EXPLAINING ISRAEL'S STRATEGIC MISTAKES
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
These arguments prompted an earful from readers, who made interesting points that deserve answers. Slightly editing the questions for clarity, I reply to some of them here:
The Middle East is a source of nearly unmitigated bad news these days. Two rare positive developments concern economics: Israel has finally, thanks for the reforms carried out by Binyamin Netanyahu, weaned itself from the debilitating socialism of its earlier years; and the price of energy has gone down by over two-thirds.
I try to offer constructive criticism. Even if Israel's enemies do find encouragement in my less-than-boosterish analysis, I expect this is more than offset by my helping Israelis realize their errors.
If one is a traitor to Israel by not seeing its leadership as "intentionally working to destroy the Jewish state, and bring upon world Jewry another Holocaust," then color me guilty. I see the leadership as incompetent, but not malign, much less suicidal.
Great idea – except there is zero chance of Cairo agreeing to it.
I addressed and rejected this point with regard to the Gaza withdrawal at "Sharon's Gaza Withdrawal – Made in Washington?" but your assertion is broader than Gaza and deserves a full-scale analysis.
My brief reply: The idea that Washington forces bad ideas on an unwilling Jerusalem offers solace, implying, as it does, that the Israeli leadership knows what to do, but cannot do it; unfortunately, it is out of date.
Yes, from 1973 to 1993, that was indeed the pattern. Since the Oslo accords, however, the Israel leadership has not just been a willing accomplice of its U.S. counterpart, but has often taken the lead -- e.g., Oslo itself in 1993, the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the Camp David II meetings in 2000, the Taba negotiations of 2001, and the Gaza withdrawal of 2005.
Aaron Lerner sums up this point in "American Pressure Is Not the Problem," arguing that "Israeli diplomatic initiatives have been, almost without exception carried out with American approval only ex-post," then providing examples.
But the Israeli military has been largely in charge since the fundamental reorientation from deterrence to appeasement that took place in 1993 – Rabin, Barak, and Sharon dominated the past 16 years, along with many other ex-generals in the country's public life. In Israel, as around the world, the military tends to absorb the warmed-over Leftisms produced by civil society.
Assigning responsibility for mistakes is not just a matter of finger-pointing, but crucial if one is not to repeat them.
In another column this month, "Solving the ‘Palestinian Problem'," I endorsed the Jordan-Egypt option, whereby the former takes over the West Bank and the latter Gaza.
The analysis at "Israeli Jets vs. Iranian Nukes" suggests that the Israel Defense Force does not require U.S. approval to cross Iraq or additional U.S. ordnance to strike Iranian targets.
A sports writer need not star on the field before he critique players – and neither must a Middle East analyst climb the slippery pole of Israeli politics before offering strategic analysis. As for the legitimacy of my offering views while living in the United States, see "May an American Comment on Israel?"
I applaud these efforts at creative thinking. The Elon plan resembles my Jordan-Egypt idea, except it focuses exclusively on Jordan "as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians" and involves Israeli sovereignty on the West Bank, something I do not call for. The Jerusalem Summit plan calls for a "generous relocation and resettlement package" for Palestinians to leave the Israeli-controlled areas; I expect this will find few takers.
He brings important ideas to the Israeli debate, but he is not "at the upper echelons of Israel's political life," as I put it in my article, and so I did not include him in my generalization.
If I voted in Israeli elections, I would vote for him next month. That said, we saw him in action as Prime Minister between 1996 and 1999 and I judge his tenure a failure (in contrast to his subsequent stint at the Finance Ministry, which was a success). In particular, I recall his poor performance vis-à-vis Syria (which I uncovered in a 1999 article, "The Road to Damascus: What Netanyahu Almost Gave Away"). Perhaps Netanyahu has matured as a leader but, the old adage, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," implies Likud might have recruited a fresh face.
Former IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. General Moshe Ya'alon joined the Likud Party in November, 2008.
I admire Ya'alon and hope he will have an important post in the next government. He comes as close as any Israeli leader to understanding the country's strategic imperatives. For example, when asked for his definition of victory, Ya'alon replied that it consists of "the very deep internalization by the Palestinians that terrorism and violence will not defeat us, will not make us fold."
But, when one looks closely at his main analysis, "Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy," Ya'alon does not work to gain such a victory over the Palestinians. Rather, he wants to reform the Palestinian Authority so that it can better control territory, effect law enforcement, strengthen its judicial authority, acquire a democratic spirit, and improve the quality of life of its population.
"Economic convalescence, an effective rule of law, and democratization are essential conditions," he writes, "for the rehabilitation of Palestinian society." He concludes that a reorganization of Palestinian society in accordance with his ideas "could feasibly serve as the foundation for a future settlement that would realize some of the hopes that were pinned on the Oslo process." I conclude, therefore, that Ya'alon's goal is not victory, but another attempt at Oslo-style compromise and resolution.
Good question. I offered one reply a half-year ago:
But this does not explain the whole situation, which results from a deep mix of fatigue and arrogance. The best analyses of this problem are by Yoram Hazony, The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul, and Kenneth Levin, The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.
Attempts at defusing tensions have been a central focus since the Kilometer 101 agreement of 1973. They have failed because they try to finesse a decisive conclusion to the Arab-Israeli conflict. I favor a decisive conclusion, for it alone will end the conflict.
© Daniel Pipes 2009
Originally Published in Front Page Magazine, January 28, 2009
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, January 28, 2009
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/6154
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Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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