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The Israeli frustration

Mandos's picture
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The recent outcome of the Israeli election following the Gaza war reflects an Israeli population increasingly frustrated with the inability of its leaders to make Israel into a "normal" state on the terms that Israelis felt were "promised" to them---in a metaphysical sort of way---by their early leaders. I recently read this op-ed piece in Ha'aretz which really puts the frustration into stark terms:

Until recently, armies fought deep into enemy territory, conquering or retreating from lands, taking control or loosening their grip. Ultimately, both sides would come to the negotiating table to resolve the problem until the next conflict, either through peace agreements or an armistice, border arrangements and regions of influence, POW exchanges, granting rights and exacting obligations. Yet, ever since the Muslim world launched its global terror war, there have been no more accepted rules.

It is unclear who is fighting, or why. Small non-state groups engage in hostile acts against individuals, organizations and other states, kidnap hostages and make demands for their release. There is no way to bring the conflict to an end other than by playing by their rules, and since they are ensconced within - and protected by - civilian populations, there is no means to defend oneself without touching off the world's fury.

The author plainly notices the obvious and points out the Reality which Israeli leaders often find it difficult to utter, because the theories under which they are used to operating are completely crushed by this realization: that the Enemy of Israel is not the Arab and Muslim regimes, primarily, but the popular will in the countries that surround it, and insofar as that will is not expressed by the regimes nor its consequences considered by the Israeli leadership, Israel will be forced, whether it likes to do so or not, to face groups that do express that will. And presently, these take the form of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

But worse,

These asymmetrical groups impose their own concepts and terminology, and the world obediently follows. Hamas and Hezbollah speak of a hudna, an Islamic concept rooted in tradition and precedent, and we are dragged behind them, forgetting internationally accepted terminology like cease-fire, armistice and lull, which obligate the entire world with the exception of these groups. Recently, since the hudna - which is also bound by Islamic rules and historical precedents - seems too institutionalized for Hamas, and because it may, God forbid, require it to recognize Israel - albeit indirectly - its operatives have concocted a new gimmick, tahadiyeh, which connotes a temporary lull. And if anyone had any doubts, they refuse to extend it beyond one year, 18 months at the most.

Essentially, the author has come to another correct realization, whether or not he understands its full implications. The truth is that the popular will in the Muslim world has for decades and longer not been given any stake whatsoever in international arrangements, and hence it has no incentive to accept any of the "internationally accepted terminology" the author holds so dear.

And this situation has been created by a persistent policy of Israel and implemented in macrocosm by the West as a whole---that Arabs and Muslims would be persuaded to accept as a fait accompli what has been accomplished to their detriment. Instead, what has happened is merely the alienation of these populations from any incentive to accept the terms that, in particular, Israel depends on for its very existence---seeing as its national founding ideology requires the construction of a particular kind of nation-state.

(I leave aside the Elephant in the Room that Israel has largely not felt very bound by these norms either---but expects the Palestinians to follow them...)

And here's where the Rafael Yisraeli's thought goes off the rails:

It is as clear as day why Hamas and Hezbollah are employing these concepts. It is less clear why we have to accept them without reservation. We can reject them, and abide strictly by accepted international terms, which have significance, are applicable by law and offer an exit ramp. When the world prods us to accept a hudna or a tahadiyeh, we should ask it if it understands what these are, and if it would accept them.

Let us recall that the American-led coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan has refused and is now refusing any cease-fire, and is even ruling out any contact or negotiation with Al-Qaida or the Taliban until they surrender. This is what the Allies did in the Second World War. Conceding the surrender of terrorists, while at the same time accepting their terminologies and conditions, was so extreme as to be inconceivable.

Essentially, the author is advocating the reimposition of the terms and norms he feels should be standard to these conflicts. (It's interesting that he brings up WWII in this---I cannot help but feel that this is because the Israeli desire is to construct a nation-state in the image of a WWII resolution, something else the Muslim world has no stake in.)

