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Stupendously stupid or surreptitiously sinister

Hamas supporters rally in Hebron
Hamas supporters rally in Hebron Photo: REUTERS
The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees... by dint of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other – until one day when they are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology. 
                                         – Ayn Rand, 1965 

O, who can hold a fire in his hand; By thinking on the frosty Caucasus? Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite; By bare imagination of a feast? Or wallow naked in December snow; By thinking on fantastic summer’s heat? 
                           – From William Shakespeare’s Richard II

I am appalled. Just how long will politically biased claptrap be allowed to masquerade as serious policy research? 

"Creative” capitulatio

When I wrote last week’s column, “The coming canard: “Constructive unilateralism,” I was unaware that, this week, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) would hold its sixth annual conference in Tel Aviv. Traditionally titled “Security Challenges of the 21st Century,” the focus this year was billed as “Creative Ideas for Israel’s Changing Strategic Environment.”

The speaker line-up was undeniably impressive, with an array of well-known figures from Israel and abroad – politicians, senior military officers and government officials, media personalities, academics and policy analysts.

The program spanned a range of worthy topics that extended beyond purely military and security spheres, including social, economic and diplomatic matters as well.

On some issues the recommendations made, and conclusions drawn, seemed sensible and well-grounded – although I did puzzle over why they may merit the description “creative.”

Thus for example, I found myself endorsing the findings of the team dealing with the question of how to contend with the threat of a nuclear Iran, which urged the US to opt for “strengthening the credibility of the military alternative,” remarking that “the Iranian leadership does not really feel threatened. This impairs the effectiveness of the diplomatic alternative.”

Likewise I tend to concur with the policy prescription for Israeli decision-makers: “...

if all options have failed, and the government of Israel has to choose between an Iranian bomb and the bombing of Iran, it should choose the option of bombing Iran....”

But when it comes to the Palestinian issue, things differ dramatically. Indeed, here the only “creative” suggestion is complete – and completely counterproductive – capitulation.

Poor political science 

Readers will recall that last week I warned that comprehensive, coordinated and concerted efforts are being initiated to promote a nonsensical notion, perversely dubbed “constructive unilateralism” (hereinunder CU).

In broad strokes, CU advocates declare a priori – and independently of any reciprocal measure from the Palestinians – that Israel should:

• Renounce any claims to sovereignty beyond a pre-determined line (roughly the present route of the separation barrier, i.e.virtually the entire area of Judea-Samaria);
• Remove all Jewish civil presence across this line either by financial inducements (by offering monetary compensation for evacuation), economic strangulation (by ceasing any development 
  of Jewish communities in the area) or physical abandonment (by transferring control to the Palestinian Authority); and
• Leave the IDF deployed in areas evacuated, and in territory over which Israel concedes it has no claims to sovereignty.

Clearly, were these measures to be implemented, the political reality that would prevail in the evacuated territories would be largely similar to that which prevailed in pre-2000 South Lebanon, and we all remember how that ended – with the hasty retreat of the IDF and the empowerment of Hezbollah.

Thus, any suggestion to replicate those realities – only this time on a much a larger scale and closer to Israel’s coastal megatropolis – is based on atrociously poor political science and grievous political amnesia. Or worse, a surreptitious and sinister hidden agenda. Read on...

Seamless symbiosis – a reminder 

I pointed out that the entity publicly promoting the CU-initiative is an organization called Blue and White Future (B&WF), which describes itself as “a nonpartisan political movement... funded by private donors in Israel... and elsewhere.”

There is, however, an extensive overlap between individuals involved in, the ideas promoted and the vehicles of publication employed by B&WF and INSS, that reveal an almost seamless symbiosis between the two entities, with the former tasked with public activism and the latter with providing the intellectual bona fides.

