Ian Joseph

The strategy of no strategy

“Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic politics.” – Henry Kissinger

“The emergence of Hamas as the dominant faction in Palestine should not be treated as a radical departure…Even relatively conciliatory Arab statements…reject Israel’s legitimacy as inherent in its sovereignty… Only a small number of (Palestinian) moderates have accepted genuine and permanent coexistence (with Israel).” – Henry Kissinger

If you do not know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” – Henry Kissinger

“Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” – Henry Kissinger

“The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.” – Henry Kissinger

“We are moving from Iron Dome to an iron fist.” – Naftali Bennet on the eve of Israel’s move to a ground offensive in Gaza in 2009

“The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years.” – Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Nov. 18, 2012

“Keep things as they are.” – Yitzchak Shamir

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Political and military commentators, analysts and journalists have long criticized Israel’s lack of a stated strategy policy since the start of the current Israel-Hamas Gaza war more than five months ago. Israeli generals have remarked that without a clearly stated political strategy and end goals they do not know if they are taking the correct actions and strategems in order to be successful. Others have described the lack of an Israeli strategy vis a vis the Palestinians in general and Gaza in particular as the dumbing down of Israeli politics, the acts of politicians and leaders who have no long term vision. The acts of people who have no real plans for the future but are instead only capable of reacting to the actions of others.

I would submit that the lack of a stated clear strategy is in actual fact Israel’s strategy. This can be clearly illustrated through the retelling of a timeworn Jewish story of the duke and the dog. A renowned Jewish rabbi lived in a small shtetl (village) near a major town ruled over by a ruthless duke. The duke, hearing of the rabbi’s brilliant reputation decided to set forth an impossible challenge for the rabbi to prove to his people that the rabbi was not all his reputation claimed him to be. He called the rabbi to his castle and ordered him to teach his dog to speak or be put to death if he failed to do so. The rabbi accepted, but with one proviso, that he be given five years to accomplish this extremely difficult task.

On returning home, the rabbi told his wife of the challenge and his timeline to which he had committed. His wife immediately went into mourning as she understood that this was an impossible task which would ensure the death of her beloved husband. However, the rabbi consoled and reassured her with the following words, “Five years is a long time, in five years maybe the dog will die, maybe the duke will die or maybe the impossible will happen.”

So too is Israel’s long term strategy which is to delay putting a stake in the ground for as long as possible as anything, especially in the Middle East, can happen in which could be to Israel’s advantage.

The strategy of delay and do nothing essentially started with Yitzchak Shamir, Israeli PM from 1983-84 and 1986-92, who was famous for his belief that Israel’s best bet was to do nothing to change the status quo. The NYT obituary of Shamir represented this belief when it quoted the prime minister saying that his plan for his second term in office was to “keep things as they are.” For Shamir, such caution wasn’t merely a political strategy; it was an existential philosophy. “With our long, bitter experience,” said Shamir, “we have to think twice before we do something.”

Benjamin Netanyahu and others seem to have inherited this belief and used it as a touch stone in their policies, reacting to circumstances rather than presenting a bold long term strategy for the state of Israel.

It actually makes a lot of sense and has become an act of survival for Israeli politicians not to present a long term strategy but instead to object to and obstruct anything that could lead to the implementation of a long term strategy, especially when it comes to the Palestinians.

The difficulty of presenting and adhering to a long term strategy is presented by the fact that two peoples, 15 million of them, with neither having a decisive majority, occupy the same area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, with both peoples reluctant to be ruled by the other and both peoples, for the last hundred years, attempting to impose their rule and vision through the use of violence.

The only two viable long term strategies available to Israel can be simply summed up as one state for two peoples – a state of all its citizens, or two states for two peoples – partition again.

Over the years the world has, and continues to insist that the only solution is partition, to divide the land between the two peoples with each possessing their own sovereign territory. This seemed to work and limp along until 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank and Sinai, later returning Sinai in exchange for peace with Egypt. Nonetheless Israel has continued to occupy and maintain control over the West Bank and Gaza with their Palestinian population.

Before 1967, the dividing line between Israel and the West Bank was represented in maps with a green line, the armistice line agreed on in 1949 at the end of Israel’s War of Independence. It was meant to be a temporary line with permanent borders to be negotiated in the future, but became, until June 1967, Israel’s recognized eastern border.

The settlement of three quarters of a million Israeli Jews over the green line in East Jerusalem and dispersed in towns, villages, outposts, enclaves and settlements throughout the West Bank, have created a de facto situation severely limiting, if not making impossible, the viability of partition and a two state solution.

Israel proudly proclaims itself as “Jewish and Democratic,” claiming to share liberal democratic values with America and the West. A democracy must enable all its citizens to equally and fully participate in the political process and governing of the country in which they all live.

De facto Israel today is a single state, with one sovereign power, Israel, ruling over and controlling the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

As long as Israel refrains from a stated long term policy, outlining either a single state or a two state solution, so too can it maintain the fiction that it is a democracy and only ruling over and denying the Palestinians equal rights as a temporary situation which is dictated by security concerns. If Israel stated its long term policy is a single state, which is in fact the direction it is taking itself, it would then be faced with the righteous demands of both the Palestinians and the world community of equal rights and citizenship for all its inhabitants. This would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state as the Palestinians are slightly more than 50% of the total population.

So too is Israel incapable of stating that it’s strategy is partition and a two state solution. To do so would mean bringing the settlement enterprise, now more than a half million strong in the West Bank, to a halt and forcing Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians for a planned withdrawal from the West Bank and the evacuation of hundred of thousands of Jewish Israelis from the settlements. It would also mean abandoning the investment of billions of dollars in infrastructure scattered throughout the West Bank.

Jewish West Bank Settlements. (Copyright Peace Now)

As long as Israel delays stating a clear strategy vis a vis the Palestinians it can continue with the status quo of more settlement, more obfuscations, and more denial of the fact that the lack of a stated strategy is indeed a strategy that is inexorably hurtling towards a one state solution with a non-Jewish majority.

So the lack of a stated long term strategy has become a strategy which Israel is imposing on itself without any clear consensus or understanding that this is its future – a single secular state, of all its citizens, with a Palestinian majority. To have anything other, to continue with a Jewish minority ruling over a Palestinian majority, through force and the imposition of an apartheid like system, is to merely continue with the ongoing cycle of violence, death and destruction which is tearing apart the Jewish state.

That is the reason that Israel cannot state its long term strategy for the Palestinian, to do so would commit it to either the impossible situation of partition or the unpalatable end of the Jewish state. As long as Israel does not commit to a long term strategy, so too can it maintain the fiction that the status quo is a sustainable solution. In terms of the story at the beginning, maybe the dog will die or maybe the duke will die. If we wait long enough the situation will resolve itself, an unlikely outcome in the context of Israel and the Palestinians.

About the Author
Born and educated in South Africa, a graduate of Jewish day school and Habonm Dror, Ian Joseph served in the IDF as an officer in combat units, and currently resides in North Carolina and Cyprus. Ian holds an MBA from Shulich School of Business in Toronto, is certified as a Master Instructor by the American Sailing Association and is currently retired from IBM. Among other pursuits Ian edits a weekly newsletter of Israeli news items, teaches sailing around the world and certifies sailing instructors.