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.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Deterrence or Occupation?

In a Washington Times article from September 14th of this year, Daniel Pipes bases himself on a recent report by Major General Yaacov Amidror to argue that it is possible for the conventional armies of democratic states to defeat terrorist insurgencies.

General Amidror is a recently retired Israeli general. His report, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is available here.

General Amidror argues against the opinion often expressed by political and military thinkers that counterinsurgency wars are unwinnable. As Pipes says, "This debate has the greatest significance, for if the pessimists are right, Western powers are doomed to lose every current and future conflict not involving conventional forces (meaning planes, ships, and tanks)." Amidror lays out six conditions which he believes to be necessary for defeating insurgencies:

1. The decision of the political echelon to defeat terrorism and to bear the political cost of an offensive
2. Control of the territory from which the terrorists operate
3. Relevant intelligence
4. Isolating the territory within which counterterrorist operations are taking place
5. Multi-dimensional cooperation between intelligence and operations
6. Separating the civilian population that has no connection with terrorism from the terrorist entities

I would like to discuss Ariel Sharon's 2005 disengagement from the Gaza strip and northern Samaria in light of the second and fourth of these conditions (the ones dealing with territory).

But first I must quote a passage from Pipes. He explains that if Amidror's conditions are met,

the result will not be a signing ceremony and a victory parade but something more subtle – what Amidror calls "sufficient victory" ... By this, he means a result "that does not produce many years of tranquility, but rather achieves only a 'repressed quiet,' requiring the investment of continuous effort to preserve it." As examples, Amidror offers the British achievement in Northern Ireland and the Spanish one vis-à-vis the Basques.

After these conditions have been met, Amidror argues, begins "the difficult, complex, crushing, dull war, without flags and trumpets." That war entails "fitting together bits of intelligence information, drawing conclusions, putting into operation small forces under difficult conditions within a mixed populace of terrorists and innocent civilians in a densely-populated urban center or isolated village, and small tactical victories."

Amidror thus envisions two stages in the fight against an ongoing terrorist insurgency. The first stage, whose success depends on the six conditions listed above, aims to deprive the terrorists of their operational ability to carry out attacks. Amidror points out that this first stage "does not influence the terrorists' intentions." This is why the second stage, beginning once the goals of the first have been achieved, aims to prevent those who wish to carry out terrorism from reacquiring the means to do so. This second stage is indefinite in duration.

The Israeli security forces, guided by Ariel Sharon's government, successfully implemented the first of these two stages during the second intifada, defeating it approximately four years after it began in 2000. Sharon, however, chose not to live with the kind of status quo that General Amidror's second, indefinite, stage represents.

Rather than accepting the status quo of Amidror's second stage, Sharon carried out his unilateral disengagement. There are several different ways of understanding the disengagement; several different logics to impute to it. Ehud Olmert was among those who emphasised the demographic argument in favour of disengagement at the time: territorial concessions are necessary in order to safeguard the Jewish majority within Israel. Haim Ramon pointed up the logic of responsibility, arguing that Israel should not accept the continuing responsibility of governing the ungovernable Gaza. Ramon was among the few who clearly understood that Gaza was more a liability than an asset. Sharon, for his part, emphasised that disengagement was important in that it allowed Israel to take the diplomatic initiative and avoid a situation in which Israel would be vulnerable to increased international pressure, perhaps culminating in an imposed settlement. Incidentally, Sharon’s strategy in 2004 and 2005 coincides nearly perfectly with what he describes in his autobiography, Warrior (written in the late 1980s), as the approach he finds most likely to yield a successful resolution to the Israel–Arab conflict. I hope to explain this more fully in a future post. A fourth rationale for disengagement is well illustrated by Shimon Peres's position. His support for disengagement appeared largely to be based on the somewhat diffuse hope that it would improve Israel's international standing. By pointing out which rationale Sharon himself most emphasised, I do not mean to imply that he had any important disagreement with the demographic (Olmert), responsibility (Ramon), or international standing (Peres) argument, or indeed with the fifth rationale which I am about to discuss.

There is at least one more logic to disengagement, a fifth, and it is interesting to consider it in light of General Amidror's argument about counter-insurgency. This fifth logic, which might, incidentally, be most strongly associated with Ehud Barak, is that disengagement has the potential to transform an asymmetrical counter-insurgency war, with its attendant problems of urban warfare and long-term occupation, which tend to negate the advantages of a powerful conventional army such as the IDF, into something more like a conventional inter-state conflict. With the drawing of a definite border between Israel and Gaza and the rise of a Palestinian leadership there with most of the attributes of sovereignty, the possibility of protecting that border through classical, or semi-classical deterrence begins to appear.

