Managing the Unmanageable

In their ongoing struggle to escape reality, Israeli politicians and opinion leaders have settled on a new approach to our never-ending war with the Arabs of Eretz Yisrael: not ending the conflict, but managing it.

After almost thirty years of disillusionment and literally thousands of (Jewish and Arab) deaths, all but a tiny minority of Israelis – found in the halls of Meretz and the columns of Ha’aretz – finally understand that the slogans “land for peace” and “two-state solution” represent delusions, and that the attempts to implement them have been disastrous. Of course these ideas are still popular among European antisemites, liberal US Jews, and much of the American government, to our great regret. But that’s another story.

Unfortunately a new fantasy, espoused by Micha Goodman in his book (English title: Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War) has taken hold of Israel’s ruling elites; and while it is not quite as pernicious as the previous delusion, it too will not lead us to the promised land of peace. Indeed, it is likely to damage our strategic position for the inevitable war that is ahead. I refer to the idea that while it is impossible to resolve the conflict, it is possible to tamp it down, to moderate it, to ameliorate the violence: to manage it until at some time in the dimly-envisioned future it will be possible to end it.

Goodman argues that both of the solutions proposed by the Left and the Right respectively – partition into two states or imposition of Israeli sovereignty over all of the land – are fatally flawed: partition is impossible for security reasons, and sovereignty for demographic/political ones. Management is seen as suboptimal by both sides; but he thinks there’s no alternative.

Unsurprisingly, the weakest part of Goodman’s argument is his discussion of how the application of appropriate management tools – mostly economic incentives – will ultimately lead to change in Palestinian consciousness, or at least a pragmatic decision by them to accept some form of non-belligerence and even cooperation. Just like the two-staters, Goodman refuses to understand his enemies, because the consequences of doing so are too disturbing.

When the book first came out in Hebrew it was a minor sensation here. Even Bibi Netanyahu, the man the NY Times loved to call “Israel’s hard-line right-wing PM,” was seen carrying it. In any event, the basic idea, if not the details, of managing the conflict seem to have been adopted as policy by the entire political center, including Netanyahu, Bennett, Gantz, Lapid, and others. This approach especially appeals to professional politicians, because almost by definition politicians love short-term, kick-the-can-down-the-road “solutions” to recalcitrant problems. Why take risks when you don’t have to?

According to this approach, everything that can be done to improve the Palestinian economy (as if there is one in any real sense!) should be done, within the constraints of our security. The PA areas will get 4G (someday even 5G) phone/internet service; we continue to sell fuel and electricity to Hamas-ruled Gaza; more work permits are being granted to residents of the territories even as we try to plug the holes in the security fence along the Green Line. Sometimes this policy leads to absurdities. For example, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, Israel collects import taxes on behalf of the PA and transfers the money to it. After the Knesset passed a law to deduct from this a sum equivalent to the amount the PA pays imprisoned terrorists or the families of “martyred” ones, Defense Minister Gantz arranged a “loan” to the PA to offset its loss!

Note that the arguments for and against this policy are not couched in terms of whether it is a good thing for us to help the PA, but rather the security implications of it. So Gantz argues that it is important to support the PA, because if it collapses Hamas will take over in Judea and Samaria, which would be worse for us than the Fatah-dominated PA. The same goes for Gaza: by allowing the Hamas leadership to enrich itself by diverting cash received from Qatar and by providing Gaza with water to drink and electricity to operate rocket factories, we (at least for a while) encourage them not to launch those rockets. But nobody asks about the long-term consequences of in effect paying our enemies to not kill us.

Management involves the judicious use of sticks as well as carrots. There are almost nightly raids in Judea/Samaria to arrest or kill terrorists who are planning attacks. There are periodic warlets with Hamas in which weapons factories and depots are bombed. Just this past week, the IDF cut the head off of a particularly nasty group of terrorists, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (but money will flow from Iran, younger men will step up, and the head will grow back).

