Op-Ed: Israel's Potentially Fatal Submission to "Punishment"
All people, Jews or gentiles, who dare not defend themselves when they know they are in the right, who submit to punishment not because of what they have done but because of who they are, are already dead by their own decision; and whether or not they survive physically depends on chance. If circumstances are not favorable, they end up in gas chambers. (Bruno Bettelheim, Freud’s Vienna and Other Essays)
Bettelheim, like the Greek poet Homer, understands that the force that does not kill, that does not kill just yet, can turn a human being into stone, into a thing, even while it is still alive. Merely hanging ominously over the head of the vulnerable creature it can choose to kill at any moment, poised lasciviously to destroy breath in what it has somehow "graciously" allowed, if only for a few more moments, to breathe, this force indelicately mocks the fragile life it intends to consume.
As for the pitiable human being that stands helplessly before this force, he or she has already become a corpse.
Israel, in some respects, is becoming this “pitiable human being,” in macrocosm. Yes, of course, the country’s frustrated leaders will exact some sort of revenge, or perhaps even “justice,” for the most recent Palestinian murders of its children. Still, they will likely continue with the lethal pantomime of a purported “peace process.”
Even now, Mr. Netanyahu stands by his agreement to accept certain presumably de-fanged forms of Palestinian statehood. Even now, still feeling bound to comply with unwavering expectations from Washington, the Israeli Prime Minister has somehow managed to discover adequate reassurance in certain vain hopes for Palestinian “demilitarization.”
Oddly, there is no chance that any Palestinian state would ever consent to its own demilitarization. None at all. In fact, any such Arab refusal to demilitarize would actually be consistent with authoritative international law. This is the case even if the Palestinian negotiators, in their pre-independence form, had formally agreed to such a subsequently limiting condition.
Earlier, in a burst of what sometimes passes in Israel for strategic ingenuity, Israel decided to arm Hamas against Fatah. These Jihadists, or “Islamic fundamentalists,” leaders had reasoned in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, must surely be “better” than Yasser Arafat and company. Now, however, Prime Minister Netanyahu operates on a very different understanding.
In both policies, Israel’s leaders, conspicuously pressured by one American president or another, have missed a plainly overriding point: Hamas and Fatah, however much they might war against each other, and however much they might intermittently “reconcile,” will always share at least one core objective. That utterly unambiguous objective is annihilating the despised “state of the Jews.”
Neither terror organization should ever have been expected to serve Israel's security interests. Neither Hamas nor Fatah would ever become a willing subcontractor for Jewish national survival. Never.
Until quite recently, the United States, in a similarly incoherent program begun under President George W. Bush, and continued under President Barack Obama, spent several hundred million dollars giving advanced military training to Fatah forces in Jordan. Now, these forces serve as a new and improved legion of Palestinian terrorists, loathing their naïve American benefactors almost as much as they hate “the Jews.”
Today, Hamas terrorists in Gaza, aided by Iran – an enemy state already strengthened by the misconceived American war in Iraq - are able to fire substantially upgraded military-issue rockets toward Israeli civilians. When Israel retaliates, as it must, not only Hamas, but also Fatah, cheerfully and systematically exploit the understandable reprisal for specifically propagandistic benefit. In essence, the more Arabs that will die in consequence of any Israeli counter-terrorism operation, the better for Hamas, and also for Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah/Palestinian Authority.
At a minimum, PA President Abbas intends to use the incrementally contrived “evidence” of Israel’s “disproportionality” to further his own ongoing statehood aims. He will argue poignantly, and in a fashion that elicits mainly tearful sympathy in the United Nations, that only a fully sovereign Palestinian state could end Israel’s “aggression” and “collective punishment” against innocent Arab populations.
For the jurisprudential record, “Palestine” has yet to meet the legal criteria of statehood codified at the Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934), but it is already fully accepted as a “nonmember observer state” at the UN.
From the further standpoint of international law, the Abbas plan is a textbook case of “perfidy.” Always, the Palestinian side is committing multiple violations of the law of war, or the law of armed conflict, for the express purpose of eliciting intentional harms to its own civilians. In addition to deliberately placing Gaza civilians in harm’s way, Hamas steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that IDF self-defense actions are always scrupulously discriminate, conforming not only to humanitarian international law, but also to its own far stricter national code concerning the “Purity of Arms"(Tohar HaNeshek).