General Amidror's conception of counter-terror in his second stage does not rely on deterrence; instead, it relies on constant military occupation with operations designed to prevent the development of any military capability on the part of the terrorists. The distinction at issue here is between protecting Israel by deterring her enemies and protecting Israel by allowing her enemies zero military capability.

Over these past few months, since Israel reached a cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza, Israel’s south has had quiet. It is beginning to look more and more as if this cease-fire is actually proof that for the first time since disengagement, Israel has developed the ability to deter Hamas in Gaza. This situation, should it hold and become more stable, is far preferable to that of permanent occupation. Long periods of tense quiet such as Israel has had on its Lebanese border since the withdrawal from southern Lebanon (carried out, incidentally, by Barak) are preferable to daily violent incidents between Palestinians and the IDF, Palestinians and settlers, and settlers and the IDF.

Periodic border wars, such as that against Hezbullah in 2006, are unfortunately to be expected. Such wars break out when the balance of deterrence shifts or becomes less clear. But even such wars are preferable to ongoing daily violence. The periods of quiet between such wars allow people to live normal lives, and in the wars themselves, the IDF is able to operate more freely and at something closer to its full potential.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Christopher Hitchens is Wrong on Obama

Christopher Hitchens is a brilliant political commentator. I identify completely with his migration away from the political left, which had long been his political home, and I've learned a good deal by reading his observations on the decay of the left. After losing the close identification I myself had with the left, I am nonetheless unable to make a new home on the right, and I thus find myself a sort of political loner (maverick?). More often than not, I support the policies of the right in international affairs, and on domestic and social issues I often agree with the thought patterns, if not always the conclusions, of conservatives. But when I support the political right wing, I do so more or less from the outside and without sharing their ideological foundations. I think that this is also a fair description of Christopher Hitchens. The great cause which largely defined my relationship to the American right was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Over the past five years, my support for the invasion has logically developed into a determination to defeat the terrorists and the totalitarians in Iraq, a determination which is based both on strategic necessity and on moral imperative. This is another point of agreement I believe I share with Hitchens. I differ from him, however, in that I am a Zionist and am happy to identify myself as a Jew. But I consider these differences to be relatively minor, in the scheme of things.

I am therefore used to agreeing emphatically with Hitchens on nearly everything, easily passing over points on when I disagree with him, and always trusting his judgment. I am therefore somewhat disappointed to have to say that I have recently found his judgment of the US presidential campaign to be uncharacteristically poor. I have recently read four articles by Hitchens about the election published on They show Hitchens suffering from severe indecision. The articles zigzag between a series of contradictory positions, and when the last one finally settles on support for Obama, Hitchens' arguments in favour of Obama are weak by any standard, let alone Hitchens' own, and in their ensemble they display a grasping which betrays Hitchens' own efforts to convince himself.

The first article, "The Best Woman? Don’t Patronize Sarah Palin" from September 8th, is a limited defence of Sarah Palin generally taking the form of a warning not to take for granted, as the American liberal do, that she is an obviously inferior candidate. The second article, "Pakistan is the Problem" from September 15th, praises Obama for clearly perceiving the threat posed by Pakistan, while others shy away from such a recognition. The third article, "Is Obama another Dukakis?" from September 22nd, is a harsh criticism of Obama. The subtitle, "Why is Obama so vapid, hesitant, and gutless?", says it all. The fourth article, entitled "Vote For Obama" from October 13th, praises Obama's character and, though with very little ammunition, attacks McCain's.

In "Vote for Obama," Hitchens writes:
"I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that 'issue' I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience."

I am the same kind of "single-issue voter" as Hitchens claims formerly to have been (I’d like to know what kind of voter he is now), and if Hitchens can say outright that the ‘Obiden’ ticket is not a capitulationist one, I take him seriously, because I already know that I agree with Hitchens on what capitulationism is. But a closer look at Hitchens' formulation reveals a tremendous amount of equivocation. Obama is "greatly overrated"—but not capitulationist—but the capitulationists support him—but his ticket "does show some signs" of being able to take advice. In fact, there's little more here but equivocation. All this back and forth in a single sentence.

