Fred Kaplan’s critique of Israeli strategy or supposed strategic failures seems to be what Middle East scholar Michael Hanna has in mind when he urges us (on Twitter today) to consider an alternative view:
Let’s be frank: we often talk [about] Israel’s lack of rational, strategic planning, but this assumes they want to end the occupation.They don’t.
As we have frequently discussed, this type of counter-critique applies to much discussion of supposed U.S. strategic failures, since that discussion is likewise often based on common but superficial assumptions about what a national strategy is, has been, or can be, in place of direct observation of an unfolding, largely unchanging strategic concept. Though the term “occupation” may be reductive or misleading, Hanna points to a way to makes sense of conduct by Israel or Israel’s leaders that Kaplan calls “crazy.”
We want to believe, as it is largely acceptable to believe, that Israel’s objectives are primarily “peace” with the Palestinian Arabs, or, as we prefer to say, with “the Palestinians.” The latter term, in conjunction with still-reigning Wilsonian notions of ethno-national self-determination, already implies a two-state or at least bi-national solution to the conflict. Yet even the advocates of an early resumption of two-state negotiations do not believe in, or perfunctorily dismiss, their prospects. Thus Kaplan when he turns from critique to proposals (emphasis added):
Exhausted as Kerry must be in his travels, and belabored as Obama must feel in his entire relationship with Netanyahu (and much else going on in the world), both need to immerse themselves in this crisis, work with Egypt to impose or cajole a cease-fire, then get Israel to realize its momentary strategic advantage and the need to seize the moment before it passes. That has to involve renewed negotiations for a two-state solution (even if the talks go nowhere), coupled with a freeze on settlements (in part to show good faith, in part because it’s the right thing to do), and a lavish program of aid and investment in the West Bank (to make it a showcase for Gazans seeking an alternative to their rulers who want only war).
Even for the advocate of negotiations, they are for show, one supposes for the purpose of diverting a sufficient mass of observers among the Palestinians and their supporters.
What makes the “crisis” a pseudo-crisis, less and other than a true crisis, is its character as reinforcement of a pre-existing tendency rather than as forced emergence of any new one: It is stasis, situation normal…, not crisis. Between two mutually exclusive national ideas tied to the same territory, the Zionist idea is by every material measure more advanced and, almost 70 years post-founding, more firmly rooted, even if at the margins the prospect of boycotts and deteriorating relations conjures at least the image of erosion. Meanwhile, the only state project objectively on offer for the Palestinians promises far less than the equality implicit in the simple “2-state” abstraction: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent controversial statements on maintenance of “security control” of the West Bank merely underlined the longstanding position of the only governing coalitions the Israeli polity ever actually produces and probably can produce: of one fully sovereign, independently viable nation-state for the Jews, and of something else for the Palestinian Arabs.
Since our own nation-state concepts are so variegated, always mythological or fictitious in key respects, matters of faith not of scientific quantification, many of us find it easy to believe that the Palestinians might accept that lesser or fractional quasi-sovereign quasi-state, that x<1 state, as state enough for government work. Or call it a “neo-state,” to be defined optimistically, some would say fantastically, as a polity in transition, looking to an era of the obsolescence and final moral repudiation of the nation-state under an emerging global regime of equal justice. In the meantime, and either to this end or as an adequate substitute, the “lavish program of aid and investment” would serve to decorate the neo-state, make it feel to all involved as more than a Potemkin village – and, on the day of its declaration and recognition, or re-declaration and re-recognition, as more than a passel of refugee camps and bantustans with a flag to wave and anthem to sing at World Cup games.
This pseudo-state pseudo-solution to the pseudo-crisis might indeed hold out a materially and even morally superior life for the Palestinians, but every latest round of state violence alongside the general depravation of Palestinian Arab life, whether in the West Bank, in Gaza, in refugee camps, or amongst a second-class citizenry of a Jewish state, gives contraindications. To be successful, or perhaps pacific and desirable enough to stay mostly out of the news, the Palestinian neo-state would require what we do not have: a responsible and conceptually coherent international community or global regime to take true political-administrative responsibility for its indefinite maintenance, including its “security control.”
The plight of Palestinians and predicament of the Israelis correspond to the actual irresponsibility and incoherence of the global regime, still a system of finally self-serving nation-states. Meanwhile, the widely remarked disproportion in casualties between Jewish and Muslim-Arab nationalists shocks the Western-liberal conscience and in shocking it replicates that insufficiency of the Western-liberal concept as a global concept, even while also immediately recording the disproportion in success and maturity, or actually realizable worldly power, between opposing national ideas. Israeli scholars like Arnon Soffer and Benny Morris, as well as the brutal realist politicians who regularly go much further in their remarks than the Prime Minister, seem to expect it may be generations, a century or longer, if ever, before local national Arabisms catch up to Zionism.
Given the non-viability of the Palestinian enclaves, and the inconsequence of the international community, some of those thinkers and possibly unthinking political actors hold open the possibility of annexation or re-annexation of Gaza and the West Bank or whatever remnants. Neither of the candidate annexers, Egypt and Jordan, seems at present likely or able to pursue those old ideas, which of course remain unacceptable if not unmentionable to Palestinian nationalists and friends. So, in every pseudo-crisis we see the same pattern play out: The international community gradually awakens to the familiar alarms, and is nudged by mounting horrors, like those the Prime Minister recently referred to as “telegenic,” into assuming its designated role as proxy sovereign, pseudo-sovereign of pseudo-states, insisting on its highly permeable bottom line of humanitarian limits on warfare, intended to constrain every state in the world state of states – even while “right next door” the bodies are piled in heaps orders of magnitude larger, month by month.
If Hanna is not entirely right, he is more right than Kaplan: Israel prefers “occupation,” or quasi-occupation, over any other terms currently on offer, under a strategic concept that works, as violently as deemed necessary, toward a day that the problem of the Palestinian Arabs, by whatever means, is transferred to someone else’s political hands. While we are being frank about things, we may also at some point wish to consider our own apparent, objectively actualized preference for the Israelis to keep on handling the ugly matter for us more or less as they do.