The short-term nature of this policy is obvious. The PA/PLO leadership and that of Hamas, as well as the great mass of Palestinian Arabs who share their ideology (whether or not they care for the corrupt and dictatorial leadership) are not made more moderate by this policy. Indeed, it is insulting to them to suggest that! As I have written before, resistance is an essential characteristic of Palestinian identity. Indeed, it is the only truly unique part of specifically Palestinian culture, the part that distinguishes them from other Arabs. It is the reason we can have peace with the UAE, for example, but not Hamas. We cannot buy and beat them into giving up their identity.

In response to the argument that economic improvements and education will ultimately lead to moderation, I point to the Arab citizens of Israel and the Arabs of Jerusalem. In both cases, they have better standards of living, healthcare, educational and occupational opportunities, and more political freedom than Arabs living anywhere else in the Middle East. And yet, in recent decades they have become more radicalized, as illustrated by last May’s riots in Israel’s mixed cities.

Managing the conflict is only a short-term expedient, and a poor one, since it allows our enemies to grow more capable over time, as we have seen with Hamas. After repeated operations to “mow the grass,” we find the grass coming up higher and tougher each time. At some point we will not be able to cut it.

Humans are territorial primates. Modern technology hasn’t changed that, only made it possible for the territories involved to be larger and the wars bloodier. Our conflict is a struggle between peoples for territorial dominance. Although we find it tremendously difficult to face the fact, it is a zero-sum game. One side will win, and the other will disappear from the region. We will not win by underestimating the commitment of our enemies to victory, and even less so by assuming that we can transform them from deadly foes into good neighbors.

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5 Responses to Managing the Unmanageable

  1. NormanF says:

    Ukraine is going to disappear because the Russians are winning.

    If the Palestinians win, Israel will disappear, too.

    Wars are by definition, zero sum conflicts. They’re not about arranging a win-win outcome.

    I agree with Misha Goodman, in the short term, Israel can manage the conflict with the Arabs and buy time.

    This is however, not a long term solution because the Arab aim is to eliminate Israel and they will wait however long it takes them to attain it.

    Jews have great difficulty understanding their enemy isn’t like them and isn’t interested in peace and co-existence with Israel.

    While its human nature to want to avert, if not to minimise conflict, this isn’t really possible in a situation in which the other side wants you dead.

    At the end of the day, like with Ukraine, only one side is going to prevail. That’s the way its going to be and the side that loses, disappears forever.

    Whether Israel likes it or not, that’s reality.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    I just saw an interview by Ben Shapiro of former Prime Minister Netanyahu. He says that the proper solution is for a peace agreement in which the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria are allowed to rule over themselves and their own civil life. But the sovereignty and control would not extend to security. Israel would control air, sea, land security completely. He knows no Palestinian leader will agree to this but sees it as the only possible long-term solution Until then the status quo remains.
    Perhaps he believes really that the present situation can be extended indefinitely. I have no idea of whether he has a plan in case of war to carry out a plan of the kind you suggest.