In "Pakistan is the Problem," Hitchens beats up on the Pakistani state, finding fault with it in every period since its inception and praises Obama for his tough talk against Pakistan. This is fair enough as far as it goes. But although I would like to take Hitchens at his word and share his trust of Obama, I am nonetheless reticent, given that I see Obama's tough talk on Pakistan is being the price electoral politics has demanded from him in exchange for his capitulationist talk on Iraq, this capitulationism having been the central foreign policy platform of his campaign from the beginning. Hitchens himself says as much: "[Obama] began using this [anti-Pakistan] rhetoric when it was much simpler to counterpose the ‘good’ war in Afghanistan with the ‘bad’ one in Iraq. Never mind that now; he is committed in advance to a serious projection of American power into the heartland of our deadliest enemy." There are a lot of elements in this sentence the reader is asked to swallow whole: 'never mind that now'? 'He is committed'? Hitchens does not even back up these statements with Obama’s words. Furthermore, Hitchens carefully avoids mentioning Obama's Iraq policy. Is Hitchens willing to sacrifice Iraq for the sake of confronting Pakistan? If Hitchens has any actual reasoning in mind here—for example I could imagine the argument being made that Iraq is in relatively good shape now, so an Obama retreat there won't do much damage—he does not express it.

Immediately after the brash statement that Obama is "committed in advance to a serious projection of American power into the heartland of our deadliest enemy," he continues:
"And that, I think, is another reason why so many people are reluctant to employ truthful descriptions for the emerging Afghan-Pakistan confrontation: American liberals can't quite face the fact that if their man does win in November, and if he has meant a single serious word he's ever said, it means more war, and more bitter and protracted war at that—not less."

Hitchens is working hard here to set up distinctions between Obama and his constituency of American liberals whom Hitchens so scorns. It looks as if Hitchens, unable (with justification) to stomach the idea of making common cause the American liberals, is mentally prying Obama away from them in order to make his own support for Obama more palatable to himself. But this prying is a touchy business. We already saw Hitchens, above, noting that, yes, the capitulationists support Obama, but that Obama is not one of them. Now he's taking another stab at drawing this distinction by saying that Obama's constituency supports him despite his position on Pakistan.

But this contradicts what Hitchens wrote in the very preceding sentence, which I have already discussed. In the previous sentence Hitchens writes: "[Obama] began using this [anti-Pakistani] rhetoric when it was much simpler to counterpose the "good" war in Afghanistan with the "bad" one in Iraq." In other words Obama's toughness on Pakistan (and Afghanistan) is merely a symptom of his weakness on Iraq. Then in the next sentence, Hitchens radically overplays Obama's hawkishness. No doubt Hitchens pay closer attention to American politics than I do, but I certainly have never heard Obama say anything that commits him so unequivocally to "war, and more bitter and protracted war at that—not less." I have only heard Obama say things like, and I paraphrase, "if we receive actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida are in Pakistan and Pakistan is unwilling or unable to act on it, I will order strikes in Pakistani territory." All this really commits Obama to is launching a few missiles from a Predator drone, if he chooses to. And the US has already been doing this recently, under Bush. Another development that has taken place under Bush's tenure, as Hitchens himself is happy to point out, is a reorientation of the US away from Pakistan towards India (I am still quoting from “Pakistan is the Problem”):
"One of the most creditable (and neglected) foreign-policy shifts of the Bush administration after 9/11 was away from our dangerous regional dependence on the untrustworthy and ramshackle Pakistan and toward a much more generous rapprochement with India, the world's other great federal, democratic, and multiethnic state."

If Hitchens' basis for supporting Obama, while avoiding falling in with Obama's capitulationist constituency, is that Obama has promised war with Pakistan, then Hitchens has no basis at all.

What Hitchens fails to acknowledge, though he gives some small indications that he knows it, is that Obama's tough talk on Afghanistan and Pakistan is a cover for his defeatism in Iraq. His defeatism in Iraq, in turn, is the prerequisite for gaining the support of the American liberals. The way Obama has found to make his Iraqi defeatism appear principled is to play up the importance of the Afghanistan–Pakistan theatre and characterise Iraq as a diversion from it. Yet, the very idea that Iraq, the cradle of civilization, lying at the centre of the Middle East, having the potential to dominate the region, sitting on expansionist Iran's border, could be a diversion from anything is shocking. In the 1970s Iraq was poised to become the leader of the Arab world. It had the culture, the population, the location, the oil, and a diversified economy beyond the oil sector. Unfortunately Saddam's strategy for holding onto power was to destroy the country through successive wars of aggression, as much against his neighbours as against his own people, and Iraq did not know more than a year or two of peace during the twenty-four years of Saddam’s rule. A new Iraq, with even a semblance of stable and responsible government, could bring unheard-of advancement to the Middle East, in all areas. But to Obama, this is a diversion.

