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Daniel Pipes, a well-respected scholar and intellect who sits on the Emet board of advisers has been a long-time friend and someone whom I have grown to admire greatly. I, therefore, found his editorial in Friday’s New York Times, titled Annexing the West Bank Would Hurt Israel somewhat surprising, on many levels; not the least of is that it constitutes a radical departure from the philosophy of his vaunted “Israel Victory Project.”

(May 13, 2020/Israel Hayom)

Daniel defended his stance, by referring to the Aristotle definition of virtue, “as the midpoint between two extremes.”

First though, a word about whether or not the Aristotelian Mean applies to the situation in the Middle East. In a society dominated by Islam, where the prevailing ethos is hegemony and submission, (which is what “Islam” literally means), sometimes one must exercise the courage to do what is difficult to survive. As Aristotle wrote, “Courage is the mother of all virtues because without it, you cannot consistently perform the others.”

The underlying premise of “The Israel Victory Project,” in Daniel’s words is, “The reigning assumption for 30 years has been that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be resolved through negotiations, diplomacy mediation, compromise and painful concessions. It has not worked.” Pipes suggests instead “a completely different approach, which looks at the historical record and notes that conflicts generally end when one side gives up.”

“A loss on the battlefield,” says Pipes, “does not necessarily mean defeat” – in the eyes of the Palestinians.

He adds, “The Six-Day War in 1967 was perhaps the greatest military victory in recorded history, but it did not lead to a sense of defeat. The only way for the conflict to be resolved is for one side to give up. If the Palestinians give up, they would gain even more than Israelis because the Israelis live in a functioning advanced, democratic, law-abiding country; Palestinians live in something quite worse. Only when the Palestinians abandon their irredentist claim on Israel can they make progress and build their polity, economy, society and culture.”

There is a profound amount of wisdom in those words.

How, indeed, does he expect the Palestinians to “give up?” He clearly argues that negotiations have not worked. Does he suggest yet another war? Why? When he calls “The Six-Day War, perhaps the greatest military victory in recorded history.”

If he is suggesting yet another decisive war be executed, I could not be more vehemently opposed. With the assistance of Iran, Hamas has become empowered and has an impressive arsenal. It is, doubtlessly, no match to the IDF, however, it still can inflict a tremendous amount of damage, pain, and suffering. And in conjunction with the opening up of another front, it can stretch the IDF thin, and constitute a real existential threat.

And who, in his right mind, would want more bloodshed, on either side?

When he spoke at an Emet seminar on Capitol Hill, I asked Daniel if he could think of one other precedent in history, where a nation had been attacked twice, was victorious in battle on two separate occasions, and was then enjoined to give up that land.

“On the contrary,” he argued at the time. “I cannot think of a single other instance where a nation who was successful

in either defensive or offensive wars was asked to give up land.  There is an old saying, ‘To the victor, goes the spoils.”

As the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan itself, states: “Withdrawing from territory captured in a defensive war is a historical rarity. It must be recognized that the State of Israel has already withdrawn from at least 88% of the territory it captured in 1967. This Vision provides for the transfer of sizeable territory by the State of Israel – territory to which Israel has asserted valid legal and historical claims, and which are part of the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people – which must be considered a significant concession.”

Arguing that “President Trump would erupt in anger over Israel extending sovereignty over the settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley” displays an apparent ignorance of President Trump’s deep-seated connection to the state of Israel.

Trump has demonstrated this countless times. He has demonstrated this through such unprecedented actions as: the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem; the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; his suspension of payments to the Palestinian Authority; his signing into law the passage of the Taylor Force Act which suspends payments to terrorists;  his closing down of the PLO office in Washington; and America’s withdrawal from UNESCO, among other things..

Why would President Trump erupt in anger?

The administration itself had tried to engage the Palestinian in negotiations, only to be rebuffed by them.

And unlike, Oslo, Oslo II, the Hebron Accords, Wye, the Road Map, and other peace plans, this Plan has no outlined sequence of events. It is not timetable driven. There is no demand, whatsoever, placed on the Israelis that they negotiate with the Palestinians, first, before extending sovereignty over the settlements and the Jordan Valley.

The Trump Plan envisions a Palestinian state and gives the Palestinians 70% of Judea and Samaria on which to create this state,  giving only 30% to the Israelis, including the settlement blocs and the Jordan –Valley.

This Plan departs radically from prior peace initiatives in that it would, in its words, “give the Palestinians the power to govern themselves, but not the power to threaten Israel.”

Critical to that is for Israel to maintain defensible borders, which includes the Jordan Valley. Many Western analysts constantly make a terrible mistake because they regard the Middle East and current alliances as frozen in time.

Not so when dealing with the Middle East. No one can predict the overall stability of Jordan, where a vast majority (roughly 70%) of its citizens are Palestinian.

Moreover, ISIS and other terrorist groups are likely to threaten Israel for decades to come. There is absolutely no substitute for Israeli control of the high ground, of the mountainous ridge overlooking the Jordan Valley which creates a natural, topographical buffer.

Finally, the reason that the Trump Plan is vastly superior to all of those that preceded it, is that it finally places agency on the Palestinians. Peacemakers prior to this have simply rewarded bad behavior.

I had been in the audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on May 25, 2000, the date that the peace talks between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat took place when former Israeli Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein came to address the group.

He told us that were Israeli diplomats in limousines on their way to the airport crying because they just thought that if they had given Arafat everything he demanded, we would have peace.

What they had offered was 97% of Judea and Samaria, with land swaps in the Negev for that which they could not give up, shared sovereignty of Jerusalem, a right of return for thousands of Palestinian refugees, and a compensatory package for those that Israel could not absorb.

Arafat did not say “yes” and he did not say “no.” He simply walked away from the table, and his response came in a renewed intifada.

Unfortunately, these parameters have served as a baseline ever since, Equally, unfortunately, this pattern of sustained negotiations, followed by a Palestinian rejection, and then a new wave of violence has also ensued ever since.

For the last 20 years, Israeli interlocutors have tried to up the ante to meet Palestinian demands. Each round of negotiations has been met by the Palestinians with a renewed, and increased wave of violence.

What this has done is simply take away any responsibility and accountability from the Palestinians, and simply rewarded bad behavior.

Since all of the responsibility has been placed on Israel for withdrawals, in the eyes of the international community, when there is an impasse, Israel looks like the guilty party. This has had an increasingly deleterious impact on Israel in academia, in international forums, and throughout the world.

The longer this continues, the worse Israel appears.

The time has long been upon us for Israel to finally have permanent, final, and defensible borders.

The Trump peace plan creates a radical departure from this vicious cycle. It is now up to the Israelis to create these “facts of the ground,” and to change this deleterious psychological dynamic, while they still have a chance.

Returning to Aristotle, the Trump Plan is, therefore, the Aristotelian Mean between the extremes of war and of appeasement.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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