Friday, 17 August 2012

Most of the many coups which occurred in Syria between 1948 and 1970 (which is when Assad took hold of power) originated from or were planned and organised from Beirut. This explains the importance which Syria attributes to controlling Lebanon. This puts the whole Syrian-Lebanese relation into perfect context. One one hand, Syria is in some ways the hinterland of Lebanon just as Upper Egypt is the hinterland of Lower Egypt, or as Manitoba is the hinterland of Ontario. And yet on the other hand, Syria is the greater power; Damascus and Aleppo are great cities in their own right, and their combined influence far surpasses that of Beirut. So Syria is simultaneously hinterland and hegemon; Lebanon is cosmopolitan and vulnerable. I think that particular constellation of advantages and disadvantages is what most characterises the relationship.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Left's Historical Hubris

The following thoughts came to mind after reading this article by Charles Krauthammer.

For nearly ten years now, the political left has not been what it used to be. It seems to have turned into its opposite, and understanding this change is one of the great questions of political philosophy which is directly relevant now.

I believe in a form of modesty in politics. I first thought about this idea in terms of modesty, or humility, while reading American constitutional law cases in which an ongoing theme of the debate between the "conservatives" and the "liberals" (I put these terms in quotation marks because I am using them here in their distinctly American senses) is that the liberals are more willing to adapt the meaning of the constitution, through interpretation, to match their views of what a just outcome to a particular dispute would be. The conservatives typically oppose this by arguing that the liberal view defeats the whole point of having a constitution and that remaining faithful (to some degree) to the original meaning (whatever that may have been) of the words is a necessary form of respect for the wisdom of the founding fathers. There are many things to be said about this debate, but I want to focus on the question whether we know better than the founding fathers, or whether they, despite having lived centuries ago, may continue to know better than us in some respects. Otherwise stated: what is the extent of our (speaking from the perspective of an American) moral or political duty to obey the founding fathers (i.e. the constitution), despite our own belief that we know better? The conservative argument is that we are blinded by our own narrow historical circumstance, and so what we believe to be best may turn out, in light of broader historical experience, not to be. Though we flounder in our historical solipsism, the founding fathers, on the other hand, are better capable than we of transcending their narrow vantage point and of legislating wisely for great swaths of history. At the very least, one might say that this is demonstrated by the fact that the constitution they produced has brought us this far.

It is two attitudes towards history which are pitted against each other in this debate, and political morality is at stake.

I often hear pronouncements like: "it is inconceivable that in the 21th century, we still have child poverty". It seems incredibly pompous to speak in that way about one's own century over every other century. King David, John the Scott, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, and Kant all lived in centuries other than ours; it seems the height of brash pride to assume our superiority. This betrays an attitude which looks at history with a sense of smug superiority. I think history should be looked at with humility and with awe.

The left today is corrupted by historical hubris; it thinks itself greater than history. Considering that the left used to be Marxist, this is the Marxist version of revolt against God. In religion, the greatest revolt possible would be against God. The greatest repudiation of religion (from the perspective of the pious), would be revolt against God. Similarly, the left's smug attitude towards history is the greatest repudiation possible of Marxism, for history plays a god-like role in Marx.

A lot more could be said here about religion itself and the way in which belief in God instills humility into men. I have a hard time conceiving of a "God" in such a way as to persuade me towards humility, but thinking about history has that very effect on me.

Israel's Recent Shift from Occupation to Deterrence

[This text was first published as an article in "Dateline: Middle East" (]

The Israeli invasion of Gaza at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 is best understood as the second in what is likely to become a series of limited wars meant to define and secure Israel’s borders. The first in this series was the war against Hezbollah in 2006. At stake in these wars is Israel’s ability to defend its borders without occupying the territory lying beyond them. Israel’s success in these wars will be judged by its ability to achieve through them what it previously sought to achieve through territorial occupation: secure borders.

In 2000, Israel withdrew unilaterally from southern Lebanon, which it had previously occupied militarily. In 2005, Israel carried out another unilateral withdrawal, this time from the Gaza strip, evacuating 9,000 Jewish residents. In 2006, Israel fought a war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and now in 2008–9, Israel has fought a similar war in Gaza. Functionally, these two wars attempted to establish a level of deterrence capable of securing these borders without requiring an Israeli military presence beyond them.

