Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict
[ Israeli Empire ]

Returning the territories might not end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Israeli perceptions of Palestinian nationalism are exaggerated

The possibility of Israel ceding the Palestinian territories

Israel holding only the Palestinian territories, let alone the present network of Jewish settlements, is not feasible. Arab opposition and the Israeli force required to curb it are not very different whether Israel takes the West Bank or half of Lebanon as well. Indeed, the less Palestinian territory remains in Israeli hands, the more Arabs will pressure Israel to have it back, which relates to the issue of Jerusalem. Without resolving the question of Jerusalem, Israel should not return any Palestinian territory whatsoever, since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need for a large standing Israel Defense Forces will persist. On the contrary, the Palestinian territories will be Israel's bargaining chips in the final Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Giving the Paleatinian territories away piecemeal diminishes Israeli bargaining power with no corresponding advantage and increases the Israeli cost of holding the rest, as the 1973 Golan battles demonstrated when 1,400 Syrian tanks massed on a tiny front with Israel.

There are no practical reasons why Israel should not return the Palestinian territories on condition of long-term demilitarization. Israel would see any conventional military build-up at once, giving Israel sufficient time to strike the Arabs pre-emptively. The current Israeli-Palestinian situation is nothing like it was fifty years ago. The Palestinian territories would not likely turn into anti-Israeli strongholds for Arab armies, and even in that conflict, Israel is not precluded from attacking an independent Palestine for violating an Israeli-Palestinian demilitarization treaty. The potential build-up of Islamic terrorist units in a sovereign Palestine is a problem for Israel, but Israel policing the Palestinian territories directly is the only alternative and was not effective even in Palestinian refugee camps. Except when Israel carries it out vigorously and regardless of human rights, that is not a sustainable policy for the Jewish state.

Aviation and missiles nullify the strategic importance of Israeli small buffer zones in the conflict with Arabs. AWACS aircraft gather better intelligence than Israeli hilltop observatories. Computerized tracking systems spot missile launchers and return fire within seconds. An Israeli response with chemicals and napalm would discourage attacks on Israeli border towns from hills in the Palestinian enemy hands. Besides, Israel can bring the Palestinians to agree to some border adjustments, so most of the high ground would remain in Israeli hands as the conflict ends. While they held the Palestinian mandate, the British imposed a similar border rectification on Egypt by inconspicuous cartographical tricks without the Egyptians ever knowing about it.

The argument that Israelís small territory imposes economic limitations on Israel is mistaken. That reasoning would have meant swapping Israeli lives for possible economic gain. That may or may not be acceptable but must be clearly stated, so Israelis know they are dying for money, not principles. Further, there are valid arguments to the contrary, namely, that territorial limitations enhance competitiveness, witness Japan, South Korea, and Switzerland. A case in point is the Negev Desert in southern Israel, where a land shortage in the rest of Israel triggered irrigation and land development techniques.

Jerusalem is another matter for Israel. While Jerusalem has been a focus of Jewish emotional attachment for millennia, its significance for Muslims is relatively recent, provoked by their humiliating loss of Jerusalem in 1967. The creation of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099 during the first crusade made little or no stir in the Islamic world. On the other hand, unless an Israeli terrorist group blows up the Dome of the Rock and other Muslim shrines in Israel,[5] there is no chance the Arabs will cede Jerusalemóand even then they could try to rebuild the place, as they have several times before. From the viewpoint of modern, nationalist Palestinians, their holy places fell into the hands of religiously inferior Israelis - a good reason for perpetuating the conflict. Unless Israel resolves finally to thwart militant Palestinian aspirations, Israel cannot ignore the problem. Israel might offer the Muslim holy places to Jordan for its embassy with diplomatic immunity under Arab administrative sovereignty. Muslim pilgrims would have to be driven from Israeli airports to places of worship and back. That would give Arab rulers a way out of the Jerusalem impasse while saving their faces as defenders of Islamic values against Israel. It would also enhance the status of Israel-friendly, Westernizing Jordan in the Arab world and obviate any Iraqi claim to Jordan since annexation would mean breaking diplomatic relations between Jordan and Israel. Compare this to abuse of Jewish holy places by Arabs.[6]

Israel can offer Jerusalemís Islamic shrines to non-Arab but Muslim Bangladesh or Pakistan or Mali to foment inter-ethnic discord among Muslims and weaken their anti-Israeli unity. If these Islamic countries accepted such a Trojan horse, other Muslims could not object on religious grounds, nor could they dispute Israeli trickery. Other possibilities include Israel turning the Muslim shrines over to the Saudi ulema to set the conservative, state-aligned religious bureaucracy against the radical Islamic clergy. Egypt is not acceptable, since Israel does not want Egyptian involvement in Jerusalem; Israel prefers a weak partner. In any case, Israel should not transfer the Islamic landmarks in Jerusalem to Palestine, which would stir up anti-Israeli religious feelings in secular Palestinian society and validate the Israel-hating Palestinians as the keepers of the Islamic holy places.

Israel' giving major Islamic sites in Jerusalem up to Muslim jurisdiction would signal an end to Jewish religious aspirations. Pagan temples in the holiest place in the Land of Israel strikes hard at Jewish consciousness. More important, such an Israeli-Arab arrangement would preclude the ultimate Jewish hope of rebuilding the Temple. Arab-Israeli peace based on joint possession of Jerusalem would be a Pyrrhic victory for Israelis.