From what, then, is the war in Iraq a diversion? Obama's unambiguous answer to this question has been that the true and proper mission is pursuing Al Qaida, with special emphasis on killing or capturing Osama bin Laden himself.

Apart from the question of what sort of intellectual contortions are needed to distinguish neatly between the threat posed by failure in Iraq and the threat posed by Al Qaida, Obama makes the small-minded mistake of conceiving of the totality of the American global military strategy against terror as mission for retribution against bin Laden and Al Qaida for the attacks of September 11th. But the global strategy of the US cannot be based on something so backwards-looking, so contingent, so ad hoc as hunting down and punishing criminals. Global military strategy on this scale seeks to shape the international system as a whole; it seeks to mould the political world according to certain pre-determined goals and according to carefully planned strategy. That is its nature. It is far more than chasing one gang of criminals after another.

The pettiness of Obama's conception of the war on terror was on full display during his speech at the end of the Democratic Party national convention in Denver (the speech in the stadium with the Greek columns). He said (and I quote from memory): "John McCain says he'll follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but he won't even follow him to the cave where he lives!" This phrase was so nonsensical that it is burned into my memory. Note the emphasis on the words 'cave' and 'lives.' Note also that this question of catching Osama in his cave is just a version of the weak-on-Iraq, tough-on-Pakistan policy that Hitchens is suddenly so keen on. But what could it possibly mean to accuse McCain of not being willing to follow bin Laden to the cave where he lives? Does he really mean that McCain is somehow opposed to killing or capturing bin Laden? And what of this emphasis on those two words, 'cave' and 'lives'? Obama's emphasis on 'cave' seems to express scorn for McCain: 'it's only a darned cave, John, why are you afraid of going there?' Meanwhile, Obama's emphasis on 'lives' expresses scorn for bin Laden: 'the man has sunk so low as to be living in a cave!' What utterly meaningless drivel!

So here is Obama's foreign policy prescription: (a) run away from Iraq, even when victory is within sight, because that's what electoral politics requires; (b) get, or at least talk, tough on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not because we harbour a special sympathy for the people of these countries which we apparently deigned to show the people of Iraq when we left them to their fate; rather, we'll be tough in the Stans because we're after Osama, and we're after him because he was behind the attacks of September 11th, and retribution for that is really all that matters. Global military strategy of the sole remaining superpower is thus reduced to a manhunt. Obama will wrap up the manhunt (incidentally, his way of assuring us that he actually will get it done is to accuse the republicans of being unwilling to get it done; this way, it becomes a matter of will, not capability), and then we'll all come home and that'll be that. What perfectly amoral, and short-sighted, isolationism.

I'm sorry to say that Christopher Hitchens has dropped the ball on this one. Since it looks more and more like Obama will be the next president, I also sometimes catch myself trying to find the bright side to an Obama presidency, and there certainly are some positive things to look forward to. But Hitchens’ support for Obama is an exercise in self-consolement, not serious political argument.

Rioting for Lies

I am dismayed by the part that lies played in inciting the recent intercommuncal violence in Acco. Unfortunately, this fits an old pattern.

In 1929, Arabs rioted in Hebron, killing dozens of Jews, and expelling the centuries-old Jewish community from the city. The riots were were incited by the notorious Mufti Haj Amin al Husseini, who spread the false rumour, among other inflamatory materials, that the Jews planned an attack on the Al Aqsa mosque. By most reports, 67 Jews were killed. Some were raped and mutilated. And the violence was based on a lie.

In 1967, in the first day or two of the Six-Day War, Egyptian president Nasser (whose airforce the Israelis had just destroyed) persuaded King Hussein to attack Israel by lying about the strength of Egyptian forces. An entire front was opened up in this war based on a lie.

In 1996, Bibi Netanyahu, then Israeli prime minister, started a project to create an opening at the northern end of the Western Wall Tunnel. The tunnel starts near the Western Wall plaza and runs north, underground, along the outside of the wall. Until the excavation initiated by Netanyahu, its only opening was at its southern end. Yasser Arafat alleged that the Jews were seeking to collapse the Temple Mount so as to allow for the building of the third temple. This is a variation on a long-standing Arab conspiracy theory; note its similarity to the Mufti's lie in 1929. Arab riots followed in which dozens of Palestinians (I've seen numbers from 58 to 70) and 16 IDF soldiers were killed. Once again, this was violence based on a lie.