Deterrence, where successful, is a much better choice. Rather than risking a permanent state of low-intensity hostility with a guerilla enemy, deterrence provides for long periods of quiet, although it is to be expected that this “peace” will be tentative and interspersed with occasional conflicts. Unlike the endless combat faced by a static occupying force, border wars allow the IDF to be used to its full potential while still benefiting from a level of public and international support which no occupation can sustain.

Israeli success in these border wars is thus best measured by the quality and duration of the calm which follows them: did Israel establish deterrence, i.e. a quiet border? The Israeli campaign of 2006, for all its logistical failures and its inability to remove Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, nonetheless produced a border which, even today, remains effectively quiet. In the more recent Gaza war, the IDF appears to have put behind it the operational glitches of 2006. Israel also made no notable effort to remove Hamas from power. From a broader strategic perspective, the overriding question is the same in Gaza and Lebanon: will Israel’s borders remain calm?

Hamas has been less amenable to deterrence than has Hezbollah, but the six-month ceasefire with Hamas which held, albeit imperfectly, through the second half of 2008 provides an auspicious indication. In the current conflict—in which Israel’s immediate goal is to achieve calm, and Hamas’s immediate goal is to maintain their ability to fire at will upon Israel—the longer a ceasefire lasts, the more it resembles effective deterrence. It is reasonable to believe that Hamas aggression will be more deterrable now than it was in the middle of 2008 and that Israel’s strategic shift from occupation to deterrence will begin to bear fruit in the south as it has done in the north.

The withdrawal from Lebanon can be considered a success, given that the occupation of southern Lebanon has been replaced by effective deterrence and a quiet border for the greater part of the last eight years. The withdrawal from Gaza will prove successful when periodic border wars such as the recent one permit Israel to establish meaningful periods of calm on that border as well. Fortunately, last year’s six-month period of negotiated calm and the extensive bruising suffered by Hamas in the recent war suggest that, while the Gaza situation will no doubt remain bleak and difficult for years to come, definite progress has been made towards effective deterrence. This bodes well for the possibility of future unilateral withdrawals.

The Need for Israeli Electoral Reform

[This text was first published approximately a year ago as an article in "Dateline: Middle East" (]

On January 12th, the Knesset Central Elections Committee voted to ban two Arab lists from participating in February’s national elections. The ban, which had been proposed by the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, was to apply to the Arab nationalist Balad party and to the joint list of the United Arab List and Ta’al. The committee’s decision to impose this ban was subsequently overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court on January 21st.

The ban highlights Israel’s acute need for electoral reform. The current electoral system based on proportional representation has become a major impediment to the stability and moderation of Israeli political life. Israel is a country of sharp social cleavages, and while proportional representation may once have been necessary to represent diverse groups within the state, today it undermines that state’s very cohesiveness.

The two banned Arab lists represent another brand of Israeli political extremism. Balad’s former leader, Azmi Bishara, has been charged with collaborating with Hezbollah in wartime and has chosen to go into exile rather than face this accusation in Israel‘s courts. His replacement, Jamal Zahalka, loudly denounces Israel as an apartheid state. The Or Commission set up to investigate the violence of October 2000, during which twelve Israeli-Arab protesters were killed by police, found that both Bishara and Abdulmalik Dehamshe (of the UAL) had contributed to the conflict by suggesting the use of violence in achieving the goals of Israel’s Arab minority.

While the possibility of banning extreme political parties is necessary for the defense of legitimate public dialogue, the events of this year brought the ban mechanism itself into the spotlight. When Yisrael Beiteinu resorted to the ban, it was not principally because its leaders had the integrity of Israeli democracy at heart. Instead, the banning of parties served a sectarian electoral agenda. Moreover, the ban’s eventual reversal represented no great victory for democracy either, because, as has been noted, Balad and the UAL also live on the fringe of legitimate democratic debate.

The peculiar thing about the ill-fated ban is that it showcased extremist political forces, marginalised the mainstream, and poisoned intercommunal relations in Israel. The ban’s failure or success is largely beside the point: the salient fact in all this is that the ban mechanism itself served as a central issue for extremist politics, instead of a defence against them. Rather than clearing the way for moderate and rational debate, the ban issue actually forced the mainstream parties into secondary roles. This is a clear sign that a thoroughly reformed electoral system is necessary for the protection of the integrity of Israel’s democratic politics.

