All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer. — Machiavelli
Recently, in response to my saying that the Palestinian Authority was more trouble than it is worth, a reader asked “what exactly is the alternative?”
To broaden his question a bit, we might ask “what is the alternative to what Israel is doing now,” which is essentially as little as possible — reacting to threats, but taking no initiatives.
I hate to disappoint him, but I don’t have a detailed solution worked out. I don’t know enough to develop one. I will leave the details to the experts, like Caroline Glick, Yoram Ettinger, and others.
I am a former logic teacher so I am not good at coming up with new plans. What I am good at is showing where ideas are contradictory, and deducing the implications of facts. So here is some logical thinking about Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
Logic can tell us where a solution does not lie, and one place is negotiations with today’s Palestinian leadership for another partition of the land into Jewish and Palestinian states. A truly sovereign Palestinian state in the territories is inconsistent with Israel’s security, and anyway there is insufficient overlap between the bottom lines of the parties to reach an agreement.
Even more so (a fortiori or adraba) is it not possible to reach such an agreement in the framework of mediation or arbitration by entities hostile to Israel, like the Arab League, the UN or the Obama Administration. If somehow a partition were imposed by external powers, it would certainly, sooner or later, lead to the end of the Jewish state.
Since most of the nations of the world seem to favor partition, either they consistently believe that there should not be a Jewish state, or they — for various political reasons — assert two contradictory propositions: that the Jewish state should exist and that the land should be partitioned. The latter is the public position of the Obama Administration.
My analysis of the thinking of Obama and his circle is that they can make these contradictory statements because they simply ignore considerations of Israel’s security. The reversal of the outcome of the 1967 war is top priority — it is the only priority in this connection — and their thinking stops there. So they can go on to say that they are committed to Israel’s security because they don’t think about what that means in practical terms. This, anyway, is the most generous interpretation I can come up with.
In any event, it’s clear that if Israel is to survive, it will have to go against the wishes of almost the entire world, including its ‘ally’, the US. The reason that Israel is presently behaving in an entirely reactive way and taking no initiative is that Israeli leaders believe that any positive action will bring about retaliation from its allies and enemies alike.
This is the excessive prudence in avoiding danger that Machiavelli warns us against. It is psychologically and diplomatically a dangerous tactic, because it broadcasts weakness and invites more pressure to conform. If Israel stays put as Palestinian positions become more extreme, the ‘consensus point’ moves away from Israel.
The Left continually says that ‘the status quo is unsustainable’ because the world will ultimately step in and sanction Israel. I think they are correct in this, but their conclusion — that Israel should make further concessions to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians — is a non-sequitur, and its implementation would be disastrous.
My argument is that Israel should move in the other direction — for example, take steps that increase, rather than decrease, its degree of sovereignty in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem (I know that legally it is fully sovereign in all of Jerusalem, but de facto it is another story in many areas).
It should respond disproportionately to terrorism, without overly restrictive rules of engagement.
It should move forward with the understanding that the world will not approve of its actions, but it should act in accordance with its security needs, not the desires of external powers. After all, most of these powers do not wish it well as it is.
It should also present the reasons for its actions transparently in public diplomacy. For example, there is no reason to pretend that a “two-state solution” is its objective.
There could be economic and diplomatic retaliation, but Israel’s economy is strong and its leverage will improve with the development of its natural gas resources. Anyway, if we do nothing the pressure will only increase.
From a security point of view, it is better to be respected, even feared, than liked (Machiavelli said something like this too). The Jew among nations cannot expect to be liked, but it could be respected.