The Political Algorithms of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

By its acceptance of the legitimacy of Palestinian national claims, Israel has, perversely, laid the foundations for the assault on its own legitimacy.

Algorithm: A detailed sequence of actions to perform to accomplish some task…; a precise rule (or set of rules) specifying how to solve some problem – Webster’s online dictionary

Political realism believes that politics… is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature… The operation of these laws being impervious to our preferences, men will challenge them only at the risk of failure – Hans Morgenthau, “Six Principles of Political Realism”

Last week (in “A very simple conflict”) I pointed out that, arguably, the most widely propagated and misleading falsehoods regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, in general, and the Palestinian-Israeli one, in particular; is that it is an immensely complex and complicated problem requiring great sophistication and creativity to resolve.

The corollary of simplicity

I argued that, in fact, quite the opposite was true, but cautioned that recognition of the conflict’s stark simplicity does not in any way imply that it is easy to resolve. Rather, it is precisely its brutal simplicity that makes it so intractable and a solution so elusive.

This simplicity has implications for policy prescriptions for its resolution.

Indeed, as emphasized last week, any attempt to portray the conflict as “complicated” or attribute it any “complexity,” is not a mark of sophistication/profundity, but, at best, indicative of a desire to evade the cruel unvarnished truth.

For the fundamental parameters of the conflict and its defining outlines are so unambiguous and clear-cut that the myriad of details/nuances that enshroud it have little impact on the manner in which it should be addressed or the essential nature of the policy prescriptions required to contend with it. Just as a detailed knowledge of the countless bends and eddy currents in the flow of the Nile cannot obscure the basic fact that the river flows from south to north, so detailed familiarity with the nooks and crannies of the history of the conflict and/or the socio-cultural mores of the region cannot obscure the underlying bedrock of the antagonism between Arab and Jew over control of the land extending between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.

For if one’s point of departure is that Jews should have political sovereignty, administered through a Jewish nation-state, located in the ancient Jewish homeland, then the policy choices necessary to facilitate and sustain that objective are clearly manifest, incontrovertibly derived by a series of “political algorithms,” through a process of almost mathematical deduction.

Jewish nation-state: Twin imperatives for survival

It should be axiomatic that to endure as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel needs to be viable both geographically and demographically.

Accordingly, Israel must effectively address two imperatives: The Geographic imperative and the Demographic imperative.

The former implies that Israel cannot withdraw to indefensible borders, not only in terms of withstanding invasion but regarding ongoing attrition as well. This dictates the parameters of the frontiers to which Israel can afford to withdraw – and the impact this would necessarily have on any conceivable Arab interlocutor’s perspective on them as “acceptable” (see below).

The latter implies it must not merely initially retain – but durably sustain over time – a Jewish population, which comprises not only a numerical majority at the polls, but of sufficient predominance to ensure the Jewish character of the socio-cultural fabric of the country, in terms of the conduct of its public life, the spirit of its national ceremonies and the nature of its national symbols. This clearly dictates limits on the size of recalcitrant non-Jewish ethnic minorities, who not only do not identify with the Jewish character of the state, but reject it vehemently.

Thus, almost self-evidently, any policy that attempts to preserve demographic viability by sacrificing geographical space (such as the two-state proposal based on the land-forpeace doctrine) will make the Jewish nation-state untenable geographically. Similarly, any policy that attempts to preserve geographic viability by sacrificing demographic exigencies (such as the one-state-of-all-its-inhabitants concept) will make the Jewish nation-state untenable demographically.

The physical implications of defensible borders

Without defensible borders, no government of any state can provide its citizens with the most basic element required of it by the social contract it has with them – security.

This is particularly true in the case of Israel, threatened, as it is, by an array of formidable threats no other country faces. The extraordinary – some would say, miraculous – success the Israeli security forces have had over the last seven decades has obscured that grim reality in the minds of many.

An insightful Facebook comment on one of my previous columns (“Preserving the Jewish state,” October 26, 2015) succinctly encapsulates this troubling reality: “I find it quite unfortunate, that very few in the general public… understand the situation we are in… A country that offers no safety to its citizens inside its own borders… cannot possibly claim to have a certain future.”

Arguably, the most authoritative study on what Israel’s essential requirements are for defensible borders was published by the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs in 2010.

Authored by an impressive array of former IDF generals and senior diplomats, the study determined that to defend itself adequately, and at a bearable economic cost, Israel must retain control of the western slopes of the highlands of Judea-Samaria, commanding the Coastal Plain; the eastern slopes commanding the approaches to the Jordan Valley; as well as the airspace above and the electromagnetic spectrum throughout them both.

The political implications of defensible borders

The physical parameters of these essential security requirements have unequivocal political implications.

After all, they clearly obviate the possibility of establishing any self-governing entity with territorial parameters remotely acceptable to even the most compliant Palestinian.

To convey the inescapable truth of this dour diagnosis, permit me to refer readers to an article that appeared in the reputable Foreign Affairs (January 5, 2011).

Titled, “The Myth of Defensible Borders,” and authored by Profs. Omar Dajani, formerly an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, and Ezzedine Fishere, an adviser to the-then Egyptian foreign minister, it claims – not without considerable justification: “A policy of defensible borders would… perpetuate the current sources of Palestinian insecurity, further delegitimizing an agreement in the public’s eyes. Israel would retain the discretion to impose arbitrary and crippling constraints on the movement of people and goods… For these reasons, Palestinians are likely to regard defensible borders as little more than occupation by another name.”

