“A week ago, as per the Cabinet’s proposal, the Knesset passed by a decisive two-thirds majority the Golan Heights law. Now you are once again priding yourselves on punishing Israel. … What kind of talk is this, ”punishing Israel?” Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic? Are we 14-year-olds who, if we misbehave, we get our wrists slapped? Let me tell you whom this Cabinet comprises. It is composed of people whose lives were marked by resistance, fighting and suffering. … You will not frighten us with punishments. He who threatens us will find us deaf to his threats. … You have no right to ‘punish’ Israel—and I protest at the very use of this term.” — Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to U.S. Ambassador Samuel W. Lewis, rebutting U.S. threats to punish Israel for extending Israeli law and effectively sovereignty to the Golan Heights, Dec. 21, 1981
“What matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do.” — David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister (1886–1973)
“Present opportunities are not to be neglected; they rarely visit us twice.” — Voltaire, French writer and philosopher (1694–1778)
A little more than a week ago, Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, set the cat well and truly among the pigeons.
Pipes, the initiator of the commendable initiative known as the Israel Victory Project (IVP), published a New York Times’ opinion piece titled “Annexing the West Bank Would Hurt Israel,” which many saw as cutting sharply against the grain of the very principles at the heart of that initiative.
It’s not difficult to understand the flurry of consternation that the article aroused—not only regarding its content, but also as to its medium of publication.
After all, one assumes that the lion’s share of the readership of the stridently anti-Israel Times is hardly in need of persuasion against any annexation by Israel of territory in Judea and Samaria. Indeed, one might be well excused for thinking that had Pipes—a longstanding supporter of Israel—penned a piece forcefully endorsing Israeli annexation, the paper would have been unlikely to run it.
Thus, it was anything but surprising that editors seized on his article to denigrate Israel and publish an accompanying photo (entirely unrelated to the content) showing a bleeding and prostrate Palestinian “demonstrator,” allegedly injured in a protest against the pernicious Israeli “settlements.”
Accordingly, it would appear that if Pipes’s goal was to dissuade the public from pushing for such annexation, he could have undoubtedly found a more appropriate and less superfluous vehicle with which to do so.
Countermanding the components for Victory
I have long been an ardent supporter of much of Pipes’s work in general and of his IVP project in particular, which I have described as an “enterprise that has the potential to be a positive paradigmatic game-changer [regarding] the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Indeed, the far-reaching importance that I ascribe the IVP is reflected in the fact that I have devoted five columns to it. Pipes engaged with two detailed responses—Achieving Israeli victory with Martin Sherman; and Could a Palestinian state be acceptable … eventually?—addressing the points I raised in them.
In the final analysis, the greatest contribution of the IVP is that it changes the frame of reference for the debate on the “Palestinian” issue by recognizing the futility and foolishness of conventional wisdom, which advocates a process of ongoing concessions to, and appeasement of, the Palestinian-side as a sine qua non for the resolution of the conflict.
Instead, it calls openly for the need to break the collective will of the Palestinian Arabs to continue their struggle against Israel, even explicitly endorsing the use of harsh coercive measures to do so, if necessary. Accordingly, anything that fosters the Palestinians’ perspective that Israel can be compelled to bow to their wishes would appear to countermand the very essence of the IVP.
In his article, Pipes declares: “I strongly oppose Israel annexing any of the West Bank, and I do so for six main reasons.”
Five of these relate to the risk of riling both friend and foe—the Trump administration, the Democrats, the European Union, the Israeli left and the Arabs. The sixth relates to the exacerbation of the demographic threat, potentially entailed in including large numbers of additional Arabs residents in the permanent population of Israel if Israeli sovereignty was extended to include the areas of Judea-Samaria in which they live.
Thus, Pipes counsels: “Don’t toy with Mr. Trump’s temper, don’t infuriate Democrats and Europeans, don’t alienate Arab leaders, don’t inflame Palestinians, don’t radicalize the Israeli left, and don’t add Palestinian citizens to Israel.”
Let me begin at the end with his demographic concerns.
Of course, the extent of this “danger” is highly dependent on the territories envisaged as having sovereignty extended over them. Clearly, if this is confined to the sparsely populated Jordan Valley and the Jewish settlements beyond the 1967 Green Line, then, the additional Arab population entailed is minimal.