The unfortunate upshot of the ban saga is that both extremist camps—ethnonationalist Jews and ethnonationalist Arabs—have made political gains, and Israeli society as a whole is the loser. The unhappy events surrounding the ban have shown that Israel needs an electoral system that favours large parties. In such a system, ethnopolitical extremists would be forced to choose between relative obscurity in the electoral hinterland, or a mainstream party. It would no longer be possible for two opposing fringe tendencies, each representing the extremes of Israeli society, to set the tone of the national debate or to inject into national political discourse such an unwarranted level of bitterness and antidemocratic bombast.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Jeff Halper and Julius Grey Depressed the Standards of Honest Debate

The following was first published in the Quid Novi, and part of it was also published in the McGill Daily.

I attended Jeff Halper's talk at McGill on January 14th and emerged profoundly disappointed at how acceptable it has become to distort and misrepresent facts when the purpose is to denigrate Israel. I wasn't expecting to agree with much of what was said at the Halper event, but (call me crazy) I was not expecting to be subjected to a barrage of unabashed misrepresentations, either. Let me give a few examples of what I mean.

Julius Grey spoke before Halper and proceeded to put on display the ease with which he is able to give spontaneous free reign to a sordid imagination. After positing that "real" human-rights activists are recognised by their engagement with controversial causes, he proclaimed that Israel's attack on Gaza is so morally unjustified as not to be controversial at all. Setting a aside the minor point that by his logic, the events in Gaza do not constitute a worthwhile human-rights issue, I was shocked by the level of rhetorical indirection and innuendo to which this man was willing to descend in order to vilify the Israeli state. He stated, with an ambiguous level of sarcasm, that, while Israel kills hundreds of civilians, that's "ok" because they "got one or two terrorists — maybe." Mr Grey handily concluded that such reasoning is morally indefensible. First, and most importantly, Mr Grey showed himself to be gravely misinformed with respect to the statistical facts. In fact, Hamas combattants, at all times in the recent fighting made up a significant portion, if not a majority of Palestinian casualties in Gaza. Authoritative statistics are hard to come by (in large part because Hamas combattants disguised themselves as civilians), and numbers vary, but there is no real doubt that the number of combattants killed is in the hundreds. Secondly, Grey fudged the fact that Israel targets only Hamas while taking significant measures to minimize civilian suffering: civilians are warned of impending attacks by leaflet and by phone; dozens of injured Palestinian civilians are receiving treatment in Israeli hospitals. Thirdly, Grey omitted the highly salient point (speaking, as he was, of moral justification) that, while Hamas both targets Israeli civilians and uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, Israel builds shelters for its civilians and does everything possible within the constraints of war to avoid harming Palestinian civilians. This is the stuff of arrant vilification, from a man said to enjoy some degree of esteem in Montreal.

Having thus set the stage for chicanery, Grey yielded the floor to the loutish Jeff Halper, whose address stuck to one consistent, and dismally dishonest, theme. Halper's overall approach consisted in projecting the political positions of the Israeli right-wing fringe onto the country as a whole. He presented the notion of the historical "Land of Israel" as if there existed an Israeli concensus in favour of maintaining control over the whole of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here's a working estimate: of the 120 representatives in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), approximately nine to 20 stand for ideological attachment to the concept of the "Land of Israel." Some 70 are either willing or eager to make territorial concessions, of varying extent. The remaining number of representatives, perhaps about 35, may or may not favour territorial consessions, depending on various contingent factors. And yet Halper, addressing an audience who, we must assume, is less familiar than he with Israeli politics, depicts the right-wing fringe as representative of the entire country. This is the stuff of calumny; it is simply untrue. The fact, as has been widely covered in the international media, is that Israeli governments of the left, the right, and the centre have been negotiating territorial withdrawal with the Palestinians since 1991 and thus obviously cannot have been guided by the ideological concept of the "Land of Israel."

Halper stated that "in Israel we don't talk about 'Palestinians' — only about 'Arabs'." To call them Palestinians would legitimise them, he explained. He was referring to the Arab citizens of Israel, who, indeed, are generally, though not exclusively, conceived of inside and outside of Israel as "Israeli Arabs." And yet Halper, by leaving his statement unqualified, blithely allowed his audience to conclude that he was referring to the Palestinians at large rather than only to Arab citizens of Israel. The fact is that just about every part of Israeli society, even most of the right-wing fringe with which he would like to identify Israel as a whole, refers to the Palestinians, be they in the West Bank, Gaza, or any other place outside of Israel, as "Palestinians." Yet Halper chose to imply that Israel is some sort of strange place, in denial and disconnected from the world, where the very term "Palestinian" does not exist. Once again, especially when presented to an audience not likely to have travelled to Israel, this is the stuff of calumny.

