All people, Jews or gentiles, who dare not defend themselves when they know they are in the right, who submit to punishment not because of what they have done but because of who they are, are already dead by their own decision; and whether or not they survive physically depends on chance. If circumstances are not favorable, they end up in gas chambers.
Bruno Bettelheim, “Freud’s Vienna and Other Essays”
Bettelheim, like the Greek poet Homer, understands that the force that does not kill, that does not kill just yet, can turn a human being into stone, into a thing, even while it is still alive. Merely hanging ominously over the head of the vulnerable creature it can choose to kill at any moment, poised lasciviously to destroy breath in what it has somehow “graciously” allowed, if only for a few more moments, to breathe; this force indelicately mocks the fragile life it intends to consume.
As for the pitiable human being who stands helplessly before this force, he or she has effectively already become a corpse.
Israel, in some respects, is this “pitiable human being” in macrocosm, now at the threshold of becoming a thing. Still called upon by U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to negotiate with unrepentant terrorists, Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to accept certain forms of Palestinian statehood, at least in principle. Strongly hoping not to be identified as an “obstruction to peace,” Mr. Netanyahu has somehow managed to discover reassurance in his openly-stated expectations for Palestinian demilitarization.
There is no chance, of course, that any Palestinian state would ever consent to its own demilitarization. Any such refusal to demilitarize would be entirely consistent with authoritative international law. This is the case even if the Palestinian negotiators, in their pre-independence form, had formally agreed to such a limiting condition.
Several years ago, in a burst of presumed strategic ingenuity, Israel decided to arm Hamas against Fatah. Islamic fundamentalists, they reasoned in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, must surely be “better” than Yassir Arafat and his likely successors. Now, in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu operates on the very opposite understanding. In both cases, Israel’s leaders, pressured by an American president, have missed an overriding point: Both Hamasand Fatah, even as they intermittently fail to achieve any true reconciliation with each other, still remain fully committed to Israel’s annihilation.
Neither terror organization should ever be expected to serve Israel’s security interests.
Neither Hamas nor Fatah could ever become a willing subcontractor for Jewish national survival.
Oddly enough, until very recently the United States, similarly confused, in a program begun under President George W. Bush, and continued under President Obama, spent several hundred million dollars giving advanced military training to Fatahforces in Jordan.
Now, Hamas terrorists in Gaza, aided by Iran, are able to fire substantially upgraded military-issue rockets into southern Israel. When Israel retaliates, as it must, not only Hamas, but also Fatah, cheerfully and systematically exploit the indispensable reprisal for specifically propagandistic benefit. Ironically, the more Arabs who die as a consequence of the Israeli counter-terrorism operation, the (presumed) better for both Hamas, and for Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah/Palestinian Authority. After all, if only there were a Palestinian state, Israel could be prevented, in the future, from inflicting such further harms upon innocent Gaza populations.
From the standpoint of international law, the Abbas plan is a textbook case of perfidy. The Arab side is committing multiple violations of the law of war, or the law of armed conflict, for the express purpose of eliciting deliberate harm to its own civilians. Moreover, in addition to deliberately placing Gaza civilians in harm’s way, Hamas steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that the obligatory IDF self-defense actions are always scrupulously discriminate, conforming not only to the law of war, but also to its own even-stricter national code concerning “Purity of Arms.”
Arguably, the Arab world ought to at least be grateful to Netanyahu for neglecting to emphasize the core contrast between its own purposefully provocative criminal excursions into terror, and Israel’s reciprocal and carefully-measured efforts at counter-terror. Similarly, both Hamas and Fatah should be very pleased that Mr. Netanyahu has not flatly ruled out a Palestinian state under all circumstances. Significantly, such a broad-based exclusion could be altogether correct, morally and jurisprudentially. It would also certainly be in Israel’s overall survival interests.
International law is not a suicide pact. Nonetheless, the Arab world does not willingly play the gentleman. In this respect, at least, it is an honest world.
Even today, even while Netanyahu still agrees to follow the road map, the Palestinian Authority map of Palestine remains undisguised. On this unhidden bit of cartography, Palestine still includes all of Israel. There are no two-states on the maps of “moderate” leader Mahmoud Abbas, the ungrateful beneficiary of huge amounts of money “donated” by unsuspecting American taxpayers. There is only one.
However unintentionally, and under all of its prime ministers since Begin, Israel has more-or-less come to accept a deformed image of itself, an image spawned not in Jerusalem or Hebron, but in Washington, Ramallah and Gaza. Degraded and debased, this is the view not of a strong and righteous people, determined to stand upright in its own land, forever, but of an already-deceased victim, resigned, a conspicuously-lacquered corpse-in-waiting. To be sure, large majorities of Israelis have always fought courageously against precisely such an intolerable view, against the endlessly hapless visions of disengagements, realignments, and peace processes,” but this demeaning image is still very much alive. In certain quarters in Israel, it is plainly fashionable; in these circles, it is even de rigeur.
The moral confusion of so many Jewish intellectuals emboldens Israel’s enemies. Writing several years ago about Israel’s Oslo Agreements, precursor of the road map, Israeli novelist Aharon Megged had observed: “We have witnessed a phenomenon which probably has no parallel in history; an emotional and moral identification by the majority of Israel’s intelligentsia with people openly committed to our annihilation.” Bewilderingly, this unique identification has taken poisonous root in a succession of Israeli governments, and shows no real signs of abating.
For nation-states, as for individual human beings, there can be no hope for survival in the absence of true and unapologetic conviction. Bruno Bettelheim would have understood.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue. He is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli security issues. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.