As Aristotle long ago recognized, virtue is the midpoint between extremes. And I found myself smack at that midpoint in recent days.
I published a modest article suggesting six reasons why the Jewish state should not extend its sovereignty to a Palestinian-majority territory. (Confusingly, The New York Times titled the May 7 online version “Annexing the West Bank Would Hurt Israel” and the slightly different May 8 print version as “Annexation Would Hurt Israel.”)
I hardly expected the article to arouse high emotions. It deals with a tactical issue distant from philosophical foundations, principles or ideology. I did not condemn annexation in principle but only argued that now, given today’s circumstances, the tradeoff looks unfavorable compared to the status quo. I evaluated the topic from a mainstream friend-of-Israel vantage point. I did not instruct Israelis what to do but addressed fellow Americans.
Maybe I am right, maybe I am wrong, but let’s stay calm. Show me how annexation now is in fact a good idea, and then we can get a beer together, friendship intact. Indeed, several colleagues at the Middle East Forum (Efraim Inbar, Gregg Roman, Matt Mainen, Nave Dromi) argue for annexation, which is fine with me. Some responses, such as those by Jonathan Tobin and Yishai Fleisher respectfully disagree; I am grateful for their constructive sobriety.
But mostly, my analysis prompted wild attacks, starting with a deranged Twitter mob of Leftists (like Bernie Sanders’s foreign-policy advisor), Islamists (CAIR), and Israel-haters (Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow). Extremists slithered from their holes to bay at the moon with long, boring, incoherent refutations. The anti-Israel Electronic Intifada decried my “anti-Palestinian racism.”
The pro-Israel Zionist Organization of America also denounced my “absurd falsehoods.”
And I happily perch at Aristotle’s midpoint, ignoring their howls.
Some critics note that dire predictions about moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (a step I heartily supported) proved wrong, therefore my predictions about annexation must also be wrong. To which, I reply: 1.) That was an American action. 2.) It had wide Israeli support, contrary to annexation. 3.) It created no potential Israeli citizens. In short, there’s no comparison.
As founder of the Israel Victory Project, I defer to no one in seeking to compel the Palestinians truly and permanently to accept Israel as the Jewish state. The New York Times article makes that point repeatedly—and to a newspaper audience that almost never hears such arguments:
- I am not someone who frets over the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank: in my view, the Palestinians long ago would have enjoyed self-rule had they stopped murdering Israelis. Contrarily, I do encourage Israeli steps that signal the Palestinians that the conflict is over, and they lost. …
- Annexation would likely make more Palestinians eligible to become citizens of Israel. That would be a profound mistake, since its Arab citizens constitute what I believe is the ultimate enemy of Israel’s status as a Jewish state. …
- Israel must assert itself against the Palestinians; but any moves must align with the larger campaign to compel Palestinians to give up their goal of eliminating the Jewish state. Annexing the West Bank is a self-indulgence that has the opposite result. It buoys the anti-Zionist cause and hinders a resolution of the conflict.
I believe in a smart Israel Victory that goes for the jugular and see annexation of the West Bank at this time as dumb, as going for the extremities. As I wrote in the article, it “would probably damage Israel’s relations with the Trump administration, the Democrats, Europeans and Arab leaders, as well as destabilize the region, radicalize the Israeli left, and harm the Zionist goal of a Jewish state.”
I appeal for cool tempers, clear goals and smart tactics.
In this case, that means carefully considering what steps will most advance the goal of breaking the Palestinian will to eliminate Israel while simultaneously doing the least damage to Israel’s internal harmony and external standing. One possibility would be, as I have argued before, “When official [Palestinian Authority] guns are turned against Israelis, seize these and prohibit new ones, and if this happens repeatedly, dismantle the P.A.’s security infrastructure. Should violence continue, reduce and then shut off the water and electricity that Israel supplies.”
Again, let’s debate calmly and stay focused. Only that way—and not via legalistic distractions or tactical enthusiasms—can Israel Victory be achieved.
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.