The inevitable impasse created by the Palestinians’ stated political aspirations and Israel’s critical security requirements was aptly portrayed in a paper, “The Future of the Two-State Solution” (February 7, 2009), by the former head of Israel’s National Security Council Maj.-Gen. (res) Giora Eiland: “When we talk about the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we see a paradox… [W]hile the outlines of a two-state solution are generally known, the maximum that any government of Israel will be ready to offer the Palestinians… is much less than the minimum that any Palestinian leader can accept.”

He added prophetically, “… the real gap between both sides is much greater than what is perceived, and that gap is growing…”

Delegitimization: The algorithmic logic

Eilands’s assessment echoes a caveat in a book I authored a decade earlier (Macmillan, 1999) in which I cautioned “…the structure of the bargain required to be struck between [Israel] and the Arabs seems inherently irresolvable. For whatever appears to be even minimally adequate… for Israel, seems to be totally inadequate… for the Arabs.”

This leads us to the first chain of algorithmic-like reasoning, which will show that Israel’s acceptance of the legitimacy of Palestinian national claims has in effect laid the foundations for the assault on its own legitimacy.

Although – due to the distortive dictates of prevailing political correctness – this may appear counterintuitive to many, the logic behind it is compelling and the conclusion to be drawn from it unassailable.

After all:

• If the Palestinian narrative, which portrays the Palestinians as an authentic national entity, is acknowledged as legitimate, then all aspirations that arise from that narrative – such as achieving Palestinian statehood – are legitimate.

• Accordingly, any policy that precludes the achievement of those aspirations will be perceived as illegitimate.

• So, if the legitimacy of a Palestinian state is accepted, then any measures incompatible with its viability are illegitimate.

• However, as we have just seen – in the absence of wildly optimistic, and hence irresponsibly unrealistic “best-case” assumptions – any policy ensuring Israel’s minimal security requirements will preclude the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

• Consequently, any endeavor to realistically provide Israel with minimal security will be perceived as illegitimate.

• Therefore, by accepting the admissibility of a Palestinian state, one necessarily admits the inadmissibility of measures required to ensure Israeli security, and hence the inherent lack of Israel’s viability.

Addressing the Geographic imperative: Essential prerequisite

The inevitable conclusion must therefore be: For Israel to secure conditions that adequately address its minimal security requirements, and hence its survival as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the Palestinian narrative, and the aspirations that flow from it, must be delegitimized.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of this conclusion regarding the need to delegitimize the Palestinian narrative. For unless this is done, Israel will not be able to formulate – much less implement – any policy that can effectively address either the Geographic or the Demographic imperative – much less both.

For it is only by delegitimizing the authenticity of Palestinian claims to nationhood, and pursuant claims for statehood in Judea-Samaria, that Israel can legitimize its need (and right) to extend Jewish sovereignty over the cradle of Jewish civilization.

Indeed, it is only by extending Jewish sovereignty to Judea-Samaria (and eventually Gaza) can Israel ensure who – and who does not – control these strategically critical areas, adjacent to the nation’s major population centers and vital infrastructure installations. And unless it can accomplish that, it cannot adequately address the Geographic imperative and ensure the security of its citizens.

Addressing the Demographic imperative: Essential prerequisite

But adequately addressing the Geographic imperative by extending Jewish sovereignty over Judea-Samaria and Gaza immediately raises the problem of addressing the other imperative, the Demographic one.

I have argued, repeatedly, that it would be impossible to incorporate the Palestinian-Arab residents into the enfranchised population of Israel without critically jeopardizing the Jewish character of the country – see for example “Sovereignty? Yes, but look before you leap” (January 9, 2014); and “Islamizing Israel – When the radical Left and hard Right concur” (April 3, 2015). Recent events and decades of venomous Judeophobic incitement have made the prospect of forging Jew and Arab into a sustainable, cohesive society so implausible as to disqualify any such suggestion as an acceptable basis for future policy.

Accordingly, for anyone whose point of departure is that Israel should endure over time as the nation-state of the Jewish people, there is but one conclusion. The only conceivable way forward which prevents Israel from descending into coercively imposing its control over an unenfranchised non-Jewish minority or forcibly ejecting it, is to significantly reduce the Palestinian-Arab population by economically induced emigration – i.e. by enhanced material incentives for leaving and commensurately enhanced material disincentives for staying.

The only way that such a policy can be implemented, without crippling international censure and sanction, is by a massive public diplomacy assault on the Palestinian narrative to disprove, discredit and delegitimize it, for unless this is achieved, the Jewish nation state will eventually – probably sooner than later – become untenable, either geographically or demographically, or both.

Can the Palestinian narrative be delegitimized?

As unpalatable this might sound to some, for anyone committed to Israel’s existence as the Jewish nation-state there is little alternative. Contemplating other less challenging policy options is little more than an exercise is self-delusion. Hoping for the Palestinian-Arabs to metamorphosize into more Judeophilic beings is an exercise in futility, especially in view of the fact that most discernible changes in Palestinian society go precisely the opposite direction.

In an article published a half-decade ago (Ynet, March 6, 2011), I wrote of the need to delegitimize the Palestinian narrative: “This of course is easier said than done. For rolling back the accumulated decades of distortion, deception and delusion that have become entrenched in the collective international consciousness will be a Herculean task. But the immense scale of the task cannot diminish the imperative of its implementation.” Sadly my call to action went unheeded.

Next week, subject to breaking events, I will address how this Herculean task ought to be approached.

(Originally published in