The Assumptions of the Israeli Right

I ran across this interesting op-ed in the Jerusalem Post by Louis René Beres this morning, and received my weekly reminder of the utterly unhinged assumptions under which many on the Israeli right operate.* The piece’s basic point is that even a disarmed, toothless Palestinian state would be dangerous to Israel, because prevailing international law would allow it to wriggle out of any commitments it made to being a disarmed entity, thus allowing it to pose a threat to Israel. The point, which Beres makes more or less explicitly, is that nothing less than permanent Israeli control over Palestinian populations is acceptable from the standpoint of Israel’s security.

His whole argument rests on a number of assumptions which, from my vantage point, are so flawed as to be almost comical:

1) That any Palestinian state would, at least in theory, have to abrogate its right to a functional military in order to be permitted to exist. He seems to assume that this is almost prima facie obvious, even though most serious advocates of Palestinian sovereignty advocate actual sovereignty, which includes the right to field an army, and that no Palestinian leadership could accept a permanently demilitarized state and survive as such. That Beres simply assumes Israel could never allow Palestinians the right to their own defense forces speaks volumes about his views on Palestinian rights.

2) That the Palestinian Authority currently seeks the annihilation of Israel through the imposition of a “one-state” solution. There are many in the Arab world (and more than a few outside it) who call for such a transformation as the ultimate resolution to the conflict in the Levant. Such a step would indeed represent an end to the Zionist dream and to the state of Israel’s meaningful existence. Israelis are right to be nervous that the notion of a single state has been gaining currency in recent years. Still, the one organization that hasn’t been pushing for such an outcome, and that has major institutional incentives to avoid it, is the Palestinian Authority. Its power rests on the ultimate goal of transforming its pseudo-sovereign government into the apparatus of a full fledged state. Israel, for its own sake, should be doing whatever it takes to support it, not undermining it with increased settlements and pulverizing military campaigns.

3) That the security of Israel depends, ultimately, on there being nobody in the Arab or Muslim world with the capacity to hurt it in any way. This seems to be the foundational logic of Beres’s piece, and it is from this assumption that the rest of his flawed arguments flow. Palestinians can’t be permitted to have their own sovereign state, because then they might have an army, which they could then use to attack Israel. Or then they might allow terrorists onto their soil, who could use it as a base for attacking Israel. Or they might restrict the IDF’s regional freedom of action, which might make it easier for other states to attack Israel.

Ultimately, it is this maximalist definition of “security” that seems to lead Israeli leaders to pursue policies manifestly contrary to the long-term interests of their country. It is, of course, a fool’s errand. Israel will never be in such a strong strategic position that nobody will ever be capable of inflicting any harm upon it. Even if it were, would such a project justify the permanent denial of political rights and sovereignty to a whole population? Since the birth of the state system three hundred and sixty-odd years ago, most states in most parts of the world have lived under the theoretical threat of attack from neighboring states and peoples. Even so, no conception of a people’s right to “security,” no matter how broadly drawn, has been thought to reasonably justify the denial of those neighbors’ sovereignty. For much of its history, Mexico existed under security threats from the United States. These threats have more than once been proven justified (America annexed more than half of Mexico’s territory at one point, and today abets through willful neglect a flow of arms across the border that threatens the integrity of the Mexican state), yet for a Mexican politician to argue that the United States must be reduced to a semi-sovereign entity in response would be absurd. It is equally absurd to argue that the Palestinians must be perpetually denied their sovereignty because of the theoretical threats that sovereignty could pose to Israel.

Finally, theory aside, I wonder what Beres thinks the ultimate outcome of the policy he recommends would be. Does he honestly believe that, with the application of enough pressure, enough violence and enough persistence, the Palestinians will eventually resign themselves to defeat and accept being subjects of Israel and citizens of nowhere? Such a belief is both ethically monstrous and historically ignorant, and is perhaps the most flawed assumption of them all.

*Brief note: Beres isn’t Israeli, but his views on Palestine mirror those of the Israeli right-wing closely enough that I’m comfortable making the association.