In reality, the inability of Israel to accept the dissolution of nation-state concepts that the Muslim world is undergoing will ultimately force Israel to accept that discussions are going to happen under terms alien to them, and therefore ideologically unfavorable. This is largely due to the fact that Israel refused (and still refuses) to abide by them itself, what with its continuing expansion of West Bank settlements. This means that Israel will eventually find itself sitting across the table from people with no good will towards Israeli society, playing a hand that is stronger than any of the present-day Arab regimes.

And, in the larger picture, unless something seriously changes, it means that the heirs of Barack Obama will eventually find themselves seated across the table from the heirs of Osama bin Laden, whether they like it or not. It is merely a question of the extent of the conflagration before this happens, and whether humanity survives it.

So when I say that Israel-Palestine conflict is the central conflict of our time and will surely determine the fate of the world, this is kind of what I mean. Since Israel's wagon is surely hitched to the wagon of the West, what happens on the Israeli front will be reflected in some way in the relations between the Muslim world and the West. And that's a heck of a lot of the world, you know.

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koshembos's picture
Submitted by koshembos on

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are puppets of Iran especially the later. Both came into being for internal reasons. Hamas ia a Muslim brotherhood descendant rising due to Arafat's regime total corruption. Hezabollah represents the Lebanese Shiites that were badly discriminated against in Lebanon.

All the talk about the Muslim world uprising is baseless. Most of the Muslim world wants better economic conditions, better education and better health care. And most Muslim parents want their kids to live and happy life. It may surprise some, but Muslims are not different from us.

The view that the Palestinian will determine the faith of the world is down right funny. The center of the world turns around the US, EU, Indian and China. Sadly, the Muslim world is way behind.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

The view that the Palestinian will determine the faith of the world is down right funny. The center of the world turns around the US, EU, Indian and China. Sadly, the Muslim world is way behind.

This is can only be sustained if you believe that the world turns around *finance* primarily, rather than around oil, water, trade routes, and national politics. As such, I believe it is mistaken. American funds fueled fighters from around the Muslims world to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. There they learned that they can destroy empires by bankrupting it via turning strategic assets into disputed territories.

So yes, the Muslim world may be financially and technologically behind, no doubt, but, say, the toppling of Hosni Mubarak would force a major realignment in the Middle East and one which the USA, for one thing, would not be able to accept easily.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

Mandos,

The author doesn't "go off the rail" on the third part you point out. No, he "went off the rails", as well as your analysis when you didn't challenge this, when he uttered this total lie:

Yet, ever since the Muslim world launched its global terror war...

Sorry, but after that he's just shooting blanks and shooting them into the darkness, no less. Before anyone can ever talk about this, these kind of scurrilous allegations/claims, of which some respected members on this forum/blog have even delt in, have to be devoid from the conversation from the get-go. It's a non-starter, for me.

KoshemBos was right to shut-down the discussion at this gross stereotyping of the entire "Muslim world" and that it's "launched its global terror war." The minute that author used Hamas and Hezbollah to typify a so-called "Muslim world", which is a silly grouping, in itself, he lost hold of critical thinking and thus any kind of serious critique he was trying to make. That you then conceed with him in that you believe that this contrived "Muslim populace" has done just that (i.e. launched a global terror war) is just strange.

The author is right about Hamas and Hezbollah being quite possibly the worst kind of bargaining partners a country could have, but that is just about his only accurate observation.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

Yes, the author's invocation of a "global terror war" is obvious demagoguery, but it's incorrect to believe that it's all about health care and a private future, and that the I/P situation is not connected to these things, and that Hamas and Hezbollah are total concoctions, and that the "national" issues don't matter or somehow can be dissipated by implication, in what Israeli leaders call an "economic peace."

The use of the term "global terror war" is demagogic not because there is no conflict, but that it uses the word "terror" (a propaganda term) to diminish the status of one side in the conflict.