Arguably, even the fragmented Arab world ought to be sincerely grateful to Mr. Netanyahu for neglecting to emphasize the core contrast between its own endlessly criminal excursions into raw terror, and Israel’s reciprocally measured efforts at counter-terror. Similarly, both Hamas and Fatah should remain pleased that Netanyahu has not flatly ruled out a Palestinian state under all circumstances. In fact, any such broad-based exclusion would be altogether correct, permissible both morally, and jurisprudentially.
It would also be in Israel’s overall survival interests.
International law is not a suicide pact. Nonetheless, the Arab world – whatever its currently corrosive levels of internecine violence - does not play the gentleman. In this palpable respect, at least, it is an honest world.
While Netanyahu still agrees to follow the "Road Map," specifically Palestinian Authority cartography of "Palestine" remains undisguised. On this unhidden bit of cartography, Palestine includes all of Israel. There are no two-states on the maps of “moderate” leader Mahmoud Abbas, or of “more extreme” Hamas. There is only one.
It is not a Jewish State.
Where is the still-vaunted “two state solution?” One might expect that Israel, after all the terror that it has suffered, and for all the terror it must likely still await, would betray itself no longer. When Priam enters the tent of Achilles, stops, clasps Achilles' knees, and kisses his hands, he has already reduced himself to a hapless and unworthy victim, one to be disposed of without ceremony, and in short order. Realizing this, a gracious Achilles takes the old man's arm, pushing him away.
As long as he is clasping Achilles' knees, Priam is an inert object. Only by lifting him up, off his knees, can Achilles restore him to a position of self-respect, and to a living manhood.
Here, Israel and Priam part company. Israel's frenzied foes, twisted by Jihad, and unwittingly sustained by yet another misguided American president, will never act in the considerate manner of Achilles. The Palestinian aim is not the high-minded revitalization of some respected enemy. It is, rather, the literal "liquidation" of a thing.
Periodically, Israel and Hamas agree to a “ceasefire." But Hamas is a terrorist organization under international law, and not a legal personality with which any sovereign state may properly enter into authoritative war-limiting or war-terminating arrangements. By regularly entering into such an asymmetrical and damaging "truce,” therefore, Prime Minister Netanyahu would continue to enhance the legitimacy and operational effectiveness of Israel's criminal adversaries.
Such enhancements are both impermissible and self-defeating. Ultimately, they undermine Israel's otherwise-reasonable claim that its indispensable counter-terror policies are directed on behalf of the entire "international community."
Plainly, Israel has more-or-less come to accept a deformed image of itself, an image spawned not in Jerusalem or Hevron, but in Washington, Ramallah and Gaza. Degraded and debased, this is not the view of a strong and righteous people, one determined to stand upright in its own land, forever, but of an already-deceased victim, resigned, a grotesquely-lacquered corpse-in-waiting.
To be sure, very large majorities of Israelis have always fought courageously against precisely such an intolerable view - against the ceaselessly hapless visions of "disengagements," and "realignments," and “peace processes." Still, this demeaning image remains very much alive. In certain quarters in Israel, in certain newspapers and military circles, it is thoroughly fashionable. In these confused circles, it is even satisfyingly de rigeur.
Let us no longer mince words, not after the latest Palestinian murders of Jewish children in their own land. The moral confusion of so many well-intentioned "intellectuals" only emboldens Israel's enemies.
Writing several years ago about Israel's Oslo Agreements, Israeli novelist Aharon Megged had insightfully observed: "We have witnessed a phenomenon which probably has no parallel in history; an emotional and moral identification by the majority of Israel's intelligentsia with people openly committed to our annihilation."
Bewilderingly, this perverse identification has taken poisonous root in a succession of Israeli governments. Even now, it shows no real signs of abating.
In the end, for imperiled nation-states, as for individual human beings, there can be no hope for survival in the absence of a prior and unapologetic will to live. For the Jewish State in particular, for the State of Israel, built literally upon the ashes of history’s most unhindered spasms of mass murder, the only real alternative is to become a stone.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue. He is the author of many books and several hundred journal articles dealing with Israeli security issues. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel (2003). Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II.