However, Pipes does not confine his disapproval of annexation to the densely populated areas of Judea and Samaria, but opposes annexing any territory beyond the 1967 Green Line, leaving us to speculate why he should be so categorical in this regard.
Dealing with demography … or not?
However, as I myself have long warned of the perils of partial annexation for reasons other than demography, I must address the danger inherent in annexation in a wider format.
Unlike many of my fellow advocates of extending Israeli sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria, I am indeed gravely concerned at the implications of permanently including a large Arab-Muslim population within the frontiers of a sovereign Jewish nation-state. I am not reassured by prevailing favorable trends in fertility rates, which show Jewish rates closing in on, and even outstripping those of the Arabs—since even a sizable minority will make Israel untenable as a Jewish nation-state.
It is for this reason, I have—for the last two decades—been advocating the launching of a large-scale initiative for the incentivized emigration (evacuation-compensation) of the Arab population of Judea and Samaria, and Gaza. Not only is this “Humanitarian Paradigm” the only “non-kinetic” policy blueprint that allows Israel to address both its geographic and demographic imperatives for it to endure as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but it can be shown to be the most humane of all options if it succeeds, and the least inhumane, if it does not.
Sadly, however, despite ample documented evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, of a widespread desire among Palestinian Arabs to seek better and more secure lives elsewhere, Pipes has been loath to consider this policy option, asserting that “Sherman’s ‘funded emigration paradigm’ cannot be central to the Israel Victory Project.”
So, in principle, he eschews annexing even sparsely populated areas that would not really exacerbate the demographic burden on the one hand and adoption of policy prescriptions that would address the demographic burden if more densely populated areas were annexed on the other.
Sadly, such timidity hardly seems to resonate well with the call to impose recognition of defeat on the Palestinian Arabs.
Should disapproval prevent pursuit of national interests?
As for Pipes’s five remaining reservations, these can all be summarized as implying that potential disapproval from allies and/or antagonists is a sufficient impediment to preclude the pursuit of national interest, even when there is broad national consensus on such pursuit.
Paradoxically, Pipes’s dire warning as to the grave consequences of annexation closely echo, even outdo, those of the most vehement opponents of his Israeli Victory paradigm.
Indeed, in a short BESA paper titled “The Jordan Valley Annexation Dilemma: A Realistic Approach,” Col. (res.) Dr. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen, formerly a senior analyst in the IDF’s Military Intelligence dismisses the merits of these warnings, writing: “Similar warnings were aired by think tanks and left-wing politicians with respect to previous Israeli initiatives, such as applying Israeli sovereignty to the Golan Heights (1981), uniting Jerusalem (1967), and even declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel (1949) and moving the government’s ministries to Jerusalem (1951),” adding: “As David Ben-Gurion said in 1955, ‘Our future doesn’t depend on what the Gentiles will say, but on what the Jews will do.’ ”
With regard to the Jordan Valley (and secure access routes to and from it) there is broad political and public consensus as to its crucial importance for Israel’s defense. In fact, in the current Knesset, there would probably be a majority of around 70 (out of 120) supporting a decision to annex/extend Israeli sovereignty over it—greater than that which supported the 1981 Golan Heights Law.
It should be recalled that the passage of that law was accompanied by harsh threats of punitive action by the U.S. administration, far less favorably disposed to Israel than the present one. These were gruffly rebuffed by then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin (see introductory excerpts), without resulting in any lasting damage to Israel. Today, Israeli control over the Golan is largely taken as an immutable given by the vast majority of the population. Indeed, this is reflected in the party platform of the self-professed “centrist”—and viscerally anti-Netanyahu—Yesh Atid, which proclaims that it “strongly opposes any negotiations regarding the Golan Heights which is an inseparable part of the State of Israel.”
In fact, every time an assertive decision has been taken, whether by Israel itself or by one of its allies (such as the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, its moving of the U.S. embassy to the city and its recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan), it has been greeted with howls of protests and salvos of threats as to imminent conflagrations that will set the Mideast and beyond ablaze because of it. As a general rule, they have all proven unfounded.
Moreover, with regard to Pipes’s concern over any irate reaction from Trump to annexation, there appears little room for alarm.