My diagnosis was dramatically validated this week, at the INSS conference, when the major elements of the CU-concept were given extensive exposure and emphatic endorsement. In a session titled “The Palestinian Issue: Towards a Reality of Two States,” the INSS findings/recommendations were presented by Gilead Sher, co-founder/ chairman of B&WF and a senior research fellow at INSS, who headed the institute’s team that dealt with the study of the topic.

I wish I could find a way to say this more diplomatically, as I have no personal animosity for anyone involved in the compilation of the almost seven-page document produced by the team. Indeed, in some cases quite the opposite. But, sadly I cannot.

The INSS document does discredit to all those associated with its composition – certainly professionally, and perhaps ethically as well. It is difficult to know what is more disturbing – whether the authors really believed what they wrote (stupendously stupid) or whether they did not (surreptitiously sinister).

For those of you who might find this assessment excessively harsh, I urge you: Don’t take my word for it. Read the document, available on the INSS site, for yourself.

Oxymorons and non sequiturs galore 

Why any self-respecting analyst or institute would wish to have its name linked with such a flawed and flimsy position paper is a mystery, riddled as it is with self contradictions and non sequiturs.

Thus for example, on page 2, the INSS team notes that “Fatah, the moderate Palestinian negotiating partner, is growing weaker domestically, at a time that the radicals in the Hamas leadership are growing stronger...”

They reiterate this on the next page: “The past year saw... the militant Gaza leadership [grow] stronger.”

Yet somehow this brings them to conclude almost immediately – one sentence removed – that this “suggests the possibility of a pragmatic policy toward Israel...." As I said, don’t take my word – read it yourself.

True, they do try to base this breathtaking optimism on the claim that newly reelected Hamas boss Khaled Mashaal “is working toward a rapprochement with Qatar, moving away from Syria and Iran, and moving toward an internal reconciliation with Fatah.”

This of course is a claim that brings new dimensions to the notion of “clutching at straws.”

I guess the INSS experts were too busy writing their report to have seen the recent chilling Channel 2 report that strongly suggests that rather than reconciliation with Fatah moderating Hamas, it appears that Hamas is radicalizing Fatah.

A lighter shade of black? 

But the INSS invoking the Hamas rapprochement with Qatar, moving away from Syria and Iran, as a ray of hope is more than somewhat puzzling.

Indeed, in the preceding paragraph they write, “Hamas is continuing its relationship with Iran, particularly on military issues and weapons smuggling... Qatar’s economic support for the organization has increased.”

Surely, this suggests that a more plausible conclusion would be that the enhanced links with Qatar are in fact allowing greater militarization of Hamas and sustaining its ties to Iran – at least on the military level, by facilitating its procurement of arms from it? After all, although the Qatari regime is undisputably less “kinetically inimical” to Israel than the Assad regime and theocratic rulers of Tehran, let’s not forget whom we are dealing with.

After all, it was Qatar that broke off relations with Israel because the IDF was compelled to defend Israeli citizens against incessant rocket attacks; it was Qatar that launched a “fund to protect Jerusalem from Jews” (Haaretz’s words, not mine – March 25.); it is Qatar that is supporting the anti- Assad rebels that are if anything likely to be just as inimical towards Israel; and that, according to The New York Times (October 14, 2012), is one of the major funders of arms for “hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster.”

A compelling case could be made that the Qatar-Hamas rapprochement has not made Hamas less savage, just more sophisticated, not less inimical only more influential, not more amicable, merely more affluent. But that would not sit well with the feasibility of the CU paradigm.

Locked in time warp 

The bulk of the INSS policy-related conclusions are so detached from reality that they could have been written by someone trapped in a time warp, totally isolated from ongoing events and oblivious to the tectonic changes that rocked the region in the past three years. The attitude towards other regional players, slated to play a role in ensuring the success of the CU paradigm, particularly Egypt and Jordan, seems reminiscent of the euphoric Oslowian period.

Although they pay lip service to the turmoil raging across the region, stating somewhat euphemistically, “The increasing strength of those who identify with political Islam in Arab countries is... worrisome,” the INSS experts opine that the “rapprochement between Egypt and Hamas has not led to a deterioration in Egypt’s attitude to Israel or to radicalization in Hamas.”