A week and a half ago, on the evening of Yom Kippur, an Arab named Tawfik Jamal drove through a Jewish neighbourhood of Acco with two passengers (according to what I've read, they were his 18 year-old son and the son's 20 year-old friend) playing loud music. Reports differ on details, but some sort of altercation between the three men and local Jews ensued. The false rumour was spread (I'd like to know by whom) in the Arab neighbourhoods of Acco that Jamal had been killed by the Jews. This rumour led two hundred Arabs to march on the Jewish neighbourhoods breaking windows and yelling "death to the Jews." Jews rioted back and did some pretty shameful things themselves. The violence continued for four nights. My point though, is that this is yet another example of Arab violence incited by a lie.

I have cited these examples of lies inciting violence off the top of my head. I have no doubt that these are far from being the only cases of their kind.

But here's my point: let us assume that riot, murder, rape, and mutilation were proper responses had the rumours inciting them been true; let us assume that had the Jews really been planning to take over the Al Aqsa mosque in 1929, the Hebron massacre would have been the proper response; let us assume that had Jamal really been killed by a Jewish mob a week and a half ago, the resulting Arab riot would have been justified. Even assuming this, then surely the Arabs of Acco must today be scratching their heads and thinking to themselves "Well since the Jews didn't lynch Jamal, then I guess I was wrong to smash all those windows while yelling 'itbach al yahud' and 'allah hu akbar' in the same breath. And come to think of it, who the heck told me Jamal had been killed anyway?"

If I had smashed up my neighbour's shop, let alone castrated and killed him and then raped his wife (as happened in 1929), based on what I later came to know was a lie told me by my community's leadership, I'd lose faith in that leadership, to put it lightly. Sadly, there's little evidence of such soul-searching. The Arabs deserve leaders who don't incite them to unjustified intercommunal violence (if any such violence is justified), but until some of this kind of soul-searching happens, and until it is given political expression, the bulk of the Arab leadership, both inside Israel and indeed in much of the Middle East, will continue to combine lies and violence for the sake of power.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Israeli State: Ethnic, Liberal, or Statist?

There are three ways of viewing the proper nature of the state of Israel.

One way is broadly the way the Israeli right wing thinks: Jews against Arabs; Jews must win. This is essentially an ethno-nationalist way of thinking that assumes that Jews do or should line up for Jewish interests, and same goes for the Arabs. Ethnic differences are immutable, political, and irreconcilable. Either they win or we win, so we'd better win. This way of thinking is committed to a zero-sum battle, and its ultimate implication is that there are no objective, overarching concepts of right and wrong, there is only the imperative that we survive by defeating them. Taken to its logical conclusion, this thinking leads to the thinking of Meir Kahane and the Kach party. More commonly, this thinking is not taken to its logical conclusion, and the result is the mainstream right wing position. This position certainly does not advocate 'transfer,' but it is willing to overlook unequal distribution of state resources between the Jewish and Arab sectors (in favour of the Jewish sector). This position is unstable in that it lacks the courage to reach the logical conclusions required by its own assumptions, yet it refuses to revise those assumptions.

The broadly leftist way of seeing things is that Israel is or should be a liberal democracy based on the western model. This view emphasises rights over duties, and the state exists to serve all its citizens equally. Individual rights reign, and there are no recognised group rights (unless one means the group right of Arabs to equality); there are only atomised individuals. There is no room for any religion in the state, and that necessarily means that the state belongs no more to one ethnic or religious group than to any other; regardless of demographics.

The media and the judiciary are often accused of being on the left. This makes sense, considering that these two professions are creations of western liberal democracy. I'll talk only about judge here. The Israeli judiciary tends to fit my second, 'leftist' category, for the simple, and valid reasons that they are educated in the tradition of modern western law which values the rule of law above all else, and that prioritises individual equality before the law. This is the most basic element of the modern western intellectual legal tradition, and ideas like group rights and ethnicity, as well as issues of community, war, and national security are secondary. This hierachy is, after all, the product and now the foundation of western liberal democracy, and the strength of this intellectual tradition in Israel is of importance to the health of the Israeli state.