‘Annexation is an Israeli decision … ’
Thus, Al Jazeera recently reported that the U.S. State Department declared “ … we have made consistently clear, we are prepared to recognise Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty and the application of Israeli law to areas of the West Bank that the vision foresees as being part of the State of Israel … .”
This was in no way a one-time expression of this explicit message. Indeed, it echoed precisely the same sentiment articulated by U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo: “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions. … That’s an Israeli decision.”
He reiterated this sentiment on his visit last week to Israel, asserting: “ … in the end, this [annexation] is an Israeli decision. They [Israel’s leaders] will have both the right and the duty to make a decision on how they intend to do it.”
Earlier, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman assured Israel that the United States is ready to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, and Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria, in the coming weeks. He stressed that the key element in applying Israeli law to these areas is that Israel must be the one to make the move. He pointed out it not the United States that is declaring sovereignty but the Israeli government. Once it does, the United States would be ready to recognize it.
Cold political calculus: The evangelical and Visegrad factors
But perhaps the most compelling reason for haste in annexing territory is not supportive statements from administration officials, but cold political calculus.
Clearly, if Trump is unseated in the November presidential elections, there is almost certain to be a sea change in U.S. support for annexation by Israel, as envisioned in the Trump plan.
But even if he wins, the rationale for pre-election annexation remains strong.
After all, Trump’s re-election is heavily dependent on the support of the evangelical community in the United States, who are enthusiastic supporters of Israel and strongly favor annexation. Accordingly, even if Trump were angered by Israeli unilateralism, as Pipes suggests, he would be far more constrained in any punitive measures against Israel prior to the election, than he would after them, when their support would no longer be relevant for re-election.
An additional factor, militating in favor of prompt annexation, is the European Union and its current decision-making process, which with few exceptions require that decisions be made by unanimous consensus. Thus, as several of the Viségrad E.U. members (such as Hungary and the Czech Republic) are likely to veto imposition of sanctions, the imminent prospect of such measures is currently very remote.
However, there are ongoing discussions to change the requirement of unanimity for several measures, including the imposition sanctions, to a system of qualified majority voting. Accordingly, it would seem that it would be in Israel’s interest to act before such a change can come about.
True, there are talks on finding some areas, in which to punish Israel that do not require consensus, such as excluding it from a series of funding and cooperation projects on education and science, but the damages such moves might exact are hardly equivalent to the benefits of winning sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. Likewise, such projects are more than likely to suffer from exclusion of Israel, and of any Israeli contribution to them, which may well work against the adoption—and certainly, the extended enforcement—of such measures.
Pipes’s worry of damage to the quasi-covert ties with the Sunni states in the Arabian Peninsula seems similarly misplaced or at least overstated. Indeed, there is ample evidence of increasingly sour relations between Saudi Arabia (see here, here, here and here) and other Gulf states (see here and here).
But the growing view of the Palestinian Arabs as a failed, dysfunctional entity is only one element in the emerging rapprochement between these states and Israel. The other is the fear of Shi’ite Iran, its military prowess, and in particular, its nuclear program. So, it is both the growing disaffection with the Palestinians and the common threat from Tehran that is driving this nascent alliance. Nothing could undermine the Sunni view of Israel as an ally of value more than the perception of it being forced to bow to the Palestinians’ will and to back away from the pursuit of its own security.
As for Pipes’s concern over the adverse effects that annexation may have on the stability of its eastern neighbor, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, it is difficult to conceive of anything that would destabilize that country more than an irredentist statelet abutting its western frontier. And although it is true that Israel’s long-term strategists should relate to the Hashemite dynasty as having a “limited shelf-life,” nothing is likely to make the prospect of such a statelet more remote than the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, which would indeed probably obviate its establishment permanently.
Losing the left?
Pipes frets that annexation will “alienate Israel’s left … lead … to a vicious political battle and probably to a contingent of Israeli Zionists turning anti-Zionist, with some Israelis leaving the country in disgust.” In many ways, this is an extraordinary contention to raise.
