Israel has elected a new prime minister. From the start – and even before he begins to consider assorted specific issues for negotiation with other governments and organizations – he will have to determine whether any form of diplomacy is actually indicated. Although, on the surface, such advice may appear distinctly odd or foolish at best, there will be clear benefits to Israel of proceeding diplomatically only after first cultivating genuine understanding.
From the very start, from its imperiled beginnings in May 1948 – and indeed, even before statehood – Israel sought heroically to negotiate with its enemies. Always, always – Jerusalem has preferred peace to war. Nonetheless, challenged by relentless and interminable Arab aggressions, diplomacy has almost always failed Israel. Significantly, this lamentable conclusion is pretty much incontestable. So, the new prime minister is now obligated to ask: What real chance is there that, somehow, things might be different?
Although ultimately settling upon Operation Cast Lead, a manifestly correct policy choice, previous Prime Minister Olmert, of course, had determined to seek Israel’s basic security in diplomacy. Although there was assuredly nothing inherently wrong with such a conciliatory posture, especially as Israel had remained under constant pressure from Washington to negotiate, there was also very good reason for skepticism. From Oslo to the so-called “Road Map,” diplomacy over Israel’s rights and obligations has always been a determinably asymmetrical process. “Land for nothing!” In essence, this unspoken mantra has been Israel’s persistent “marching order” from the “civilized world.”
Ironically, Israel’s principal enemies remain candid. On some things they actually do not lie. On their irremediable intention to annihilate the Jewish state, for example, they are utterly sworn to truth. Israel’s new prime minister should listen to them.
The key disputing Palestinian factions (Fatah or Hamas, it makes little effective difference) and Iran will never accept anything less than Israel’s destruction. This is obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention. They say this every day, either openly or obliquely. Moreover, in a corroborating bit of cartography, every “official” PA or Iranian map of “Palestine” already includes all of Israel.
Toward the end of his corrupted and ill-fated regime, then Prime Minister Olmert had released several hundred Palestinian terrorists as a “goodwill gesture.” Together with then U.S. President George W. Bush, he had aided Fatah against Hamas with outright transfers of weapons and information. Soon after (surprise, surprise) the American and Israeli guns were turned against Israel. As for Mr. Olmert’s graciously extended “goodwill,” it only served to elicit the next round of rocket fire. Matters were not helped at all by Washington’s corollary support for a Palestinian state, thoroughly misconceived support – now extended by new U.S. President Barack Obama.
Let Prime Minister Netanyahu take note. Regarding formal diplomacy, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Rooted deeply in Jihadist interpretations of Islam, there is an obvious and enduring inequality of objectives between Israel and its principal enemies. For both Palestinian insurgents and Iran’s president, conflict with Israel is always an all or nothing proposition. In this starkly polarizing view of incessant strife between “the world of war” and “the world of Islam,” there can be no place for authentic treaties or settlements with the Jewish State, save as a temporary tactical expedient.
For Israel, on the other hand, a negotiated peace with its Arab “neighbors” and Iran persists as an elusive but desperate hope. This is true even when the prospect of Islamic reciprocity is plainly preposterous and historically unimaginable.
A truly fundamental inequality is evident in all expressions of the Middle East Peace Process. On the Palestinian and Iranian side, Oslo and “Road Map” expectations have never been seen as anything more than a cost-effective method of dismantling Israel. On the Israeli side, these expectations have generally been taken, quite differently, as a presumably indispensable way of averting further war and terror.
Israel’s new prime minister should take note: The core problem of Israel’s life or death vulnerability lies in the Jewish State’s ongoing assumptions on war and peace. While certain of Israel’s regional enemies, state and nonstate, believe that any power gains for Israel represent a power loss for them – that is, that they coexist with Israel in a condition of pure conflict – Israel assumes something else. For Mr. Netanyahu’s several immediate predecessors, relations with certain Arab states, the Palestinian Authority/Hamas and Iran were not taken to be pure “zero-sum,” but rather a mutual-dependence connection. In this view, conflict is always mixed with cooperation.
For no identifiable reason, it would seem, Israel may still believe that certain of its Arab enemies and Iran reject zero-sum assumptions about the strategy of conflict. Israel’s enemies, however, do not make such erroneous judgments about conformance with Israeli calculations. These enemies know further, that Israel is wrong in its belief that certain Arab states, Iran and the Palestinians also reject the zero-sum assumption, but they shrewdly pretend otherwise. There has remained, therefore, a dramatic and consequential strategic disparity between Israel and certain of its frontline Islamic enemies.
Israel’s strategy of conflict has, at least in part, been founded upon multiple theoretical miscalculations and upon an indifference to certain primary and flagrant enemy manipulations. The barbarous policies of Israel’s enemies, on the other hand, have been and remain founded (a) upon correct calculations and assumptions; and (b) upon an astute awareness of Israel’s strategic naiveté. This means that Israel’s new prime minister should now make certain far-reaching changes in the way that Israel conceptualizes the continuum of cooperation and conflict. A “new Israel,” ridding itself of injurious wishful thinking, should finally acknowledge the zero-sum calculations of its enemies, and thus begin to acceptthat the constant struggle must still be fought largely at the conflict end of the spectrum. Right now, this means, especially (and somewhat belatedly, in the particular case of Iran) attention to several preemption imperatives.
Left unchallenged by its new prime minister, Israel’s mistaken assumptions, and the combining of these assumptions with correct premises of its enemies, could undermine Israel’s very survival. These still-remediable Israeli errors have had the additional effect of creating an odd “alliance” between Israel and its enemies. This is surely not the sort of coalition that can ever help the Jewish State, but is rather a one-sided and unreciprocated “pact” in which Israel actively and ironically serves its enemies.
To be sure, the new prime minister should not become the best ally that Israel’s Arab enemies and Iran could hope to have. Instead, he should now seek to serve Israel’s long-term survival with real wisdom, supplanting the false assumptions that stem from misguided hopes with correct premises based upon sound reasoning. In the end, it is all about logic.
What does this really mean? In the language of formal logic, invalid forms of argument are fallacies. The basic problem with Israel’s continuous search for “peace” through negotiated surrenders (Land for nothing!) has been its persistent commission of fallacies. Unlike simple instances of falsity, these particular arguments are especially insidious because they could involve a devastating policy outcome. Distinguishable from singular mistakes, these deviations from correct thinking ensure that all subsequent calculations will also result in error. This means that it is in the very process of strategic thinking, and not in the assessment of particular facts and issues, that Israeli policy changes are now most sorely needed.
Mr. Netanyahu, please take heed.
Copyright © March 6, 2009. All rights reserved
LOUIS RENÉ BERES, Professor of International Law at Purdue, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971). Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, he has lectured and published widely in Israel, Europe and the United States on war, terrorism and strategies of conflict.