This of course may prompt the uninformed layman to ask, “How much more radicalized can Hams get before it is deemed radical,” and to reach the conclusion that the manifest deterioration in Egypt’s attitude towards Israel must be due to factors other than the rapprochement with the” un-radicalized” Islamist terror group.

Moreover, given the Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover of Egypt and the ascendant Islamist forces in Jordan, it is not easy to understand the rationale behind the INSS recommendation: “Including Egypt and Jordan in the process would help Israel demand guarantees for peace in the Palestinian Authority’s areas....” Or that “it might be wise to invite Turkey to participate...

in a third party delegation, especially given the thaw in diplomatic relations and the positions Turkey has expressed in the past...”

Thaw? Really? Past opinions? Like Zionism being “a crime against humanity.” Like berating Syria for not retaliating against Israel? Who could ask for more from an impartial honest broker! 

Counseling complete compliance 

The INSS team recommends Israel adopt a position of complete compliance with Palestinian demands, counseling that Israel should “... take steps such as releasing Fatah prisoners, reducing the number of checkpoints and allowing freer movement, refraining from imposing economic punitive measures, expanding PA security activities in Area B.”

I leave the readers to assess the prudence of these prescriptions – particularly in view of the precedents, and to ponder the operational significance of this: “At the same time, Israel will work to encourage quiet in the Gaza Strip.” I wonder how. By tiptoeing so as not to disturb the Islamists? Of course one wonders how the new Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who has become a regular (and supportive) speaker at INSS conferences, would relate to some of its other prescriptions. Addressing the conference, Lapid warned that Israel’s economy could not stand the burden of the ultra-Orthodox social welfare payments (about 0.8 percent of the national budget).

It would therefore be most intriguing to learn how he would assess the INSS recommendation that “Israel should work to strengthen the infrastructure of the Palestinian state... providing extensive economic aid such as encouraging Palestinian projects in Area C....”

Showing your hand in a Mideast bazaar 

It would probably take a 15,000-word essay to deal adequately with all the defects in the 2,800-word INSS document. But neither time not space – nor editor’s patience – permit. So let me conclude with two points.

The INSS team proposes perhaps the worst of all bargaining techniques in the Mideast bazaar in which Israel exists: Showing your hand at the very outset of the negotiation. Thus, although they prescribe that Israel should pursue negotiations, the concessions it is to make should not depend on the outcome of those negotiations.

They stipulate: “The ‘independent option’ as a political strategy is intended primarily to promote two states for two peoples if negotiations with the Palestinians fail,” advocating that once it “has exhausted the possibilities for negotiating a settlement... Israel will initiate independent measures [read ‘unilateral withdrawal from almost all Judea-Samaria’].”

So Israel should exhaust the possibility of a negotiated withdrawal, presumably in exchange for some quid pro quo – but if negotiations fail, it should withdraw anyway, immediately raising the question of what could possible induce the other side to negotiate when they know that they will get all they want if they don’t? 

Anti-settler not pro peace? 

All this leaves us to puzzle over what would prompt well-known figures and a renowned policy institute to devise such a perverse potpourri of failed elements, and to endeavor to peddle it as an innovative, creative policy initiative, rather than a transparent attempt to revamp old, disproven efforts, in a new and misleading semantic wrapping comprised of inapt epithets such as “constructive,” “proactive” and “independent.”

For clearly, even if implemented, it will have little chance of forging a durable peace. It will, however, spell the end of the settlements in Judea-Samaria – just as the disengagement did for Gaza. As such it should be considered not a constructive, pro-peace initiative but a destructive, anti-settlement one.

Perhaps that would also explain the affinity for Yair Lapid, who once fervently endorsed the disengagement as “our only chance for a normal life” but later admitted: It had nothing to do with... the desire to make peace... [but] merely... that the settlers should be taught a lesson in humility....”

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