  3. Moshe Ben Shimon says:

    The “handling “ of the security situation by temporizing and by delaying definitive actions, is no handling at all. It merely is delay for it’s own sake, perhaps due to fear, perhaps due to a wish that someone else take a first step so that they get the blame for the unavoidable pain that will ensue.I certainly is not worthy of the name “ management “, for it is an inexplicable dereliction of the responsibilities of leadership and ruling.From my medical/surgical training, it is akin to changing fresh bandages frequently in lieu of excising a pus-filled abcess, or removing a growing tumor.
    There cannot be a two-state solution- ever.Two peoples cannot co-exist in the same space, if one denies the right to exist to the other. They tried to kill us many times, and , B.H.,they lost- every time, each time. Losing has consequences-tell them that, go ahead, don’t be shy or ashamed. If we lost even once, G-d forb, we would have no where to go, no place at all.The world only sticks up for dead Jews! Eventually, perhaps, they might miss us, as did the Poles in recent past.
    Tell them – they have to leave, now, all at once, OR BE THROWN OUT. Go to Jordan- Jordan is Palestine.( Actually, Jordan is Eastern Israel, but the British screwed us royally in 1921, and we were too weak then to forcefully stop them). Those , a minority, who want to stay and thrive and prosper, can provisionally remain by being peaceful foreign sojourners, i.e.,Jordanian citizens during good behavior, or by accepting a form of dhimmitude/citizenship or attenuated citizenship wherein they would lack voting rights, and would not be subject to a military draft. Due to their decades of unremitting hate and murderous marauding they cannot aspire to the honored full status of the Druze, for example.Other religious groups can be ,and are , full citizens e.g.,Christians, Circassians, etc.As to the Bedouins,and other Arab squatters upon our land,only those who cleave to and are loyal to Israel through military service , may obtain or maintain full non-voting citizenship.And any occupation by squatting upon untitled land or upon land to which they do not have legal title may result in their expulsion to Jordanian lands forthwith and without recourse to appeal.Those non-Jews who insist upon attaining full and unmodified or unattenuated citizenship MAY, after serving a trial period of five years from time of application , be considered for such status PROVIDING, that they have served honorably as a volunteer in the IDF , if age-appropriate, AND,have an unblemished record of civil behavior without exception.
    The stringencies of this proposal are based upon the desire that Judaism and Israel continue to exist,in this cruel and viciously cynical world. There is no time left to “manage” by kicking the can down the road, as it were. It’s time to finally win- not merely not lose. Those who hate us , must leave. Now, expeditiously. Once and for all.

    • I more or less agree with what you have written. The difficult question is how we get there from here. Implementation of these ideas means war; war with the Palestinian Arabs and perhaps even intervention from the West, whose alleged “moral” sense would be outraged (remember when NATO bombed Belgrade!) Certainly we could expect harsh economic sanctions from the (antisemitic) EU and perhaps even from the US.
      We are also facing, in the short term, war with Iran and her proxies. Probably it would be best to concentrate on winning this war decisively, first.
      The challenges facing the Jewish state today are no less great than at any time in the past, including 1948. Unfortunately, we persist in pretending that that isn’t the case.

  4. Moshe Ben Shimon says:

    I have sent a Comment to you, Vic, but have not (yet) seen it printed .Even as a reply. Alas, but while waiting, I will respectfully submit a brief statement of operational advice and of basic core values, as I see them. Believing, as I do, that USA under Obama/Biden/Rice will not attack Iran and destroy its nuclear potential, it is existentially clear that Medinat Yisroel must , ab initio, preemptively strike Iran before the agreement is signed, in a world-shaking attacking blow. All assets of all combat arms must be used- AirForce, Army, and Navy, including intelligence. While the AirForce with refueling assets does the obvious, the Army can penetrate both Lebanon and Gaza in a limited manner, to give Hamas and Hezballah pause and to prevent their back-door attacks on Israel when the bombing begins. In the meantime, Navy submarines must attack Iranian oil ports and shipping simultaneously, while surface vessels support this by interdicting surface shipping and any military traffic in Iran’s waters.Intelligence can monitor threats from foreign sources and from unexpected attack by other nations, while monitoring space-related activities, such as the movement of hostile nations’ satellites, ballistic middle firings, long-range rocket firings,etc.If Israel has any killer satellites which are not single-use entities, they can be used if need be ( laser beam types, etc.).
    The idea is quick and shocking attack against what has been promised under the table bu USA , EU, and, perhaps, Russia , and China if applicable. Israel must expect Washington and Brussels to go verbally berserk thereafter, to say nothing about th reaction of the Secular and the Hellenistic crowd, allied to the Tikkunists. The rationale for such a startling and historic action: Jewish Lives Matter More! As I have said, the world loves dead Jews. It took the Germans 50 years to beg forgiveness for the Munich Massacre at the Olympics.We are in this alone- and we are a people apart, as our religion teaches us. We must act as indicated by the Talmud- about a “rofeh” ( pursuer). Preemptively, decisively, and justifiably.

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