If you are not willing to accept that there are popular movements in the Muslim world that care about these issues and/or use it to drive their agendas, you are making a big mistake. That does not imply any "Clash of civilizations" or anything. But it does mean that people care about things beyond bread and butter, and furthermore, the bread and butter issues are in some ways aligned with the national ones. The Muslim Brotherhood is a big player in Egyptian politics and it is definitely aligned with Hamas while the Pharaoh is aligned with Israel...

It is a mistake of American liberals to think that there are not popular collectivities involved here. You can pick up any number of anti-Israeli screeds on the streets of Pakistan. I've seen 'em.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

Hamas and Hezbollah are total concoctions

I never said that. I said that ascribing their actions and goals to a collective "Muslim world" was a careless ascription by the author at best, and even if its only carless that makes it no less scurrilous a claim, and I don't think it was careless. I think that a large amount of Israeli's (and I'd be comfortable saying a majority of them) believe with all of their hearts that the entire Muslim world wants to exterminate them. It's really rather sad, if even one can understand them being a bit touchy.

If you are not willing to accept that there are popular movements in the Muslim world that care about these issues and/or use it to drive their agendas, you are making a big mistake.

What issues are you talking about? Whatever issues you are talking about, outside of a direct state-sponsor like Iran, the rest of the so-called Muslim world cares very little about the Palestinian struggle beyond giving their struggle kind words. It's been this way for decades, now.

So, no, I don't see any conspiratorial (or even outright) physchological collectivization of popular thought that supports the means by which Hamas and Hezbollah hopes to enact an end. What I will agree with, however, is that there is a very mainstream physchological collectivization that fervently supports, in the most general sense, the end, which means a homeland for Palestinians.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

I think that a large amount of Israeli's (and I'd be comfortable saying a majority of them) believe with all of their hearts that the entire Muslim world wants to exterminate them. It's really rather sad, if even one can understand them being a bit touchy.

If they believed that the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world does not want Israel to succeed as a Jewish state, does want a Palestinian right of return (fully exercised) and so on and so forth, they'd be right. However, by implication in the Israeli psychology, this is tantamount to wanting the extermination of the Jewish people.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

What issues are you talking about? Whatever issues you are talking about, outside of a direct state-sponsor like Iran, the rest of the so-called Muslim world cares very little about the Palestinian struggle beyond giving their struggle kind words. It's been this way for decades, now.

If you are talking about the leaderships in most of these countries, you would be right. In fact, Israel has a clear interest in ensuring that most of those leaders don't get "pahlavied". The difference between Iran and many of those countries that you're talking about is that Iran had a revolution.

The point of the article is that the primary challenges to Israel are non-state actors, since Israel and state actors in the Middle East share a common interest. And that's the part I agree with. What I disagree with the author is his belief that non-state actors will go away if Israel ignores them diplomatically, or that Israel can safely deal with them in terms that they would deal with state actors.

That's because, as he points out, the non-state actors reflect the popular will much better than the rulers do.

So, no, I don't see any conspiratorial (or even outright) physchological collectivization of popular thought that supports the means by which Hamas and Hezbollah hopes to enact an end. What I will agree with, however, is that there is a very mainstream physchological collectivization that fervently supports, in the most general sense, the end, which means a homeland for Palestinians.

In the form of a two-state solution (the best solution within the realm of possibility for Israel even if it involves the 1967 borders)? I don't think that's the popular consensus.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

I lived most of my life in a country which had/has a big "national" issue with a cultural/religious/linguistic minority (francophone Québécois) that insists overwhelmingly that the majority agree to see things in terms of national collectivities and the rights of national collectivities, and to this day will not assent to ratify the very Constitution of the country until the majority agrees that this is the basis of the relationship.

A significant minority of the minority to this day is willing to sacrifice its medium-term and even long-term economic well-being on this issue.

So maybe I am more willing to see things through the lens of national rights that the author's article does.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

Changing the subject a bit to the more immediate, wouldn't this be nice?