Halper claimed, in so many words, that "Israel is not a democracy." This is laughable. As "evidence," he pointed to the recent decision of the Knesset Central Elections Committee to bar two parties currently represented in the Knesset from next month's national election. This issue is a difficult and fairly complex one, but nothing about it bodes ill for Israeli democracy. Israeli law provides for the disqualification of parties which negate the Jewish and democratic nature of the state, which incite to racism, or which support Israel's enemies. Of the three Arab parties which currently enjoy Knesset representation, it was determined by the Committee that two should be banned. The ban is aimed at the political acts and positions of these two parties and not at their Arab identity. Indeed, the only party so far ever to have been successfully banned in Israel was Jewish. Furthermore, the decision has yet to undergo judicial review, which may yet prove unfavourable to the ban. None of these highly salient facts was even mentioned by Halper. He clearly prefered to stick to statements made inflammatory by being left either incomplete or entirely inaccurate as "evidence" for a most untenable claim — "Israel is not a democracy." If this is not base vilification, I don't know what is. Irrespective of the outcome of this debate going on in Israeli society, there can be no doubt that it has arisen from, and is being treated in accordance with, democratic principles and the rule of law.

Halper had the effrontery, as part of a most unenlightening discussion of whether or not Israel is a "Western" country, to say that Israel appears to be superficially Western because Israelis are "kinda white." Never mind the various loathesome, illogical, and even nonsensical aspects of such a statement: it is about as accurate as saying that Americans are white. It constitutes yet another example of the cheesy attitude evinced by Halper throughout his talk: he pandered to the lowest instincts of a hapless audience.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Necessity of, and Challenges to, Protecting Bitakhon Yesodi

For the State of Israel, continuing to control non-sovereign territories populated by non-citizens is a death-trap. The ongoing occupation of a hostile population is eroding the conditions necessary for Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish and democratic state. Yet ongoing occupation of this population also allows for the most effective defence, at a tactical level, of Israeli citizens against terrorism. This dilemma is exploited by Israel’s enemies, who have learned to structure their strategies so as to exploit it. Overcoming the contradiction which this dilemma presents is necessary to ensure the long-term viability of the Israeli state. In concrete terms, overcoming the contradiction means finding a way to ensure security without operating inside the Palestinian population and society. This means replacing occupation with deterrence.

A Stark Choice That Must be Avoided
Israel needs to take measures to start moving towards the drawing a clear eastern border for itself such that all the land on one side will be sovereign Israeli territory and all the land on the other side will be clearly outside of Israel. All the people on one side will be citizens with equal rights, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and all the people on the other side will be non-citizens, (or they may happen to be Israeli citizens abroad). I made this argument in greater detail in my previous blog post (Borders for Israel), but I would add here that should Israel follow the right-wing policy of clinging to the Arab-populated areas of Judea and Samaria, perhaps even annexing them, Israel would face a stark choice: in what relation to the Israeli state are the Arabs of those territories (currently non-citizens) to stand? Israel would face four basic options: (a) grant them full Israeli citizenship and all the rights that come with it; (b) grant them some sort of partial set of civil rights as has been done for the Arabs of east Jerusalem; (c) expel them by force; (d) kill them. There are simply no other options, and each of these four options would bring about the destruction of Israel. The first option would be indistinguishable from granting the Palestinians the 'right of return' and would catastrophically upset Israel’s demographics. The second option would mean establishing, by law, two separate classes of citizens in Israel, distinguished along ethnic or religious lines, with one class having more rights than the other. This would amount to an apartheid system, and besides being immoral, it would also be untenable. It is bad enough that this sort of situation already exists in east Jerusalem. The third option is simply unacceptable; even the far-right acknowledges that. The fourth option is genocide.