Between, the two paradigms I have outlined, however, there is a third possibility, which synthesises them. David Ben-Gurion coined the term mamlachtiut. Essentially it refers to the value of state-building. The idea of mamlachtiut has the potential to combine the qualities of the two world-views I have already described. Shmuel Sandler (of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies) distinguishes between ethno-nationalism and statism. Mamlachtiut is statism. The statist state is neither a weapon for the Jews to weild against the Arabs, nor is it some sort of post-modern, post-historical "state of all it citizens" (a phrase which has lost its appeal by its frequent repetition among leftist circles). Rather, it is the institutional manifestation of the Zionist project. It is an ethno-nationalist project (Zionism) given expression through a slightly adapted version of the liberal democratic state. The ethno-national content gives the state, and especially the country, its identity, its historical purpose, its particularism (to borrow an American phrase), and its spiritual strength: it is not a state like any other. Meanwhile, the state, as a form of national expression, gives the ethno-national drive the settled rationality which affords it the virtues of democracy and the rule of law. Not to be neglected is the fact that the institutions of the state have the proven potential to channel national energy into creative projects; the institution of the state thus allows the Zionist project to engage in the greatest moral-economic enterprise within the reach of mankind: building. In a future post I will address the abismally destructive record of the Arab countries in the twentieth century, but for now let it be noted that if nothing else, the twentieth century was one of Jewish building. Yet beyond the community level, building has required coordination by a state. I believe that this was Ben-Gurion's insight: the Jewish state is the key to harnessing the creative power of the Jewish people. This is the essence of the statist state, and there is nothing in this essence that prevents the statist state from serving its Arab citizens while continuing to realise the Zionist project of building the country.

It is worth noting that this type of Zionist state can logically have Arab citizens, in the true meaning of the term 'citizen.' Indeed, not every Zionist vision of the state allows, even a priori, for meaningful Arab citizenship, and not every vision of an Israel with meaningful Arab citizenship also remains Zionist.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Olmert the 'Leftist'

A week or so ago, just before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who's on the verge of ending his time as PM, said some things that caught everyone's attention. Essentially he said that Israel would have to negotiate a deal with the Palestinians and withdraw from all or nearly all of the territories. For a recent, leftist, opinion on Olmerts words, see this article in the International Herald Tribune (not my favourite paper):

I give this source rather than another simply because this is what I read just now.

I agree with Olmert's basic insight, which is that for years most of the Israeli right has been trying to have it both ways, or ignoring reality, which are two ways of saying the same thing. The problem of the right is that they want the land (of the territories) without the people (the Palestinians). Incidentally, the problem of the Israeli left is that they want to negotiate a withdrawal when there no one to talk to and when the Palestinian polity is even pursuing a political strategy which depends on there not being a withdrawal (which, I suppose, are two ways of saying the same thing). By basic reading of this question is that withdrawal is what Israel most needs and what the Palestinian polity most fears. It's also the first step on the long and painful road which the Palestians must eventaully travel to some form of responsible self-governance (I use these words to allow more flexibility than "democracy" but democracy is essentally what I have in mind: the people governing themselves in their own interest). The fact that an Israeli withdrawal is the first step towards Palestinian self-governance is part of why it poses such a threat to the current Palestinian polity, whose hold on power depends on a continued Israeli presence [I know this is a lot to say in once sentence; I'll eventually have the chance to expand on this].

But back to Olmert. I think that Olmert, as a former protege of Arik Sharon and as the husband of an avowed leftist, understands the situation more or less as I do, which is why I've never hated him, even when his approval ratings are down around 6%. Olmert has crippling problems though. First, his tenure started with the Second Lebanon War, which, despite being only a moderate failure, has been perceived as a complete disaster in Israel. Olmert never recovered politically from that. I only hope that his party, Kadima, still can. This political weakness has prevented him from even dreaming of carrying out any kind of unilateral action in the west bank like what Sharon did in Gaza, despite the fact that Olmert was electing on promises of doing exactly that (it was called the 'convergence plan' to refer to the idea of bringing ideals and reality into convergence).

Too weak politically to act unilaterally, Olmert decided to try for some kind of Israeli withdrawal through negotiations. This made him, in this respect, a classical Israeli leftist. And now that his tenure is just about up, he's finally felt free to say it outright.

Of course the right detests Olmert for it and calls him a traitor, while the left scoffs at him for only saying all this now, when it no longer matters. Frankly it's all a big sad story of infighting and non-accomplishment for Israel which has only dragged Israel down even further into the slump of morale it's been suffering since the 2006 Lebanon war.