Why Israelis Shy from Victory
By Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
One day, imagine, a U.S. president
tells an Israeli prime minister: "Palestinian extremism damages American
security. We need you to end it by achieving
victory over the Palestinians. Do what it takes within legal, moral,
and practical boundaries." The president continues: "Impose your will
on them, induce a sense of defeat so they give up their 70-year-old dream of
eliminating Israel. Win your war."
presidents have been meeting Israeli prime ministers for a long time: it
began with Harry Truman and David Ben Gurion (with Abba Eban in the
background) on May 8, 1951.
might the prime minister respond? Would he seize the moment and punish the
incitement and violence sponsored by the Palestinian Authority (PA)? Would he
inform Hamas that every aggression would temporarily stop all shipments of
water, food, medicine, and electricity?
would he decline the offer?
prediction: After intense consultations with Israel's security services and
heated cabinet meetings, the prime minister would reply to the president with,
"No thanks, we prefer things as they are."
That's not what one expects, given how the PA and Hamas seek to eliminate the
Jewish state, the persistent violence against Israelis, and how Palestinian
propaganda hurts Israel's international standing. Yes. And for four reasons: a
widespread Israeli belief that prosperity undermines ideology, awe of
Palestinian resolve, Jewish guilt, and timid security services. Each of these
views can be readily refuted.
Many Israelis assume that if
Palestinians gain sufficiently from the economic, medical, legal, and other
benefits that Zionism brings them, they will relent and accept the Jewish
presence. Based on a Marxist assumption that money matters more than ideas, this
outlook holds that fine schools, late-model cars, and handsome apartments are
the antidote to Islamist or Palestinian nationalist dreams. Like Atlantans,
prosperous Palestinians will be too busy to hate.
idea began over a century ago, peaked around the time of the Oslo Accords in
1993, and is closely associated with then-foreign minister Shimon Peres, author
of the book, The
New Middle East. Peres aimed to turn Israel, Jordan, and the
Palestinians into a Middle East version of Benelux. More grandly, his vision
hoped to emulate the French-German accord following World War II, when economic
ties served to end a historic enmity and form positive political bonds.
this spirit, Israeli leaders have long worked to build the West Bank and Gazan
economies. They lobbied foreign governments to fund the PA.They helped Gaza by subsidizing
water and electricity, also facilitating water
desalination plants. They proposed international support for an artificial
island off the Gaza coast with a port, airport, and resort. They even
gave Gaza a gas
But this effort failed,
spectacularly so. Palestinian fury against Israel remains undiminished. Further,
goodwill gestures have been met not with gratitude but with rejection. For
example, upon the unilateral withdrawal of all Israelis from Gaza in 2005, their
were turned over to the Palestinians as a goodwill gesture, only to be
immediately looted and destroyed.
most egregious are the instances of Palestinians treated in Israeli hospitals
who show their gratitude by attempting to murder their benefactors. In 2005, a
21-year-old Gaza woman was successfully treatedin Beersheba for burns
from a gas-tank explosion; she then returned the favor by attempting to attack
the hospital as a suicide bomber. In 2011, a Gazan mother whose infant lacked an
system and who was saved at an Israeli hospital announced on camera
that she wanted him to grow up to be a suicide bomber. In 2017, two sisters
entering Israel from Gaza so one of them could receive cancer
treatment attempted to smuggle explosives for Hamas.
the failure? The French-German model included a factor absent from the
Israeli-Palestinian theater: the defeat
of the Nazis. Conciliation occurred not with Hitler still in power
but after he and his goals had been pulverized; in contrast, the great majority
of Palestinians still believe they can win ( i.e., eliminate the Jewish state).
They also view efforts at building their economy with suspicion, as Israel
sneakily achieving hegemonic control.
early as in 1923, the Zionist leader Vladimir
Jabotinsky predicted this failure, calling it infantile "to
think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in
return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them."
broadly, increased funding for the Palestinians has not built consumerism and
individualism but rage. As one might expect, helping an enemy develop its
economy while war is yet underway means supplying it with resources to continue
the battle. The money has gone to incitement, "martyr" inculcation,
guns, and attack tunnels. Steve
Stotsky proved a decade ago the remarkably close correlation between
funding for the Palestinian Authority and attacks on Israelis; each additional
$1.25 million in aid, he graphed, translated into the killing of an additional
Stotsky's 2007 chart correlating aid to the Palestinian Authority and
the number of homicides perpetrated by Palestinians against Israelis.
perpetual disappointment, Israeli belief in Palestinian prosperity leading to
conciliation lives on. Obviously, victory has no appeal to Israelis hoping,
however forlornly, for the magic of late-model cars.
