OpinionIsrael at War

Incredible imbecility

The historical record bodes ill for initiatives to engineer a “Pax Israeliana” between Israel and its Arab adversaries.

Hamas supporters wave the terrorist group's flag during a rally at Birzeit University, north of Ramallah, May 19, 2022. Credit: Flash90.
Hamas supporters wave the terrorist group's flag during a rally at Birzeit University, north of Ramallah, May 19, 2022. Credit: Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

“Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” — Euripides

“Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe.” — attributed to Albert Einstein

As the fighting in the Gaza Strip drags on into its third month, it appears that the Israeli leadership is determined to jettison common sense, past experience and logical reasoning. Indeed, Israel’s leaders seem to have set their sights on adopting the failed, fatally flawed formulae of the past for “the day after” the fighting finally subsides.

A collection of collaborators and traitors

For example, one of the most prominently cited “plans”—for want of a better word—involves transferring the post-war civilian administration of Gaza to various heads of clans not affiliated with Hamas, who would be responsible for different parts of the Strip.

Those with a longer historical perspective will be struck by the remarkable resemblance between this proposal and the past attempt by Israeli authorities in the late 1970s and early ‘80s to install an Israel-sanctioned Palestinian administration, known as the Village Leagues, as an alternative to the PLO. The initiative, which initially had support from both the Israeli and Jordanian governments, eventually petered out in 1983.

Although the details might differ, the underlying principles of the Village League and clan leadership plans are very similar. Accordingly, there is little reason to believe that the overall outcome of the current plan will be any different. Just as the leaders of the Village Leagues were treated with suspicion and hostility by much of the Palestinian population, it is more than likely that this will be the case with any future Israeli-approved clan-based civil administration. According to one analyst: The Village Leagues consisted of “a coalition of rural thugs … who had no standing in the community.” The Palestinians saw the Leagues as a collection of collaborators and traitors.”

It is thus hardly surprising that some of the village leaders were assassinated by disgruntled kinfolk; a fate that could well await any compliant clan leader who chooses to collaborate with the “Zionist invader.”

90% of Hamas committed no war crime?

The likelihood of such hostility is greatly enhanced by the pervasive approval of Hamas—and the carnage it committed—among massive sectors of the Palestinian population. In a survey conducted on Dec. 13, 2023, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) found that 72% of the Palestinian public believes that Hamas’s decision to launch the Oct. 7 massacre was correct. In addition, while a staggering 95% of Palestinians think Israel committed war crimes during the current hostilities, only 10% think Hamas was guilty of such crimes. Conversely, only 4% think Israel has not committed such crimes, while 89% think Hamas did not commit any post-Oct. 7 war crimes.

Clearly, under such conditions, any artificially appointed administration, formed specifically to stymie a return to power by Hamas, is likely to face widespread enmity and distrust from the very population over which it rules.

But beyond the a priori implausibility of the clan-based proposal, there are grave questions as to its long-term sustainability. How long will the population in each clan-controlled section be confined to that section? What will regulate movement between sections? Clearly, an arrangement whereby a local population is subject to an externally imposed civilian administration and a foreign security regime is not a sustainable political arrangement and is hardly likely to foster any amicable sentiments towards Israel in the future.

No initiative approved by Israel will be acceptable

Significantly, the failure of the Village League experiment was not the only instance in which a move by Israel to appoint/anoint a pliant Arab ruler failed to attain its intended outcome.

After Israel’s 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon following the assassination of its ambassador Shlomo Argov in London by Palestinian radicals, Israel essentially endorsed the candidacy of Bachir Gemayel for president of Lebanon. It did so under the assumption that he would be a more cordial ruler towards Israel than any other. Significantly, one Lebanese deputy accused Gemayel of reaching the presidency “on the back of an Israeli tank,” while a pro-Palestinian academic compared him with Phillipe Petain, the French marshal who, as head of the Vichy government, collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

Shortly before Gemayal took office, he was assassinated in a bombing committed by a member of a pro-Syrian organization. Any notion of a Pax Israeliana (an Israeli-induced peace) was buried under the rubble.

As if anything further is required to consign the foolhardy clan-based scheme to well-deserved oblivion, the final nail in its coffin was hammered home by the prospective administrators themselves. The scheme was recently rebuffed with a caustic amalgam of utter rejection and universal ridicule.

According to sources in Gaza, “No initiative that Israel is behind will be acceptable.” In a gruff public statement, representatives of the Gaza clans rejected the Israeli plan, describing it as “ludicrous.” The statement went on to declare: “Talk by some of the leaders of the occupation that heads of clans will administer the civilian life in Gaza is utterly contemptible and totally unacceptable.”

Merely sound political science

Clearly, it is time for Israel to bite the bullet.

Israel must forego its illusions that somehow the Arabs will deign to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. Its leaders must finally realize that the political solution to the Gaza conflict is to be found by the inexorable logic of an almost mathematical algorithm hitherto studiously and tragically ignored by Israeli policy-makers: The only way Israel can ensure who governs Gaza is for Israel to govern Gaza.

Significantly, the only obstacle preventing this outcome and frustrating the overt desire of many Gazans is the hard-hearted callousness of Egypt. Cairo seems bent on compelling the hapless masses, huddled against its sealed border gates, to suffer the travails of war and hunger, pestilence and pollution, rather than let them seek their salvation elsewhere, outside the confines of the hapless enclave.

This is not radical right-wing extremism. It is merely sound political science.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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