On peace and realism

Israel should worry less about Mahmoud Abbas’ shenanigans, and focus more on buttressing and broadcasting its own myriad successes. Put differently: Israel must fight the public diplomacy war by emphasizing Israel’s successes (in immigrant absorption, education, human rights and hi-tech, etc.) rather than its failures (in peacemaking with intractable enemies).

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, September 4, 2015.

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This week, a nighttime Israeli security raid in Jenin went down bad, and the elite police anti-terrorist unit got into a firefight. One of our commandoes was injured, perhaps by friendly fire, and the wanted terrorist slipped away.

We only heard about this raid because of the trouble it ran into. Most arrest raids on terrorists don’t make the news, Israeli or Palestinian, even though they take place every day and every night, 365 days a year, across the West Bank.

In fact, there were a whopping 6,500 Palestinian terrorists, operatives and suspects arrested in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) over the past year: 2,500 arrested by the Palestinian Authority (usually in the daytime), and 4,000 arrested by the IDF (usually at nighttime). The PA makes mostly revolving-door arrests for political and intelligence purposes, while the IDF goes after the hardcore, armed militants to prevent and interdict terrorist operations.

This ongoing invasive and pervasive security activity is what keeps the Palestinian Authority alive and what keeps Israel safe. Without this, there isn’t a shred of a doubt that the PA would fall to Hamas rule (or into the hands of even worse radical Islamic actors) within a matter of weeks. And then Jerusalem and Israel’s Gush Dan heartland would be under assault from the strategic heights of Judea and Samaria.

This is a reality that all those who still hanker for rapid establishment of a Palestinian state prefer to ignore. Neither Israel nor the PA can tolerate real Palestinian statehood in the near future. A situation in which Israeli forces cannot operate all across the West Bank all the time would be super-unstable and dangerous. This is especially true at a time when ISIS-like elements and ideologies are creeping in from the turbulent Middle East envelope surrounding Israel.

The PA is also currently kept afloat by billions of dollars in foreign aid (anywhere from $1.4 to $2.0 billion a year, according to various sources) and VAT transfer payments from Israel (another $700 million annually) – much of which would disappear if the PA weren’t in a conflict situation with Israel.

This gives lie to the PA’s threats to dissolve itself. Such threats are simply not credible. “There is no precedent in business or international affairs for just walking away from a $3 billion enterprise,” exclaims Palestinian expert Prof. Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. “More than 200,000 Palestinian families in the West Bank – that is one million people – are dependent on PA salaries and pension plans, paid by the international community and essentially buttressed by Israeli bayonets.”

Thus, Frisch says, no matter how street-unpopular Mahmoud Abbas is, and no matter how frustrated Palestinians elite may be with the long stalemate in diplomatic “progress” towards real statehood – there is nevertheless no Palestinian interest in seeing the whole quasi-state structure collapse. A Palestinian poll released on Monday bears this out: Abbas garnered only 16 percent support, and the respondents had a very dim view of the PA’s accomplishments. Yet 71 percent of Palestinians said the PA should not be dismantled. “Nobody is going to let Abbas disband the PA. It’s here to stay, indefinitely,” says Frisch.

Even as he threatened this week to resign some of his PLO leadership functions, Abbas simultaneously worked overtime to crush his political and business foes in the West Bank. He is seeking to wedge his cronies and his son into leadership pole positions, while keeping his thumb on the whole Mafioso enterprise from above.

Abbas’ autocratic rule is the default and preferred paradigm for much of the Palestinian political elite, for Israel, and for hard-nosed Mideast experts and world leaders. They are all stakeholders in long-term management of the Oslo-era framework.

There is much West Bank quality-of-life and quality-of-government progress to be made, with responsibility for this falling on all sides. But grand White House lawn ceremonies that cap sweeping IDF withdrawal from the West Bank, and that celebrate the crowning of full-scale Palestinian independence – are certainly not in the offing.

The situation described above is all the more true given the fact that on the so-called “final status” issues (that would have to be resolved in a full peace accord, like permanent borders, refugees and Jerusalem), the parties to the conflict are farther away than ever – despite twenty years of on-and-off-again talks.

The failure of the negotiating process led by John Kerry last year is the latest proof of this. Abbas even refused to recognize Israel’s historical right to the ancestral homeland of the Jewish People, or to acknowledge Jewish ties to Judaism’s holiest site (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem).

GIVEN THIS REALITY, and its likely longevity, how should Israel navigate itself in a world that has gotten into the habit of punishing Israel for lack of (unrealistic) diplomatic progress with the Palestinians?

Evelyn Gordon has just written a trenchant essay in Mosaic Magazine on this very topic. Given the long cold war (as she calls it) between Israel and the Palestinians, what new, viable strategies can Israel adopt for coping with reality and winning out? How does Israel get out from under a relentless global microscope and away from inflated and unfair global expectations?

Gordon offers components of a new political, diplomatic, military, and economic strategy for Israel, based a reading of American strategy in winning its Cold War with the Soviet Union.

A key section of Gordon’s essay is her takedown of Israel’s self-defeating over-emphasis on peace. “Israel has failed to deliver on the promise at the heart of its own narrative about itself – that it is constantly searching for peace. Twenty years after Oslo, there is no peace, which suggests that, judged on its own terms, Israel is a failure. And there is nothing compelling about a failure; on the contrary, it is off-putting.”

“By encouraging the world to judge it on its peacemaking credentials rather than on the myriad positive goods it provides, Israel has invited the perverse and false conclusion that the Jewish state has been a failure rather than a resounding success.”

This is all the more true because Israel is always stressing how great a partner Mahmoud Abbas is, without being willing to pin him for his intransigence and obstructionism in peacemaking, incitement to violence, corruption, and suppression of human rights. Thus, the party at fault for the lack of peace – can only be Israel.

Gordon’s conclusion in this chapter of her essay is that Israel must fight the public diplomacy war by emphasizing Israel’s successes (in immigrant absorption, education, human rights and hi-tech, etc.) rather than its failures (in peacemaking with intractable enemies).

In fact, few of Israel’s friends support it primarily because it seeks peace, Gordon points out. Americans, for instance, see it as the Middle East’s only democracy and an ally against Islamic terror. Evangelical Christians support it because the Jews’ return to Zion is biblical prophecy come true. Many Chinese and Indians admire its high-tech prowess. All of these qualities have far more to do with Israel’s raison d’être than its failure to achieve peace does.

“Peace is obviously desirable, but Israel doesn’t exist to achieve peace; it exists to create a thriving Jewish state in the Jewish people’s historic homeland.”

It is indeed time for a strategic rethink of our global diplomatic posture, and Gordon’s bold essay is a good place to start. Israel should worry less about Mahmoud Abbas’ shenanigans, and focus more on buttressing and broadcasting its own myriad, inspiring successes.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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