Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A war fought on false assumptions cannot be won

From an open letter 25 July 2007 by General Ya'alon to former British PM Blair:

I appreciate your willingness to join the attempt to solve the 100-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ...I fear that you ... are brooking failure, unless you abandon a number of misconceptions that, though widely held, are erroneous and not helpful in bringing a solution to this conflict.

You have repeatedly said that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a prerequisite for Middle East stability. ...but it is entirely false. The Middle East is riven by multiple clashes that have nothing to do with Israel (even though some of the actors in them do exploit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for their own aims). To name a few examples, the Jewish state plays no role in the conflicts between the Shi’a and the Sunni, between Persians and Arabs, or between Arab nationalists and Arab Islamists.

The basic assumption of many in the West (and in Israel) is that Israeli territorial concessions are the key to progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Again, completely false. The reality is that we are confronting an ascendant Jihadist Islam that believes that it is leading the battle against Israel and the West. In this context, Israeli territorial or other concessions—whether made unilaterally or according to an agreement-- simply fill the Jihadists’ sails: They reinforce the Jihadi belief that Israel and the rest of the West are weak and can be conquered by military means. Not only are Israeli territorial concessions not the key to solving the conflict, they actually make it worse.

It is important, nonetheless, to note that the majority of Israelis supported Israel’s unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005; they (mistakenly) believed that meeting Hezbollah and Palestinian territorial demands would nullify the cause of the conflict. The result was clear: The Hezbollah and Palestinian reactions made plain that the central conflict in our region is not territorial—it’s ideological. And ideology cannot be defeated by concessions. It didn’t work in the lead-up to the Second World War and it won’t work today.

Putting aside Jihadist Islam and its war on the West and on Israel, I would encourage you to reconsider one of the major aspects of the conventional wisdom vis a vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Many in the West and in Israel believe that the problem between Israel and the Palestinians is “the Occupation.”

When using this term ("Occupation"), most people in the West and in Israel are referring to the lands Israel conquered in the 1967 defensive war known as the Six-Day War. But when many Palestinians--and some Israeli Arabs as well--use the term, they are referring to all of the land of Israel ("from the sea to the river," from the Arabic, "Min al-baher ila al-naher"). If the problem between Israel and the Palestinians was just the '67 territories, and the solution was dividing the land (as was proposed by the British Mandate in 1937, by the U.N. in 1947 and by the Prime Minister of Israel in 2000), then the conflict would have ended long ago. The heart of the problem is that a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel as an independent Jewish state has not yet risen. The most central aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that Fatah, Hamas, and even some Israeli Arabs are not willing to recognize the Jewish people’s right to an independent state--recognition which was granted by your predecessors during the British Mandate through the "Balfour Declaration," and which has been affirmed again and again in the international arena.


Another misconception stems in part from the inability of many in the West and in Israel to see the region as it is, not through their own Western perspectives. Looking through Western glasses, many are adamant in their belief that economic development is an engine capable of neutralizing nationalistic and religious feelings, which will bring peace, which will in turn bring security. If you still believe this, I recommend that you read the words of David Ben-Gurion at the opening session of the Knesset in 1960 on this subject, in which he called those advocating this approach the "naïve Zionists." Those still clinging to this misconception must then demand that the Palestinians explain what they did with the $7 billion they received over the last few years. Seven billion reasons for economic progress—and yet: Why did they destroy the Erez industrial zone? Why do they attack the passages in the Gaza strip? Why is the Palestinian economy in shambles? Why are they so much worse off under the rule of the Palestinian Authority than they were prior to Arafat and his cronies assuming power in May 1994?

A final—and fatal--misconception is the belief that the Palestinians want and have the ability to establish a state that will live in peace alongside the state of Israel. The clear-eyed among us understand that this hope has been dashed. Arafat established a gang rule that refused to take responsibility for its people and accept accountability for their welfare. Mahmoud Abbas did not and does not want to take responsibility and enjoys his “weakness”—and the results are apparent. A society that educates and encourages a culture of death is a society with a built-in mechanism for self-destruction. We need simply to look at the sad case of the Gaza Strip: Palestinian nationalists won, received overwhelming political and economic support from the global community and from Israel, and the miserable outcome is apparent to all.

And, so, Mr. Blair, looking towards the future and in light of the experience of the last decade, do you see a chance for a politically and economically sustainable and viable Palestinian state in the '67 territories? In light of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip and the behavior of Fatah, do you think there is a chance for the creation of a political entity that is not hostile to Israel (and to Jordan) in the '67 territories? And is it in the interests of Britain and the West to bring such an entity into existence?

Given the rather bleak picture, what course of action do I recommend?

Mr. Blair, you must refrain from pressuring Israel, which will offer only short-term accomplishments. Instead, you must try to convince the Palestinians to commit to a long term strategy--a strategy based upon the educational, political and economic reforms that will enable the establishment of a civil society that cherishes life and not death, that values human rights and freedom, and that develops a middle class and not a corrupt, rich elite. Don't waste money on strengthening Abu-Mazen or his security organizations. Direct funds toward educational reform and toward encouraging small businesses in order to facilitate the growth of a middle class, which is the core of civil society.

At the same time, act to solve the Palestinian refugee issue through humanitarian means: Establish an international fund that will offer refugee families an appropriate sum to aid in their resettlement and integration ($100-200,000 per family), on the condition that acceptance of this sum represents the resolution of their refugee status. Don't be tempted to grab short-term—and short-sighted-- “gains,” such as demanding that Israel uproot settlements or refrain from military activity in Palestinian towns. As I wrote, Israeli concessions will be viewed as yet another victory for Islamist Jihad. If you press for the cessation of IDF activity in Palestinian areas, you will encourage a renewal of the terror war we in Israel endured beginning in September 2000. Who better than you--who sent the British army to Afghanistan to prevent terror attacks in London, Madrid and New York--understands that the best defense is a good offense, including the freedom to intercept and arrest terrorists while they are still in their hideouts.

Do not be tempted to talk to Hamas, even in the face of British pressure (for some, such as British Gas, this pressure stems from economic interests that trump moral ones). For the sake of Palestinian society, Hamas and its ideology must be defeated. You are being sent to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but you must not be led astray: This is not the most significant conflict today. That distinction belongs to the battle between Jihadist Islam and the West; Israel is merely one theater where that fight is being waged. The West cannot overcome Jihadist Islam without overpowering the regimes, organizations and ideologies that support and feed it—and Hamas is one of the brightest jewels in that crown.

...I have the greatest respect for you as a leader. You bravely and boldly led your country and army in a preventative war against Jihadist Islam, but, unfortunately, were unable to persuade the international community-- and particularly the United Nations—of the urgency of dealing with those who threaten the world order. As long as the international community attacks and condemns Israel--a country defending itself from intentional attacks on civilians waged by those who use their own people as human shields—rather than isolating and punishing states like Iran and Syria and organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the West will not win.

Unfortunately, even in your country, you have failed in this respect. Although though several legislative changes followed the terror attacks there, there are still Islamic “charities” active in Britain that raise funds to support terrorist groups. In addition, though the terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow made clear to your fellow countrymen that the forces attacking them are not rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and although we Israelis are doing our best as a country and an army to win this war while remaining true to our values, we hear the voices blaming Israel. The voices in the media, in British politics, and in academia are rising in volume and in conviction—even as they continue to miss the point in the most grandiloquent manner imaginable.

You must be the countervailing voice, offering vision, clarity and leadership. A war fought on false assumptions cannot be won...
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