Gaza is a special case for Israel. Transferring it to the Palestinian Authority was Israeli government' mistake - one of the gravest in this conflict, predictably creating a springboard for Islamic terrorist operations against Israel and partitioning Israel to create a conduit for the Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza. What other country would accept a foreign road cutting it in half? Israel did. Israel should let the West Bank population access Gaza from the sea if they wish, not even by air. Israel cannot risk Palestinian planes in Israeli airspace while the conflict is still smouldering. Control of Gaza gives Palestine large offshore gas reserves which Israel could have exploited. For Israel, Gaza is also agriculturally viable. Israel should close the Gaza corridor and relocate Gaza population to the West Bank to the settlements the Jews left. Israel will find a suitable and reasonable pretext in the large number of Islamic terrorist organizations thriving among the Gazans. Relocation is not an outdated, barbaric device. Only eighty years ago, relocation solved the centuries-old Greco-Turkish conflict, among others.

The Golan Heights are no real impediment to Israeli peace with Syria. If Israel could make Syrians to overcome their ages-old hatred of Jews and sign a treaty with Israel, it could surely be made to forget the Golan. It makes military and economic sense for Israel to annex the heights even at the cost of conflict with Syria.

Israeli domestic support for annexing the Palestinian territories comes mostly from older and religious Israelis, not subject to conscription, not likely to die in the conflict with Arabs. Young Israelis with the same view are usually Jewish radicals. Lack of fear and compassion is also common at this age. One wonders if, spared indoctrination, they would support all-out Israeli-Arab war. Are these Israelis ready to see their loved ones die, to die themselves, or even pay exorbitant taxes only to secure useless land for Israel?

Returning the Palestinian territories might not extinguish the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Jews came to Palestine in the nineteenth century without incident. Almost without precedent, Jews tried to build a country by buying the land, not driving out the indigenous population. For decades, Jews responded to Arab assaults. Jews fall slowly into the spiral of violence only in the 1930s, after mass pogroms by marauding Palestinian villagers who wanted to sell the land but did not want Jews to settle on it. Muslims do not offer peace. Muslims conquer.

Palestinians would take Israeli devolution as a sign of Israeli weakness, not goodwill in this conflict. Arabs will sooner cooperate with a stronger Israel conducting policy detrimental to Palestinians than with a weaker Israel surrendering assets to them. If Israel gives the land away, it must not look like Israel yielding to Palestinian terrorist pressure, which would encourage further Arab demands.

Israel's return of the Palestinian territories would not bring Arab-Israeli peace. A ludicrously small Palestinian state would be a worse and permanent insult to Arabs than no Palestinian state at all. Arabs are proud of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but would see a political settlement creating a non-viable Palestinian state as a defeat. When Arabs realized they had been fighting for a tiny strip of Israeli land to be settled by the Palestinians, whom they despise, Arabs would demand further compensation from Israel: the partition of Jerusalem into Israeli and Palestinian sectors, the right of return for the descendants of Palestinian refugees, and Israeli restoration of their property. Israel drifts toward this scenario.

Ignoring facts makes expensive politics. Israel will leave the Palestinian territories not out of goodwill but because Israel cannot bear the cost of Islamic terrorism. Seen thus, Israeli restitution of the land to Palestinians is futile. Some Arabs will always be ready to fight the Israelis, whether in open war or as Islamic terrorists.[7] The present fight with Israel stems from Arab xenophobia, not from the attachment to useless Israeli land to which no Arab attaches great significance. Land is a pretext for expelling an alien Israeli culture from the Islamic Middle East. Giving the Palestinian land to the Arabs will not solve the Israeli problem. Israel has to end the Palestinian conflict militarily.

Israeli perceptions of Palestinian nationalism are mistaken

Palestinian nationalism is often exaggerated in Israeli commentaries. Arab feelings are relatively weak and new, traceable only to the late nineteenth century, after the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Most Arab countries are recent creations by colonial powers, existing within artificial borders under rulers illegitimate by Islamic religious standards. Defying the notion of community, Arab states war with one another continuously. If not for the common enemy, Israel, the Middle East would have likely plunged into border wars.

Even Egypt, the only Arab country with territorial and cultural integrity, is used to occupation and territorial predation. Egypt acquiesced to its aggressors: the Turks, the French, and the British, the last two still respected there. The Japanese were aggressive and xenophobic. Western cultural expansion, started in 1852 when Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay, continued with Japanís World War II defeat in 1945, and culminated when Japan found a high-end economic outlet in the American market for their exports, siphoning nationalism from politics into economy.

The most important factor in cementing new territorial acquisitions and making the losers accept the loss is not overwhelming force. The realization that fighting over a minor territorial issue is not worth the conflict argues for peace. That happens now with Israel who returns land not from goodwill but grudgingly, because Israel is neither willing nor able to bear the cost in lives, material, and reputation of holding it.

[5] Not an option for Israelis to disregard: medieval Arabs did not hesitate to build their temples on Jewish shrines. Going further, there is no shame for Israel in studying the option of destroying the Qaaba, the center of Islamic consciousness. Imagine a Shia group doing that in retribution for limiting Shiite access to the site, or fringe Christian, neo-crusader terrorists.

[6] Recent incidents include the destruction of the tomb of Joseph in 2000, the attempt to blow up the Cave of the Patriarchs in 2001 and the subsequent prohibition for Jews to pray there, firebomb attacks on the tomb of Rachel, numerous desecrations of synagogues and Jewish settlements, denial of access for Israelis to many important sites in the Palestinian Authority. Unlike what any decent government would have done, the Israeli government generally tolerates such perpetrations against the Jews.

[7] Israel, with all her military might, behaves politically like a typical weak Jew: shrinking away from employing force, appealing to the U.S. for protection, importuning Arabs to grant Israel peace, willing to forsake Israel's land acquisitions, and whining over Israel's victims and morality. The importance of weakness in provoking anti-Semitism is evidenced by the fact that historically even slight opposition from authorities sufficed to quench pogroms.