It is especially so from someone like Pipes, who has explicitly suggested inflicting far harsher coercive measures on the Palestinian Arabs. Indeed, he has explicitly condoned “dismantle[ing] the P.A.’s security infrastructure,” prescribing: “Should violence continue, reduce and then shut off the water and electricity that Israel supplies. In the case of gunfire, mortar shelling, and rockets, occupy and control the areas from which these originate.”
These are hardly measures that would win endearment of those whom Pipes fears alienating.
Moreover, it seems to imply that any minority can hold the majority ransom by getting in a huff and threatening to disengage. This is little more than advocation capitulation to the tyranny of the minority –and in this case, a tiny minority. Indeed, after almost three decades of being proved disastrously wrong, the Oslowian Israeli left (Labor and Meretz) comprise a mere 5 percent of the current Knesset with polls predicting even less for the future.
Significantly, Labor, the party, which wrought Oslo upon the people and was once the hegemonic force in the country, has all but been obliterated from the political arena.
One wonders, therefore, why Pipes displays so much caring sensitivity for such a marginalized and mistaken minority.
But “minority tyranny” aside, it is telling that Pipes implies there is an “asymmetry of allegiance” to Israel and Zionism between left and right.
After all, when the government of Israel imposed a policy, which the right in Israel opposed fiercely—abandoning flourishing communities, laying waste to years of creative and industrious Zionist endeavor, disinterring Jewish graves and effectively exiling thousands of dedicated citizens—no one threatened that right-wing Israelis would “leave the country in disgust.” Not even when all the trauma and tragedy they predicted came about!
Pipes cautions: “ … annexation would alienate and weaken Israel’s diminishing number of friends in the Democratic Party.” He may well be right (i.e., correct) but if Israel can only retain the support of Democrats by allowing them to dictate policy, and by compelling it to forgo the pursuit of its national interests—as it perceives them—one might well ask what the point is of that support.
Indeed, it would be intriguing to learn what Victory-compliant instruments of policy that Pipes prescribes for Israel to avoid disaffecting the likes of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and the other members of the notorious “Squad,” who seem to dominate large swathes of the party today.
After all, the point is not to acquire support by subordinating one’s own policy to the ill will of others, but to acquire that support by persuading others of its merits.
It is here that Israel has been hopelessly remiss in presenting its case to the world in general, and to the American public and polity, in particular. After all, one of the most perverse political paradoxes that prevails today is why anyone professing to subscribe to liberal democratic values—as does the Democratic Party—support the establishment of yet another homophobic, misogynistic Muslim majority tyranny, which is what a future Palestinian state would certainly be.
Indeed, no two-stater, however avid, has ever presented a persuasive claim why it would be anything else.
So perhaps the thrust of Israel’s endeavor to acquire/prevent losing support among members of Democratic Party is to convince them and their constituencies that by opposing annexation and endorsing Palestinian statehood, they are, in fact, touting tyranny and undercutting all the values they purport to espouse.
Pipes vs. Pipes?
Pipes’s New York Times piece—and his strident opposition to annexation—are a conundrum both substantively and methodologically.
Substantively, because it is hard to conceive of any single measure that would bring home to the Palestinian-Arabs that they have lost—and that the goal they have been aspiring to for decades has been irretrievably eliminated. Indeed, it difficult to think of an initiative that Pipes should endorse more heartily.
Methodologically, the conundrum is even more perplexing.
After all, Pipes has been assiduously strict in being “policy agnostic,” avoiding action-oriented prescription to achieve victory, at least as far as the U.S.-based component of the initiative is concerned. Indeed, when pressed to operationalize his formula for Israeli victory, he retorted: “ … my goal is to change the foundation of U.S. policy, not to work out Israeli tactics … ,” adding “I am an American foreign policy analyst, not an Israeli colonel.”
Yet despite this, while eschewing endorsement of any specific Israeli action, Pipes takes a very robust stance in negating specific courses of action—annexation and incentivized Arab emigration—designed to achieve his prescribed victory, leaving his readers somewhat baffled as to why.
In conclusion, it was Pipes who astutely pointed out that: “the fact that [Palestinian] identity is of such recent and expedient origins suggests that [it] is superficially rooted and that it could eventually come to an end, perhaps as quickly as it got started.”
Perhaps the surest way to bring about that end is significant annexation of territory in Judea and Samaria, and with it, the achievement of Israeli Victory.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
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