experience shows, not by enriching the enemy but by depriving it of
resources, reducing its military capabilities, demoralizing its supporters, and
spurring popular revolt. Toward this end, armies over the ages cut supply
routes, starved cities, established blockades, and applied embargoes. In that
spirit, were Israel to engage in economic warfare by withholding tax money,
denying entry to laborers, and ending sales of water, food, medicine, and
electricity, its actions would lead to victory.
to the argument that Palestinian economic despair leads to more violence: this
is a canard. Only people who still hope to win continue with violence; those who
have lost give up, lick their wounds, and begin to rebuild around their
failures. Think of the American South in 1865, Japan in 1945, or the United
States in 1975.
observers argue that thePalestinians'sumud (steadfastness) is too vibrant
for an Israeli victory. In an April 2017 letter to this author, the historian
Martin Kramer explained this outlook:
1948, half the Palestinian population (700,000) fled. Every inch of Palestine
was lost in 1967, when another 250,000 fled. Their "liberation"
movement was subsequently driven with crushing force from Jordan and Lebanon.
According to Palestinians, the Israelis killed their hero-leader, Arafat. Yet,
none of this persuaded them that their defeat was final. In this light, I don't
see how the comparatively modest measures Israel can take in peacetime would
possibly persuade them they have lost.
the Palestinians have endured a century's worth of blows, this line of thinking
holds, they can absorb whatever Israel now throws at them. Whatever the reason
– the Islamic faith; the enduring influence of Amin al-Husseini; the unique
network of global support – this extraordinary fortitude suggests Palestinian
determination will not break.
reply to this? Israel was well on its way to victory between 1948 and 1993 but
then the disastrous Oslo Accords derailed it. Palestinian resolve was broken in
1993, in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse and Saddam Hussein's defeat, when
Arafat shook hands with Israel's prime minister and recognized Israel.
rather than build on this victory, Israelis withdrew unilaterally from territory
(Gaza-Jericho in 1994, Areas A & B of the West Bank in 1995, Lebanon in
2000, and Gaza in 2005), confusing Palestinians into thinking they had won.
After these retreats, Jerusalem in 2007 abandoned any long-term plan and
resorted simply to putting out fires. What, then, is Israel's current goal for
Gaza? It has none.
Israeli history divides into 45 years of seeking victory and 25 years of
confusion. Returning to the goal of victory will remedy those mistakes.
the most persecuted people in history – the victims of religious persecution,
racism, pogroms, and the Holocaust – Jews have developed a keen sense of
morality. The prospect of forcing Palestinians to endure the bitter crucible of
defeat is one that most Israeli Jews and their diaspora supporters are loath to
inflict. Overwhelmingly, Jews would rather use carrots than sticks, and reason
helps explain why, during the Hamas-Israel war of 2014, the Israeli electric
company sent technicians to repair electricity
wires going into Gaza destroyed by a Hamas rocket, at risk to the
lives of its employees.
when the economic situation in Gaza worsened in early 2018, one might imagine
Jewish Israelis, the object of Hamas' murderous intentions, to be unconcerned or
even pleased about their enemies' problems. But no: as one
headline put it, "As Gaza approaches 'famine,' Israel, rather
than world, appears most concerned." In part, this was for practical
reasons – worrying about the price Israel would pay for a collapse in Gaza –
but it also had a moral dimension: the prosperous Jews of Israel cannot sit by
as their neighbors, however hostile, sink into the mire.
example came from later in 2018, when Hamas devised incendiary kite weapons and
the Israeli military did not stop this assault, Gadi
Eizenkot, chief-of-staffof the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) explained
why not in an exchange with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a closed
Eizenkot (L) and Naftali Bennett.
Why not shoot anyone using aerial weapons [balloons and kites included] against
our communities? There are no legal constraints. Why not shoot at them instead
of firing warning shots? We are talking about terrorists in every regard.
I don't think that shooting at children and youth who sometimes fly balloons and
kites is the right thing to do.
And what about those clearly identified as adults?
Are you suggesting dropping a bomb on people flying balloons and kites?
This stands against my operative and moral position.
a "moral position" obviously obstructs victory.
voting patterns and polling data suggest that while this view remains as strong
as ever in the diaspora, especially the United States, Israeli Jews have become
tougher minded. When painful concessions to the Palestinians brought not rewards
but violence, many Israeli Jews despaired of the gentle approach and became
ready to impose their will on the Palestinians through rough measures. The
Eizenkot remark created a furor.
poll showed 58 percent of Jewish Israelis agreeing that "it will
only be possible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians when they
recognize they have lost their war against Israel."