So if Israel were to cling to non-sovereign territories populated by non-citizens, she would face this lethal choice. But this choice is not something that will arise from one day to the next. It is something that grows over time, and today it already looms large. So far, Israel has refused to embrace the choice and pick one of the four options I have listed. This is hardly a surprise, given their obvious drawbacks. But so long as Israel remains in the territories which I am discussing yet delays the making of this choice, it remains in a state of limbo. And as time goes on, pressure to choose one of the four self-destructive options only increases, as no state of limbo is permanent (that’s why it’s called a state of limbo). Just as actually making the choice (in whichever direction) would bring Israel closer to its demise, so then, pressure on Israel to make it is pressure towards Israel’s destruction. There is absolutely no viable option for Israel but to step back from the precipice, to take distance from the necessity of making that terrible choice, and to find some other course of national development.

What I am arguing is perfectly in line with basic axioms of political science. My argument amounts to insisting that Israel ought to strengthen her control over her sovereign territory, clarify her borders, and preserve the loyalty of her citizenry. This last point involves simultaneously preserving the Jewish majority while guaranteeing members of the Arab minority equal rights and equal opportunity in every respect. Allowing continued slippage in these elementary areas of statecraft undermines the long-term viability of the Israeli state.

The Contradiction Between ‘Bitakhon Shotef’ and ‘Bitakhon Yesodi’ as the Cornerstone of Terrorist Strategy
So far, I have said nothing about Palestinian terrorism; the ongoing threat of terror is far too often ignored by those cooking up ‘solutions’ to this region’s problems. There are armed groups in Judea and Samaria (and of course Gaza) that are funded and equipped by the likes of Iran. They are currently being kept at bay by Israel's ability to operate within the territories. Here is Israel's single greatest problem: the very intermixing of populations and vagueness of borders which I believe is such a threat to the state's very existence is also the condition that allows the Israeli security forces to operate so effectively against terror. A clear border and a clear separation from the Palestinians would strengthen the state in the long term, but it would reduce Israel's ability to defend itself against terror attacks in the short term, on a day-to-day basis. This dilemma is best understood through the distinction, which I learned from Professor Asher Susser of Tel Aviv University, between 'bitakhon shotef' (current security) and 'bitakhon yesodi' (basic, or fundamental, security).

Today, Israel is slowly sacrificing her basic security, that is to say the fundamental conditions without which a Jewish and democratic state cannot exist, for the sake of her current security, the day-to-day safety of citizens from attack. This is a situation which cannot go on, but one to which there is no easy solution.

It follows logically from what has gone before that the ongoing threat of terror is preventing Israel from taking action to solidify her foundations. I believe that the leaders of the terror organisations understand this (although whether they do or not does not change the reality of the situation). The terrorist strategy today is actually to prevent Israel from separating itself from Arab-populated territory; the terrorists ongoing strategic objective is to keep Israel engaged with the Palestinians. Were time allowed to pass without Israeli–Palestinian violence, each people would be able to turn inwards and strengthen itself. This strengthening would likely take the form of state-building on both sides. Israeli state-building (including the measures necessary for the Israeli state’s long-term viability) is what the terrorists are working to prevent, and even to reverse. They have no qualms about sacrificing opportunity for Palestinian state-building to this cause. This is truly a nihilist strategy. The terrorists are attempting to bring about Israel's destruction by forcing her ever-closer to making the terrible four-pronged choice I described above. They are essentially sacrificing the entire Palestinian nation in order to bring down Israel. This is the meta version of the suicide bomber. The terrorist strategists are purposely keeping the Palestinian population under Israeli rule with the goal of leading the two peoples, the two societies, to joint self-destruction.

A Note on Israeli Domestic Politics
The tragedy is that neither the Israeli left wing nor the Israeli right wing understands this state of affairs. The right, by attempting to perpetuate Israeli control of the Palestinians, is objectively cooperating with the terrorists, despite their intentions. The left bases itself on the faulty assumption that the Palestinian demand for Israeli withdrawal is heartfelt (in this respect, the utter failure of any part of the Palestinian polity to welcome Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza is instructive), and it thus believes that negotiations have the potential of reaching a resolution. Neither branch of Israeli political doctrine truly grasps the fact that controlling Arab-populated Judea and Samaria is a death-trap for the state, and that the politicidal terrorists are working to close the trap. Incidentally, Kadima is the Israeli party closest to this understanding. Like the right, it wishes that Israel could keep the territories in question. Like the left, it understands that this is impossible. Unlike the right, Kadima sees the territories as a liability. Unlike the left, It has minimal faith in negotiations. By process of elimination, then, Kadima arrives, despite itself, at the position which I am advocating here.

