Wrong Assumptions About the Israeli Right

I hope no one will accuse me of defending the extreme Israeli right if I take issue with some of the observations that Matt Eckel offered in his recent WPR blog post, “The Assumptions of the Israeli Right.” Eckel incorrectly assumes that the views expressed in a Jerusalem Post op-ed by Louis René Beres are representative of the broader Israeli right. He then bases the sweeping claim that “Israeli leaders . . . pursue policies manifestly contrary to the long-term interests of their country” on this assumption.

In fact, however, the Beres article presents the case against a Palestinian state — and for the vision of a “Greater Israel” with its eastern border on the Jordan River — in the assumption that Israel’s new prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud, does not agree with Beres’ view. This assumption is well-founded, not least because Netanyahu was clearly reluctant to form a narrow right-wing government and instead opted to pay a very high political price to recruit the Labor party as a coalition partner. Bibi knows perfectly well that a hard-line right-wing government is not in Israel’s best interest.

However, given Netanyahu’s much-reported reluctance to declare his commitment to the two-state solution, it might seem only fair to question the soundness of his understanding of Israel’s long-term interests. This issue was in fact also very much on the minds of Israeli voters.

Netanyahu says that his ideas about an “economic peace” prove that he does not intend to abandon the quest for peace, and it seems that at least the Quartet’s Mideast envoy Tony Blair is prepared to assume that Israel’s new prime minister indeed means “to build the [Palestinian] state from the bottom up.”

Netanyahu can also argue that the establishment of a Palestinian state any time soon would mean the establishment of a failed state. When Hamas violently seized power in Gaza some two years ago, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was unable to assert a monopoly on the use of force, which is, after all, a central requirement for a functioning state. While the United States in particular is making great efforts to improve the performance of the PA security forces, there is ample reason to remain skeptical that a Palestinian state under the PA would be able to defend against terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel.

Eckel seems to suggest that Israeli leaders are blinded by the kind of “maximalist” definition of security outlined in the Beres article. But concerns that a Palestinian state will threaten Israel’s security are shared across the political spectrum in Israel, and it can hardly be otherwise in a tiny country where almost 1 million citizens (out of about 7 million) live in an area that, in 2008 alone, was exposed to some 3,000 rocket and mortar strikes.

When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it was hoped that the Palestinians would develop the territory under their control into a showcase for a Palestinian state. In the meantime, some 7,000 rockets and mortars have been launched from Gaza; complaints about the lack of basic necessities in Gaza abound, but arms and explosives are obviously plentiful; and Hamas has boasted about the military infrastructure they have built in a glossy magazine that glamorizes this proud achievement.

Most Israelis would argue that it’s not a quixotic quest for some “absolute” security that motivates their reservations about a Palestinian state, but rather a quest for the minimal security that is taken for granted in every civilized country. Moreover, anyone who thinks that only Israel is concerned that a Palestinian state could be taken over by Islamist militants bent on destabilizing the region — a project that would certainly have enthusiastic support from Tehran — might want to read up on how Egypt and Jordan view this issue. After all, these two states would also share a border with a future Palestinian state.

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