Into the Fray: Incredible imbecility

January 17, 2024 by Martin Sherman
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The historical record bodes ill for initiatives to engineer a Pax Israeliana (an Israel-induced peace) between Israel and its Arab adversaries.

Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat –Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad– Euripides, a man of letters in ancient Greece (c. 480 – c. 406 BC)

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.—attributed to Albert Einstein

As the fighting in Gaza drags on into its third month, it appears, astonishingly, that the Israeli leadership is determined on jettisoning common sense, past experience, and logical reasoning. Indeed, they appear to have set their sights on adopting the failed, fatally flawed formulae of the past for implementation when the fighting finally subsides.

A collection of collaborators and traitors

Martin Sherman

For example, one of the most prominently cited “plans”—for want of a better word—involves transferring the post-war civilian administration of Gaza to various heads of clans not affiliated with Hamas, who would each be responsible for different portions of the Strip.

Those with a longer historical perspective will be struck by the remarkable resemblance between this policy proposal and the past attempt by the Israeli authorities in the late 1970s and early 80s to install an Israeli-sanctioned Palestinian administration, known as the Village Leagues, as an alternative to the PLO. The initiative, which initially had support from both the Israeli and Jordanian governments, eventually ran out of steam and petered out in 1983.

Although the details might differ from the currently proposed initiative, the underlying principles are very similar. Accordingly, there is little reason to believe that the overall outcome will differ significantly. Thus, just as the leaders of the Village Leagues were treated with suspicion and hostility by much of the Palestinian population, it is more than likely that this will be the sentiment encountered by any future Israeli-approved clan-based civil administration. Indeed, according to one analyst, The Village Leagues consisted of “a coalition of rural thugs…who had no standing in the community”. The Palestinians saw the Leagues as a collection of collaborators and traitors.”

It is thus hardly surprising that some of the leaders were assassinated by disgruntled kinfolk – a fate that could well await any compliant clan leader who chooses to collaborate with the “Zionist invader”.

90% of Hamas committed no war crime…

The odds of such hostility toward an Israeli-ensconced administration are greatly enhanced by the pervasive approval of Hamas—and the carnage it committed—by massive sectors of the Palestinian population. Thus, in a survey conducted on December 13, 2023, the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) found that 72% of the Palestinian public believe that Hamas’ decision to launch the October 7 massacre was correct. Likewise, while a staggering 95% think Israel committed war crimes during the current hostilities, only 10% think Hamas was guilty of such crimes. Conversely, only 4% think Israel has not committed such crimes, while 89% think Hamas did not commit any post-October 7th war crimes.

Clearly then, under such conditions of prevailing support for Hamas, any artificially appointed administration, formed specifically to stymie a return to power by Hamas, is likely to face widespread enmity and distrust from the very population, over which it is purported to rule.

But beyond the a-priori implausibility of its initial formation, there are grave questions as to the long-term sustainability of the clan-based proposal. After all. how long will the population in each clan-controlled segment be confined to that segment? What will be involved in regulating the movements over time from segment to segment? Clearly, an arrangement whereby a local population is subject to an externally imposed civilian administration and a foreign security regime (presumably both domestic and external) is not a sustainable political configuration over time and is hardly likely to foster any amicable sentiments towards Israel in the future.

No initiative, which Israel is behind, will be acceptable

Significantly, the failure of the Village League experiment was not the only instance in which a move by Israel to appoint/anoint a pliant Arab ruler failed to attain its intended outcome.

After Israel’s 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon, following the assassination of its ambassador, Shlomo Argov, in London by Palestinian radicals, Israel basically endorsed the candidacy of Bachir Gemayel for president of the country—under the assumption that he would make a more cordial ruler towards Israel than any other alternative incumbent. Significantly, one Lebanese deputy accused Gemayel of reaching the presidency “on the back of an Israeli tank” while a pro-Palestinian academic compared him with Phillipe Petain, the French marshal who, as head of the Vichy government, collaborated with the Nazis in WWII.

Shortly before Gemayal took office, the attempt was cut short by his assassination in an explosion detonated by a member of a pro-Syrian organisation, and any notion of a Pax Israeliana (an Israeli-induced peace) was buried under the rubble, which the blast left behind.

As if anything further was required to consign this foolhardy scheme to the well-deserved oblivion on the trash heap of history, the final nail in its coffin was hammered home by the prospective administrators themselves. Indeed, the suggestion was recently rebuffed with a caustic amalgam of utter rejection and universal ridicule.

According to sources in Gaza, “no initiative that Israel is behind will be acceptable”. In a gruff public statement, representatives of the Gaza clans asserted that they reject the Israeli plan for them to shoulder responsibility for the [civilian] administration of Gaza, describing the idea as “ludicrous.” The statement went on to declare that “talk by some of the leaders of the Occupation, that heads of clans will administer the civilian life in Gaza, is utterly contemptible and totally unacceptable.”

Merely sound political science

Clearly then, it is time for Israel to bite the bullet.

It must forego the illusions that somehow the Arabs will deign to pull its chestnuts out of the fire for it. Its leaders must finally realize that the political rationale of the Gaza conflict is governed by the inexorable logic of an almost mathematical algorithm—hitherto studiously, and tragically, ignored by Israel’s policy-makings: Indeed, the only way Israel can ensure who governs Gaza is to govern it itself. Moreover, the only way Israel can govern Gaza without imposing its rule on “another people”, is to remove that “other people” from the confines of Gaza, over which it must rule.

Significantly, the only obstacle preventing this outcome, and frustrating the overt desire of many Gazans is the hard-hearted callousness of Egypt. Indeed, Cairo seems bent on compelling the hapless masses, huddled against its sealed border gates, to suffer the travails of war and hunger, of pestilence and pollution, rather than let them seek their salvation elsewhere, outside the confines of the hapless enclave.

This is not radical Right-wing extremism. It is merely sound political science.

Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defence establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant

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