The Israeli Right Revisited

I appreciate WPR giving me one last bit of space to respond to some of Petra Marquardt-Bigman’s critiques of my recent post on the assumptions that underlie the policy orientation of the Israeli right. Ms. Marquardt-Bigman makes some important points, and on reading her criticism I realized that there are probably a few clarifications I should make.

First off, I realize that the Israeli right is fairly ideologically heterogeneous, made up of people who arrive at a variety of conclusions for an even wider variety of reasons. I did not mean to imply in my last post that Beres’s views are representative of all those who would self-identify with the Israeli right wing (indeed, as I noted, Beres isn’t even Israeli). As Marquardt-Bigman notes, the Beres piece is at least in part a criticism of Netanyahu’s thinking, and the author is certainly not marching in lockstep with Likud. So, to my post’s sloppy implication that Beres represents a broad spectrum of Israeli right wing opinion, Marquardt-Bigman’s point is well taken.

As to the meat of my post, which critiqued the unrealistically maximalist definition of “security” that seems implicit in the policies that many on the Israeli right advocate, I of course understand that the security concerns of a newly-formed Palestinian state are quite real. That a newly-created Palestine would become a failed state, or a radical Islamist state, or simply a state incapable of controlling the anti-Israeli militants within its borders, is not only possible but quite likely. The point that I was trying to make in my post was that Israel isn’t likely to be able to change that reality while keeping the Territories under occupation (or quasi-occupation in the case of Gaza), so if it wants to rid itself of them it will have to accept the insecurity that such a step would involve, at least for a while. Short of permanent occupation, which itself poses escalating security risks, what else ought Israel do?

To frame the issue another way, I would ask what Israel’s proactive options are. There will always be good, sober reasons for maintaining the status quo. Loosening control over the Territories will certainly involve immediate risks to Israelis. From my vantage point I see no way of getting around that. My question is, if Israel wishes to remain a democratic and Jewish state, what policy alternatives are open to its leaders?

Ms. Marquardt-Bigman mentions Netanyahu’s calls for “economic peace,” by which he evidently means attempting to make measurable improvements in the daily lives of Palestinians, rather than focusing on securing a lasting political settlement. This isn’t a strategy, though, it’s a delaying tactic. It perhaps has the potential, if implemented in good faith, to relieve some of the pressure on Israel, particularly from abroad. For it to be viable as a long-term strategy, though, requires assuming that those in the Occupied Territories will end their quest for political self-determination if their lives are made sufficiently comfortable. As I said in my earlier post, I simply don’t think this is a reasonable analysis of the situation.

Perhaps Netanyahu really does mean to help rebuild Palestine with the idea of recreating a viable governing entity there that could eventually take the reins of a full-fledged state. Reasonable people could support such a course. To be legitimate, though, it would have to involve a settlement freeze, as well as the dismantling of current settlement blocs in order to demonstrate that Israel is serious about allowing a viable state to emerge. I have argued before that there is no legitimate reason for Israel to keep the settlements in tact as a bargaining chip anyway, as they exist today primarily to appease Israeli religious nationalists, who will have to be confronted sooner or later if Israel wants real peace. I see no evidence – none – that Netanyahu’s government is prepared or inclined to fight such a battle, so I take his rhetoric with a few pinches of salt.

So, in conclusion, would a Palestinian state be dangerous to Israel, and to the rest of the region? Probably. Are the concerns raised by Beres and numerous others legitimate? Of course. The question, though, is whether the policy options that many on the Israeli right espouse could logically lead to a sustainable resolution to those concerns. If the answer is no (as I emphatically believe it is), then their supporting arguments are either disingenuous or based on flawed assumptions. Being charitable, I choose to believe the latter is true.

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