Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Thinking the ‘Unthinkable’ Solution to the Conflict

Imagine for a moment that a less supportive president is in office in the United States. Or even that 20 years from now the “Progressive” wing of the Democratic Party is in control of the White House, and far more critical of Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians than today.

And another war breaks out between (choose your enemy) and Israel…

The October 7 War isn’t yet over, but one thing is quite clear: without American support – diplomatic and especially military – Israel’s war effort would be in dire straits; indeed, from the start it would be clear to Israeli policymakers that “total destruction of the enemy” (in this case, Hamas) would be impossible.

And yet, even if Hamas is totally defeated, the overall conflict continues. Iran and its proxies (Hezbollah et al) still lie in wait for the right opportunity to attack. Other militant, Palestinian groups still abound, waiting for their turn to unleash a massive terror wave. True, Israel’s military is still the strongest in the Middle East, but as the above (quite possible scenario) illustrates, that no longer seems to be enough.

Unfortunately, the other side (i.e., Palestinians) doesn’t seem to be ready to fully recognize Israel and sue for a reasonable peace agreement (“reasonable” being in the eye of the beholder). If that hasn’t happened after 75 years of intermittent warfare and no real success, it is unlikely that much will change, even on the “moderate” Palestinian side (the PA still teaches hatred of Jews in its educational system). What could change their mind? An even tougher question: what could finally stop Iran from thinking about annihilating Israel? After all, even if tomorrow morning Israel signed a peace treaty with the Palestinians, Iranian nuclear jihad would still be on the table.

One could argue that this is an overly pessimistic view of how things might pan out in the future. After all, Israel has successfully signed lasting peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan (and some distant Arab mini-states: the Abraham Accords). Unfortunately, that’s comparing watermelons and grapes. Those treaties and accords were with peace signers who didn’t lose any land – indeed, land was returned to Egypt. The remaining conflict, however, is precisely about who “owns” the disputed land called Israel/Palestine. The 1947 UN Resolution split the baby in half, offering parts to both. As King Solomon could have told them, splitting a “baby” is not an easy thing to do.

Is there a way out? After all, as Einstein is reputed to having said (he actually didn’t): “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.“ Indeed, why don’t the Palestinians make a serious attempt to sue for peace? (As President Clinton admitted in 2000, Arafat showed that the 1993 Oslo Accords for him were a ruse to simply bide time or worse: be exploited as the start of salami tactics against Israel.) After more than a century of incessant bloodletting (including pre-1948 attacks) – fedayeen, PLO, Hamas et al – one would think that the Palestinians would understand the futility of continued warfare.

The underlying reason for their continued “optimism” is precisely what I noted at the start: the not-unreasonable hope that at some point Israel’s international support will run out. Thus, perhaps it is time to turn this on its head with a solution that puts to rest any future hope of abandonment of Israel by the international community: Israel joining NATO.

To be sure, there are several obstacles or “hoops” to jump through for this to happen: a real, peace treaty on the table, including a viable two-state solution with “Palestine” receiving most of today’s administered territories (aka: West Bank / Judea & Samaria). In return, in order to guarantee Israel’s security and long-term survival, it gets to join NATO. This would entail a carrot and stick to the Palestinians and Israel alike. If the former refuse such a historic offer, Israel gets to join NATO regardless – and then the Palestinians (plus Iran) will be left holding the bag with little hope of eventual success in destroying, and also no independent Palestinian state. If Israel refuses, still holding on to the hope of annexing the Greater Land of Israel, it loses the continued support of Europe and America.

True, Israel’s philosophy has always been “we’ll protect ourselves; no foreign soldiers need to lose their lives for our security.” But the present war clearly shows that this is not enough. Again, without America’s almost daily, massive, military transfer of arms, the present relatively successful campaign against Hamas could not be completed or even attain half its goals. In other words, Israel no longer has the “luxury” of claiming or believing that it can hold out all by itself in any future war. Certainly, by all accounts Israel by itself does not have the wherewithal to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Joining NATO would kill two birds with one stone. First, the Palestinian/Islamic side would have to give up any hope of future success, as NATO’s first principle is an attack on one partner is an attack on all NATO members. Second, although Israel would then have to provide its (relatively small) share to NATO’s military, the future savings in its own defense would be far greater, thus unleashing resources for its high-tech economy and other desperate social needs (police, health, education – all seriously lagging at this stage).

For Israel, joining NATO is not something that could happen “tomorrow.” However, it is a realistic solution for the long-term. The time has arrived for Israel and its allies to start seriously considering such a radical but workable solution to finally ending this existential threat to Israel’s existence, constituting for the world as well a massive, ongoing, international, migraine “headache” that could actually be eliminated.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published four books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see:
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