Thursday, 11 December 2008
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.