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Louis Rene Beres

President Obama’s core argument in his unwavering “instructions” to Israel on a Middle East peace process is still founded upon flagrantly incorrect assumptions. These erroneous premises are strategic and jurisprudential – that is, they are about both war and law. Intellectually, they are hopelessly insubstantial.

The key sticking point for peaceful settlement with the Palestinians is not, as the president continues to think, Israel’s alleged unwillingness to compromise on “settlements” or any such diversion. To be sure, the problem is not that Israel is somehow hesitant to make increasingly painful sacrifices for peace. It is, rather, the persistently asymmetrical commitment to cooperation that endures between the fractionated Palestinian side, and the Israeli side.


From the beginning, the only Israeli compromise that could have ever satisfied Fatah and Hamas would have involved an Israeli commitment to national self-destruction. Should such an option really be the basis for negotiations? Is Israel actually expected to become complicit in its own genocide?

Why, at this late date, hasn’t President Obama taken the trouble to consider the unvarnished and incontestable historical record? The Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964; three years before there were any “occupied territories.” Just what, at that time, was the PLO actually trying to “liberate”?

Even before its formal grant of statehood in May 1948, Israel had sought to negotiate with many unheroic and unreasonable enemies. Always, in these efforts, Jerusalem had preferred peace to war. Always, Israel’s one-sided effort was met with yet another war or still another intifada.

Diplomacy has insistently failed Israel. Even the most visible example of any alleged diplomatic “success,” the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979, could still fail calamitously in the next several years.

Israel’s principal enemies in “Palestine” remain candid. Conspicuously, on some primal issues, they do not lie. On their unhidden intention to annihilate the “Zionist entity” they remain gleefully sworn to “truth.”

Several Israeli prime ministers have now gone through the self-defeating practice of releasing Palestinian terrorists as a “good will gesture.” Unsurprisingly, a substantial fraction of the freed murderers promptly returned to a disciplined regimen of anti-Israel terror. In the seventeenth-century, Hugo Grotius, the founder of modern international law, remarked: “A just war is fought to defend the innocent.” In Israel, however, Prime Minister Netanyahu, by releasing Arab terrorists, has declared war against his own most fragile citizens.

An ancient Latin principle of law instructs: jus ex injuria, non oritur – rights do not arise from wrongs. Oddly, it is a maxim that has yet to be understood in Jerusalem. For some reason, Israeli leaders cannot fathom the perils of re-exposing the country’s noncombatants to the tender mercies of sworn murderers.

Some points should be utterly obvious. There is an irremediable inequality of objectives between Israel and its enemies. For Palestinian insurgents, conflict with Israel is always “zero-sum.” It is always an all or nothing proposition. It is nonsense to believe that any such terrorist could gratefully acquiesce to Israeli expectations, in exchange for their own release from Israeli prisons.

For Israel, endlessly hopeful, a negotiated peace with its Arab “neighbors” persists as a more-or-less plausible objective. This delusional optimism remains adamant, even though any wished-for prospect of Islamic reciprocity is plainly preposterous and historically inconceivable.

A fundamental inequality is evident in all expressions of the Middle East peace process. On the Palestinian side, Oslo and “Road Map” expectations have never been anything more than a commendably cost-effective method of dismantling Israel. On the Israeli side, these expectations have generally been taken as a presumptively indispensable way of averting future war and terror.

In the final analysis, 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 entirely. For Netanyahu as well as his several immediate predecessors, relations with the Palestinian Authority/Hamas are not taken as pure zero-sum but rather as a mutual-dependence connection. Here, conflict is always believed to be mixed with cooperation.

Israel may still believe that some of its Arab enemies reject zero-sum assumptions about the strategy of conflict. Israel’s Palestinian enemies, however, do not make any such erroneous judgments about conformance with Israeli calculations. These enemies well know that Israel is wrong in its belief that certain Arab states and the Palestinians also reject the zero-sum assumption, but they pretend otherwise. Why shouldn’t they?

Israel’s strategy of conflict has, at least in part, been founded on multiple theoretical miscalculations, and upon an ironic indifference to certain primary and flagrant enemy manipulations. The exterminatory policies of Israel’s enemies, on the other hand, remain founded on (a) correct calculations and assumptions and (b) an astute awareness of Israel’s strategic naiveté. More than anything else, this means that Israel’s prime minister should now make far-reaching changes in the way that Israel actually conceptualizes the critically determinative continuum of cooperation and conflict.

Obama’s advice notwithstanding, a “new Israel,” ridding itself of injurious and disingenuous wishful thinking, should finally acknowledge the zero-sum calculations of its enemies, thus accepting that a constant struggle must still be fought at the conflict end of the spectrum. Earlier this meant, especially in the case of Iran, a primary attention to then still-realistic preemption imperatives. Now, however, such imperatives are more apt to be fulfilled, in steady increments, inter alia, via selected forms of cyber-warfare and targeted killings, than through more traditional expressions of military force.

Netanyahu should not become the best ally Israel’s Arab enemies and Iran could ever hope to have. Rather, he should seek to serve Israel’s long-term survival with real wisdom, supplanting the patently false assumptions that stem from persistently misguided hopes, with meaningfully correct premises, ones that are based upon sound reasoning.

In the end, Israel’s existential choices are really all about logic.

In the language of formal logic, invalid forms of argument are called fallacies. The basic problem with Israel’s continuous search for “peace” through negotiated surrenders (land for nothing) has been its unhesitating commission of fallacies. Significantly, it is precisely such error that is called for by Obama.

These particular arguments for unending Israeli forfeitures are insidious because they could involve a devastating policy outcome. Distinguishable from singular mistakes, such deviations from correct thinking ensure that all subsequent calculations will also result in error. It is, therefore, 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.

Obama’s vision for the Middle East offers Israel only a lethal cartography. Before he can offer Mr. Netanyahu anything more suitable, he will first need to understand that the Palestinians don’t calculate their gains and losses the same way the Israelis do. For Fatah or Hamas – it doesn’t really make any difference – any presumed concession to Israel must represent an automatic loss for them.

For the Palestinians, the struggle with Israel is not about land, but about God. In such always-“sacred” conflicts, there can never be any room for mutual accommodation or compromise.

Editor’s Note: This is Prof. Beres’s final weekly column for The Jewish Press after many years of serving as our military affairs columnist. We wish him well in all his future endeavors.

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Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue and the author of twelve books and several hundred articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war. He was Chair of Project Daniel, which submitted its special report on Israel’s Strategic Future to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on January 16, 2003.