Prodded by President Bush on several fronts, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government in Israel continues to place its existential bets on diplomacy. To be sure, such a stated policy preference is plainly civilized, and it is also in compliance with binding international law. At the same time, Israel’s principal enemies — the disputing Palestinian elements (Fatah or Hamas, it makes little effective difference) and Iran — will never accept anything less than Israel’s physical disappearance. They say this every day, either openly or obliquely. Moreover, in a corroborating bit of cartography, every PA or Iranian map of “Palestine” already includes all of Israel.
Recently, Mr.Olmert released several hundred Palestinian terrorists as a “goodwill gesture.” Together with the United States, he is now aiding Fatah against Hamas with outright transfers of weapons and information. Ultimately, of course, the American and Israeli guns and bombs will be turned against Israelis. As for Mr. Olmert’s graciously extended “goodwill,” it shall only elicit the next intifada. Matters are certainly not helped at all by Washington’s corollary support for a Palestinian state, support that can only imperil both Israel and the United States.
Rooted deeply in jihadist interpretations of Islam, there is an obvious inequality of objectives between Israel and some of its principal enemies. For both Palestinian insurgents and Iran’s president, conflict with Israel is always an all-or-nothing proposition. In this starkly polarizing view of incessant strife between “the world of war” and “the world of Islam,” there can be no place for authentic treaties or settlements with the Jewish State, save as a temporary tactical expedient. For Israel, on the other hand, a negotiated peace with its Arab “neighbors” and Iran remains an elusive but serious hope. This is true even when the prospect of Islamic reciprocity is thoroughly unimaginable.
A fundamental inequality is evident in all expressions of the Middle East peace process. On the Palestinian and Iranian side, Oslo and “Road Map” expectations have never been seen as anything more than a cost-effective method of dismantling Israel. On the Israeli side, these expectations are taken, quite differently, as an indispensable way of averting further war and terror.
The core problem of Israel’s life or death vulnerability lies in the Jewish state’s ongoing assumptions on war and peace. While certain of Israel’s regional enemies, state and nonstate, believe that any power gains for Israel represent a power loss for them — that is, that they coexist with Israel in a condition of pure conflict — Israel assumes something else. For Mr. Olmert, like his several immediate predecessors, relations with certain Arab states, the Palestinian Authority/Hamas and Iran are not pure “zero-sum,” but rather a mutual-dependence connection. In this view, conflict is mixed with cooperation.
For no identifiable reason, Israel still believes that certain of its Arab enemies and Iran reject zero-sum assumptions about the strategy of conflict. Israel’s enemies, however, do not make such erroneous judgments about conformance with Israeli calculations. These enemies know that Israel is wrong in its belief that certain Arab states, Iran and the Palestinians also reject the zero-sum assumption, but they pretend otherwise. There is, therefore, a dramatic and consequential strategic disparity between Israel and certain of its frontline Islamic enemies.
Israel’s strategy of conflict is founded upon multiple miscalculations and upon an incomprehensible indifference to flagrant enemy manipulations. The violent policies of Israel’s enemies, on the other hand, are founded upon correct calculations and assumptions, and upon an astute awareness of Israel’s strategic naivete. This means that Israel should now make far-reaching changes in the way that it conceptualizes the continuum of cooperation and conflict. Israel, ridding itself of injurious wishful thinking, must finally acknowledge the zero-sum calculations of its enemies and begin to acceptthat the struggle must still be fought largely at the conflict end of the spectrum.
Left unchallenged, Israel’s mistaken assumptions, and the combining of these assumptions with correct premises of its enemies, will undermine Israel’s survival. These still-remediable Israeli errors have the additional effect of creating an odd “alliance” between Israel and its enemies. This is surely not the sort of coalition that can help the Jewish state, but is rather a one-sided, unreciprocated pact in which Israel serves only its enemies.
Mr. Olmert should not become the best ally that Israel’s Arab enemies and Iran could ever hope to have. Instead, he should now seek to serve Israel, supplanting the false assumptions that stem from misguided hopes with correct premises based upon sound reasoning.
In the language of formal logic, invalid forms of argument are fallacies. The basic problem with Israel’s continuous search for “peace” through negotiated surrenders (“land for nothing”) is its persistent commission of fallacies.
Unlike simple instances of falsity, these particular arguments are especially insidious ,because they could involve a devastating policy outcome. Distinguishable from singular mistakes, these deviations from correct thinking ensure that all subsequent calculations will also result in error.
This means that it is in the very process of strategic thinking, and not in the assessment of particular facts and issues, that Israeli policy changes are now most sorely needed.
Louis Rene Beres is a professor of international law at Purdue University.
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