What Can be Done?
Clearly, no effort must be spared to square the tragic contradiction between the imperatives of current and basic security. But what resources are at Israel’s disposal in an attempt to grapple with the contradiction?

Tactical means must be developed to maximise current security even while the state addresses the issues of borders, rights, and citizenship which make up the content of basic security.

But such means can do only little to square the contradiction. Professor Susser has said that, yes, risks must be taken (in terms of current security) in order to improve basic security. No doubt this is true. But there is a deeper, more strategic question, which provides the seeds for more fertile thinking about resolving the current–basic contradiction.

I have already discussed the strategic issue in question in an earlier post (Deterrence or Occupation) and will attempt not to repeat myself here. So long as Palestinian society lives under Israeli occupation, the terrorists who operate with this society bear no responsibility to it. They are able simply to blame every hardship on Israel, fudging the fact that they are the ones to force Israel to impose certain hardships. But after an Israeli evacuation of soldiers and settlers, these terrorists begin to form an increasingly sovereign political leadership of their society. This is what happened in southern Lebanon and what is happening in Gaza. This process is important because it gives rise to the possibility that Israel may assure its security after a unilateral withdrawal by means of deterrence. As the terrorists gain power in their society and come closer and closer to constituting something like a real government, they also become burdened with new responsibilities, and these responsibilities can be used as leverage to deter them from attacking Israel. Israel has achieved deterrence in this way on the Lebanese border, and despite the recent breakdown in the ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza, the indications are that deterrence against Hamas is still in the cards. Those terrorists understand this dynamic, and it is precisely because they fear becoming deterrable that we have witnessed reluctance on the part of both Hezbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to arrogate too much state, or state-like, power to themselves.

Both groups display vicious aggressiveness in all their dealings peculiarly combined with a reluctance to take power when it is within their reach. Hamas was clearly unprepared and taken by surprise when it won the Palestinian legislative elections of January 2006. It did indeed take over full control of the Gaza strip in June 2007, but in internal Hamas correspondence (obtained by and reported on by Haaretz last month), the Damascus leadership states that it does not want "to control Gaza completely while losing the West Bank." The Damascus leadership wishes the Gaza leadership to be more conciliatory with Fatah, thereby giving up some power in Gaza and gaining some in the West Bank. The Gaza leadership apparently is more interested in solidifying its power in Gaza, thus making it more and more like a state. The thinking displayed by the Hamas leadership in Gaza is exactly what Israel needs in order to deter attack from Gaza: having had a taste of official political power, the Gaza leaders do not want to lose it. They are moving away from being guerillas and towards being politicians. Guerillas are undeterrable; that is their great strength, and the correspondence reported on by Haaretz shows, among other things, that the Damascus leadership wishes to preserve this strength. Politicians, on the other hand, have something to lose and thus are deterrable.

The more territories (by which of course I mean to refer only to non-sovereign territory) that Israel evacuates, the stronger becomes the faction among the terrorists that favours taking a more statist route vis-à-vis the faction which favours the more guerilla route.

My purpose in this latest discussion has been to show that when Israel withdraws from non-sovereign Arab-populated territories, the existing security situation does not simply remain the same, except for the simple reduction in Israeli counter-terror capacity. It would be over-simple to say that since Israeli military presence in the territories prevents terror attacks, Israeli withdrawal would therefore lead to an increase in terror attacks at a one-to-one ratio. There are other factors at work. The Israeli presence, in addition to thwarting terror, also relieves terrorists of the responsibility that comes with governance. The Israeli absence, in addition to giving the terrorists a freer hand, operationally, to launch attacks, would also present the terrorists with new, political, restrictions on their ability to launch attacks.

The difficulty, of course, is in making the transition from occupation to deterrence. It has been done successfully in Lebanon (a fact which the 2006 war does not disprove; one month of war amid eight years of deterrence qualifies as deterrence, especially since war is often the mechanism by which deterrence is established). The success of this process in Gaza is still to be determined; so far it has been a qualified success. Making a full analysis of this process and developing a plan for its management are the keys to minimizing the contradiction between Israel’s current and basic security imperatives enough that the State of Israel may gain the liberty of action necessary to repair its own foundations.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Borders for Israel

[The accompanying image is a photo taken by the author in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sur Bahir; it depicts posters of Hussam Dwaith, the first Jerusalem bulldozer terrorist and former resident of Sur Bahir, and Yasser Arafat on the shutters of a closed shop.]