Amnesty International has called for a freeze on arms sales to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups following the recent Gaza conflict.

Submitted by Randall Kohn on

This has been another in the series Short Answers to Really Simple Questions.

empty's picture
Submitted by empty on

Silly answer is more like it.

@Damon:
Yes it would be nice! The chances of that happening are pretty close to nil right now. Perhaps with increasing people pressure some day it will happen. One can always hope.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

OK, Damon, my confusion at what you're saying is this: you seem to be saying that there is no genuine movement against Israel as a Jewish state among the neighbouring peoples, and that the prime mover of such things is Iran, as state sponsor. If so, I think this is quite wrong.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

You've got it wrong, again. I'm saying that there is no genuine popular movement against wiping out or sending Israeli Jews running for the hills, which seems to always be the Israeli implication of the motives of its Arab neighbors. I'm simply saying that when you talk about Arab motives that you be careful in doing it or risk playing into the belief that somehow Arabs want to "wipe out" or "run out" Israeli Jews from Israel, because that's just what they want you to admit to.

That is what I mean about Hamas and Hezbollah not representing average Arab thought in the region. The minute you try and tie them to the average Arab you play right into their (Israeli Jews') hands, because Hamas (or major, influential elements within the organization) is more than ambiguous about living with Jews in any future democratic state, and I don't think most Arabs are ambiguous about it, many of them, in fact, even support a two-state solution.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

OK, I see what you are saying. Yes, it's true that most Arabs in the region do not, in fact, expect to "drive the Jews into the sea." But nevertheless, few people in the Middle East outside of Israel would question the legitimacy or authenticity of Hamas' struggle, and Hezbollah even has some cross-communal popularity in Lebanon.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

I think the problem is that I think we've gotten hung up on different points. I'm focusing on the increasing Israeli realization that the environment in which they've planted themselves is very unlikely ever to be conducive to the fulfillment of their national founding ideology, because there's a larger social "ecology" over which they have no control and isn't working out the way they expected it to.

To me, that's what the article in Ha'aretz is about.

Now many Israelis believe that the failure of Zionist ideology implies the destruction of the Jewish people or the real or metaphoric "driving of the Jews into the sea." I think this is what you're focusing on. Am I right?

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

My focus is on the importance of words, terms, and tones used in this debate, and I think it is very important that if groups like Hamas hope for greater legitimacy that they choose their words much more carefully than they have. For instance, talking about "destroying" (i.e. the Destruction of Israel) anything gives Israel more than a fair reason to be skeptical of dealing with them. If they want their claim of a struggle against the Zionist-dominate state to be seen as legitimate, than they've got to change many of their tactics and tone.

You already know what I think Israel has to change, and it amounts to nothing less than the adoption of a truly plural democracy.

But, as I work through this in my mind, I do think we differ on more than simply focus.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

I would agree that Hamas and Hezbollah need to work on their international presentation a bit more. But the thing is, they aren't playing to a Western audience, even if it may be useful for them to do so. They're playing to an audience for whom the Holocaust was a historical event that happened somewhere else and had nothing to do with them, and which does not have anything like the psychological weight it does in the West.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

It's hardly their international audience that they need to work their message on. In fact, outside of the United States, most of Europe and the rest of the Western world are often criticized for being too hard on Israel, and too soft on the Palestinians.

You've indentified another problem, and that's this view that the two should be jockying for any audience besides each other's home audiences. How in the world do the Palestinians hope to be effective in their struggle if they don't recognize/understand the sensitivities of the neighbor they are struggling against, and vice versa? I don't get this "oh, well" sentiment about understanding the other side's sensitivities. If they don't, what they get is what they've gotten for decades, now: a perpetual stalemate.

The Palestinians better recognize their unnecessarily threatening rhetoric and understand what kind of effect it has on a peace process, and the modern Israeli state better recognize its founding as something unnatural and 'foreign' if either of them ever hope to find a solution.