Israeli security establishments exist side-by-side: a fight-to-win one dealing
with Iran and other distant enemies; and a defensive, police-style one dealing
with Palestinians. The former seeks victory, the latter seeks calm. It is
Entebbe vs. Jenin. It is stealing Iran's nuclear archive vs. letting kite
arsonists ply their trade.
security establishment being defensive matters hugely because often it has the
final say on Palestinian policy, as shown by the Temple
Mount incident in July 2017. After Palestinian jihadis killed two
Israeli policemen with weapons hidden in the sacred esplanade, the Israeli
government placed metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount, a
seemingly uncontroversial step. But Fatah demanded their removal and despite
Israel's populace and politicians overwhelmingly wanting the metal detectors to
stay, the devices quickly disappeared because the security establishment –
including the police, the border police, Shabak, Mossad, and the IDF – warned
that leaving them in place upset the Palestinians and would prompt violence,
chaos, and even a collapse.
see them, now you don't: Israeli metal detectors at the Temple Mount.
services want to avoid knife stabbings, suicide bombings, a missile barrage from
Gaza, and an intifada; most of all, they fear the collapse of the Palestinian
Authority or Hamas, requiring a return to direct Israeli rule over the West Bank
and Gaza. As former MP Einat
Wilf puts it,
the defense establishment thinks that ... funds to Gaza are buying it calm, it
will do anything possible to ensure that the funds keep flowing, even if that
means that the calm is purchased at the cost of a war that will go on for
prioritizing calm, the security services reject tough measures and see victory
timidity explains many otherwise surprising facts about the Israeli government,
specifically why it:
caution has several causes:
Israeli governments built on multi-partner coalitions tend, in Jonathan
Spyer's description, "to avoid focus on long term strategic
issues, in preference for addressing immediate threats." Why address a
problem when you can kick it down the road?
the Israeli security services take pride in their dealing with the here and now,
not abstractions. Leah
Rabin, wife of Yitzhak Rabin, once explained his mentality: "He
was very pragmatic, hated to deal with something that would happen years down
the road. He only thought of what would happen now, in the very near
future." Or, in the immortal command of a lieutenant to his troops,
"Secure the area until the end of your shift."
just as police see criminals as incorrigible troublemakers, so wizened Israeli
security chiefs view Palestinians as animal-like adversaries. Unable to imagine
the Palestinians doing anything but attack Israelis, they reject the goal of
victory; can lions attain permanent victory over hyenas? Security types often
sound like Leftists, but they are emphatically not. Long and bitter experience,
not misty idealism, defines their attitudes. That is why Commanders
for Israel's Security, a group of nearly 300 retired IDF officers who
reached the rank of general, representing 80
percent of those in that category, argues for a two-state solution,
nearly twice that of the general Israeli
Israeli security types generally find current circumstances acceptable and do
not want change. The PA under Mahmoud Abbas, for all its deficiencies (and
contrary to the Arafat era) is a partner. Yes, it incites murder of Israelis and
delegitimizes the State of Israel; but better these aggressions than to risk
punishing Abbas, reducing his standing, and fomenting an intifada. This attitude
leads to caution about change, skepticism toward a more ambitious approach, and
reluctance about initiatives that might provoke Palestinian ire.
because Palestinians lack military power, they are seen as criminals more than
as soldiers; accordingly, the IDF has turned from a military force into a police
force, complete with a defensive mentality. Generals seek victory, but police
chiefs aim to protect lives. Saving lives translates into seeing stability as a
goal in itself. Generals do not enter battle with the goal of saving the lives
of their soldiers; but that is how a police chief sees an encounter with
Mothers Movement of 1997-2000 traumatized the IDF by managing to
spark an emotional backlash against the occupation of southern Lebanon, leading
to an ignominious withdrawal. This emphasis on saving soldiers' lives rather
than on achieving strategic goals remains an abiding worry for the IDF
"Four Mother" event near Israel's border with Lebanon.
all, the main opposition to Israel victory comes not from the hapless Left but
from the security services. Fortunately, the defense establishment has
dissidents who both seek political leadership and Israel Victory; Gershon
Hacohen, who calls for political leaders to exercise independent
judgment, is a good example; Yossi
Kuperwasser is another.
who hope for a resolution of the Palestinian problem should urge the Israeli
government to squeeze the PA and Hamas. This also suits Palestinian interests,
liberating them from their obsession with Israel so they can build their own
society, and culture. Everyone gains from an Israel victory and a Palestinian
When a U.S. president gives the
green light, Israel's prime minister needs to act on it.