The case of Jerusalem can seem like an irresolvable mess. All one needs to do is consider the complexities of the interactions of what are essentially three different borders in Jerusalem—the green line, the municipal boundary, and the security barrier—to see how sticky it all is. But I believe that there is one principle which Israel must follow if she is to have any chance of improving this situation. The principle is that of clear boundaries, both in terms of territory and of citizenship.

There currently exist three basic categories of territory and of Arab population: (a) the territory and population which have been inside Israel since 1948, (b) those which have been in Israeli only since 1967 (by virtue of the largely unrecognised annexation of east Jerusalem), (c) and those which have been simply occupied since 1967. As if this degree of complexity were not bad enough, the latter two categories—the annexed and the occupied—are now further subdivided in the Jerusalem area by the separation barrier, which runs alternately inside and outside of Jerusalem's eastern municipal boundary, the annexation line.

My point here is most certainly not that I'm against the fence, because I'm not; my point is that Israel needs clear and simple distinctions. There must be no more than two classes of territory and of people as far as Israel is concerned, not three, four, or five. Today there are Arabs inside Israel (living under Israeli law) who are not given their due by the Israeli state, and there are Arabs outside of Israel for whom Israel takes responsibility (it provides food, power, a degree of governance, etc.). Israel must move towards a situation in which every Arab in the world is either a citizen or not, and all territory in the world is either sovereign or not. These clear distinctions must be reinforced by government policies giving Arab citizens perfectly egalitarian treatment both in terms of rights and duties, and non-citizens nothing. Israel must begin immediately to move towards a situation in which every Arab citizen is provided all the basic civic services (such as garbage collection, water supply, municipal zoning, public schools, passports) and civil rights (such as the right to vote and stand for election in both municipal and national elections) and is simultaneously required to perform some form of national service equivalent to the service owed by Jewish citizens. Meanwhile, non-citizens would receive nothing from the state, and residence in Beit Jala would give them no more claim to Israeli state services than would living in Canada. Naturally, we should strive for a situation in which all citizens reside on sovereign Israeli territory and all non-citizens do not.

The current situation in lacking in many respects. Some Arab citizens are provided substandard state services and few are required to perform any national service. Worst of all, the Arabs of east Jerusalem live under a legal regime devised specifically for them which gives them some, but not all, of the rights of citizenship. Meanwhile Arabs in places such as Gaza continue to demand and receive Israeli resources.

Today's messy situation with its multiple in-between categories, both of territory and of people, is encouraging Israeli-Arabs, east Jerusalem Arabs, and Palestinians to coalesce into a single hostile population which either straddles Israel's border or is entirely within Israel, depending on how one views things. It is hard to imagine a greater threat to the core Zionist principle of Jewish political sovereignty in the Land of Israel than such a simultaneously inside-and-outside hostile population. The only feasible and moral way to control this threat to distinguish as forcefully as possible between the Arabs who are in and those who are out; the country needs thus needs borders.

Ariel Sharon, in his autobiography, 'Warrior,' frames the question of the Israeli Arabs in an evocative manner. He says (note that he was writing in the late 1980s), that with the Palestinians, Israel has numerous options for conflict resolution, but with the Israeli Arabs, there is no other option but co-existence. Should they become implacably hostile, the Jews will either lose the country or forcefully expel the Arabs, and neither of these scenarios is acceptable. The process which is underway now, set in motion by the great victory of the Six-Day War and of successive Israeli governments' unwillingness to face the hard choices brought about by that victory, are gradually leading to a situation in which the non-citizen Palestinian Arabs are becoming more hostile to the State of Israel, and the citizen Israeli Arabs are becoming more at one with the Palestinians.

The situation is one which requires a combination of rapid action and long-term planning. Neither the left-wing approach of hoping against hope that genuine agreement with the Palestinians can be reached, nor the right-wing approach of hoping against hope that neither the world nor the immutable principles of human morality will notice if Israel retains control of occupied land without resolving the status of the people who live on that land has any chance of improving the situation, let alone resolving it.

A long-term plan, implemented in a largely unilateral manner, and based on the foundational understanding that the current Palestinian polity will agree to neither (a) a permanent Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria nor to (b) an Israeli withdrawal from these areas, must be developed and put into action with as much coordination as possible with Israel's allies. The core goal of such a plan must be to create a clear eastern border for Israel. No clean solution to Israel's problems is within reach, but movement in the right direction is quite possible.