At this point in Israel’s problematic diplomatic agenda, there is really only one overriding policy question: Can any form of negotiation with the Palestinians, Fatah and/or Hamas, ever prove reasonable and productive?
From the very beginning, even before formal statehood in 1948, Israel has sought courageously and reasonably to negotiate with its many unreasonable enemies. Always, Jerusalem has preferred peace to war. Nonetheless, challenged by relentless and interminable Arab aggressions, diplomacy has usually failed Israel. Even the most visible example of an alleged diplomatic success, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979, is apt to fail calamitously sometime in the post-Mubarak era.
It follows that Prime Minister Netanyahu is obligated to ask: What real chance exists that, somehow, this time, and also for the future, diplomacy might be purposeful?
From Oslo to the present Road Map, diplomacy over Israel’s rights and obligations has always been an unambiguously asymmetrical process.
Israel’s principal enemies remain candid. On some things, significantly, they do not lie. On their irremediable intention to annihilate the “Zionist entity,” they are seemingly sworn to truth.
The key disputing Palestinian factions (Fatah or Hamas, it makes little difference) and Iran will never accept anything less than Israel’s removal. This is already obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention to what is said. Moreover, in a clearly corroborating bit of cartography, every PA or Hamas or Iranian map already incorporates all of Israel within “Palestine.”
Toward the end of his tenure, prior Prime Minister Ehud Olmert released several hundred Palestinian terrorists as a “goodwill gesture.” Together with then-President George W. Bush, he had decided to aid Fatah against Hamas with outright transfers of weapons and information. Soon after, those American and Israeli guns were turned against Israel. As for Olmert’s graciously extended “goodwill,” it had 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, a thoroughly misconceived support now being extended by President Obama.
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 “zero-sum,” routinely 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 never be any proper place for authentic treaties or settlements with the Jewish state, save of course as a temporary tactical expedient.
For Israel, on the other hand, a negotiated peace with its Arab neighbors and/or Iran persists as an elusive but presumably plausible hope. This is true even when any prospect of Islamic reciprocity is evidently preposterous and historically unimaginable.
A 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 anything more than a cost-effective method of dismantling Israel. On the Israeli side, these expectations have generally been taken, quite differently, as a hopefully indispensable way of averting further war and terror.
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 reciprocal power loss for them – that is, that they coexist with Israel in a condition of pure conflict – Israel assumes something else. For 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 optimistic view, conflict is always mixed with cooperation.
Incomprehensibly, 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 any such erroneous judgments about conformance with Israeli calculations. Further, these enemies know Israel is wrong in its belief that certain Arab states, Iran, and the Palestinians also reject the zero-sum assumption, but they pretend otherwise. There has remained, therefore, a dramatic and consequential strategic disparity between Israel and certain of its frontline Islamic enemies.