunderstanding of weakness and power in world politics.

Although power is powerful and weakness is weak, power can weaken itself and weakness can become a source of power. This curious assertion is especially pertinent to Israel. Over the years, especially since Oslo, the “Road Map” and “The New Middle East,” Israel’s power has frequently sabotaged itself. Earlier, under Oslo, and now, under the Road Map, the Palestinians have skillfully transformed their widely-assumed weakness into a purposeful source of power.

Not surprisingly, at least in the forums of world public opinion, the “weak” Palestinians have often overpowered and outmaneuvered the “powerful” Israelis. Earlier this year, for example, the UN’s International Court of Justice condemned not the rampant criminality of Palestinian terrorism, but rather the fence erected by Israel to defend itself from terrorism.

What does this all really mean? At one level, it suggests that the ordinarily assumed bases of power in world affairs are sometimes greatly exaggerated and misunderstood. There is more irony here, as well as paradox. For almost two thousand years, the Jews as a people were stateless and defenseless – yet, in a number of important spheres of human activity, they were enormously potent.

Today, even when there does exist a Jewish state armed with advanced weapons, the Jewish citizens of Israel comprise the most vulnerable Jews on the face of the Earth. Although almost too unbearable to acknowledge, it cannot be denied that nowhere else on this planet are Jews, as Jews, now subject to widely-planned and openly-announced extermination. Indeed, by all applicable standards of codified and customary international law, including the authoritative Genocide Convention of 1948, the general Arab plan for Israel is avowedly mass- murder.

As to the Palestinians, aptly fond of citing to their alleged weakness relative to Israel, they have persistently displayed remarkable power in their pre-state incarnation. In fact, under Arafat, their oft-repeated weakness had been the prime source of this power. Persuading the world how unfortunate and mistreated they have been, the Palestinians have often managed to get their way. It is, to be sure, a way sought through indiscriminate savagery against noncombatants, and it is a way that has produced many Palestinian casualties, but it is also a way that is actually “working” in some instrumental fashion.

After all, even after assisting Saddam Hussein in the organized torture and murder of Kuwaitis during the period 1990-1991, and even after strongly opposing America’s Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Palestinians now enjoy President George W. Bush’s full support for independence and statehood.

The Arab world is comprised of 22 states of nearly five million square miles and 144,000,000 people. The Islamic world contains 44 states with one billion people. The Islamic states comprise an area 672 times the size of Israel. Israel, with a population of a bit more than five million Jews, is less than half the size of America’s Lake Michigan. The Sinai desert alone, which Israel transferred to Egypt in order to implement the 1979 treaty with that country, is by itself three times the size of Israel.

Power vs. weakness? The State of Israel, even together with Judea/Samaria and Gaza, is less than half the size of California’s San Bernardino County. Leaving aside that present-day Jordan comprises 78 per cent of the original British mandate for Palestine (78 per cent of land soberly promised by His Majesty’s Government in 1917 to the Jews) and that it has long had a very substantial Palestinian majority, the Arafat-corrupted Palestinian Authority will soon declare a second Palestinian state. What will this suggest about power and weakness in the Middle East?

Until now, the Palestinians have enjoyed considerable global benefits from their alleged “weakness.” Will their new state enlarge Palestinian power, or will it, paradoxically, produce an opposite condition? Perhaps, with a microscopic Jewish state existing next to a tiny Palestinian state, there will develop a mutuality of weakness. But this would be unlikely, as, even here, power is always a relative notion, and one side will necessarily be weaker than the other. Moreover, the Palestinians, according to all of their official maps, envision only one state. At the PA website, as at all other official Arab state websites, the state of Palestine shamelessly includes all of Israel. Cartographically, under the long reign of Nobel Peace Laureate Yasir Arafat, the genocidal removal of Israel is ancient history.

What shall we learn from the paradoxes of power? Above all, Israel must soon begin to understand that inventories of missiles, planes, bombs and warships, however indispensable, do not necessarily constitute decisive strength. Rather, the ingredients of usable power often remain more subtle and intangible. And these ingredients may even include the presumed opposite of power, which is weakness.

(c) Copyright The Jewish Press, 2004. all rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and publishes widely on international relations and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.


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