When faced with a deadly and determined foe, a nation must choose among three policy goals: negotiation, isolation or military victory.
The rockets from Gaza that rain on Israel nearly every day should remind the world – and the United States in particular – that only one of these strategies stands a chance of success.
Concerning the Palestinians, Israel has tried both negotiation and isolation, with disastrous results.
The Failure of Negotiation
The Oslo Accords of 1993 supposedly represented a triumph of negotiation, with Nobel Peace Prizes handed out to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, and a great photo op rewarding Bill Clinton. The novel premise of the approach involved enhancing the power of Israel’s prime enemy, the Palestine Liberation Organization, rather than reducing or destroying it. Israel’s leaders (with the enthusiastic support of the United States and the world community) built up Arafat and the PLO in return for promises on paper, but the result brought continued terrorism culminating in the obscene orgy of violence known as the “Al Aqsa Intifada” in 2000.
History indicates that negotiation never works as a means of settling bitter, bloody, long-standing disputes. The infamous appeasement of Hitler offers only the most celebrated example. Following World War I, the world community celebrated numerous grand, international agreements – limiting naval forces, and outlawing war altogether – but the generation of negotiation inevitably gave way to the worst conflagration in human history.
Major conflicts in every century end only when one side wins and the other loses. Negotiations work only when they amount to detailing the terms of victory or defeat already achieved. In that context, the Camp David Accords of 1978 between Israel and Egypt succeeded (and have kept the peace for thirty years) only because they followed the Jewish state’s second decisive triumph in two major wars. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat knew that the Israeli General Ariel Sharon (yes, that Ariel Sharon) had surrounded the Egyptian Third Army and could have destroyed it at will, had not U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger persuaded Prime Minister Golda Meir’s government in Jerusalem to accept an end to the fighting. After another crushing defeat (following the disaster of ’67), Egypt proved ready to accept the only demands Israel ever cared about: full recognition, and a pledge against further attack.
The Palestinians made similar pledges at Oslo, of course, but those promises followed a dramatic improvement in their international standing, and their Israeli-sponsored return from Tunisian exile, not a decisive military defeat.
The Folly of Isolation
With the collapse of the Oslo Accords, and facing relentless assaults from homicide bombers and deadly terrorist gangs, Israel tried another policy under Prime Minister Sharon. This approach, designated with the euphemistic title “disengagement,” amounted to isolation of the enemy, rather than negotiation or confrontation. By forcing Jewish residents out of harm’s way in Gaza and giving the Palestinian Authority full control in that blighted territory while also constructing a formidable barrier separating the West Bank from major Israeli population centers, Sharon proposed to isolate the Palestinians—or, more to the point, isolate Israel from their murderous madness.
The whole notion of Israeli isolationism shared a similar foundation to the traditional idea of American isolationism: the naïve and simplistic assumption that “if we leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone.”
Supporters of this policy never expected that the unilateral Israeli withdrawal would lead to a sweeping election victory for the jihadist fanatics of Hamas, who soon used force to seize control of Gaza from their hapless Palestinian rivals. The ceaseless rocket attacks show the folly of any policy of isolation—much as 9/11 reminded Americans that they couldn’t isolate themselves forever from the aggressive, international evil of Islamo-Nazism. In today’s world of global conflicts and high-tech transportation and communication, there’s no logical basis for maintaining the belief that high-tech walls or even oceans can forever deter attacks and other dangers. A policy of isolation might provide the short-lived luxury of ignoring a festering problem, but it hardly amounts to a solution.
Lessons for America
By now, the Gaza rockets have taught painful lessons to the Israeli public, where confidence in deterring the Palestinian threat through negotiation or isolation has plummeted. The same realities should influence U.S. voters where, in the midst of a fateful presidential campaign, candidates and populace seem deeply divided among the three eternal alternatives for confronting implacable adversaries. Barack Obama urges negotiation, Ron Paul seeks isolation, and John McCain demands military victory.
Senator Obama’s fervent faith in the power of negotiation represents a cornerstone of his campaign, and he determinedly defends his off-the-cuff agreement to the idea of face-to-face meetings in the first year of his presidency with leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Cuba. He says he won’t negotiate with Hamas because they don’t recognize Israel, won’t renounce violence, and refuse to honor prior agreements in the name of the Palestinian people, and yet he’s perfectly willing to sit down with Ahmadinejad of Iran, who doesn’t recognize Israel, won’t renounce violence, and rejects previous agreements. Beyond this confusion and inconsistency, he argues for more negotiation by citing the examples of JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis and President Reagan at the height of the Cold War. He refuses to note however, that it wasn’t pleasant talk that got Khrushchev to withdraw the missiles from Cuba, but a unilateral naval blockade – technically an act of war. And it wasn’t the chumminess between Reagan and Gorbachev that led to Soviet collapse, but the unwavering hard line (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” “evil empire”) that gave hope and encouragement to forces of freedom everywhere.
Failed presidential candidate Ron Paul and his glassy-eyed “Paulestinians” take a different approach, favoring isolation rather than negotiation. At least they realize that even for a famously smooth talker like Barack Obama, there’s no chance of reaching meaningful agreements with bloodthirsty jihadists. Instead, Paul and his promoters favor a modern-day isolationism, based on the notion that if we get out of their part of the world and do nothing to protect our own interests in the Middle East, the Islamo-Nazis will lose interest in striking back at the United States. It’s the old idea of leave them alone, and they’ll leave us alone—hardly reliable when applied to fanatics who seek nothing less than the destruction of Western Civilization.
Consider the abysmal record of the Carter administration, which withheld American support for our ally the Shah of Iran and smiled on the rise to power of the Islamist Revolution. Far from leaving us alone as we rapidly withdrew from Iranian society and business, the Ayatollah seized hostages in our embassy – using as a pretext that we had offered U.S. hospital treatment for the ailing Shah. We certainly kept hands off the fanatical Taliban in Afghanistan, practicing scrupulous non-intervention when they shattered 1,500 year old Buddhas in the Bamian Valley, or ruthlessly oppressed their own suffering populace, or openly welcomed Al Qaeda terrorist training camps on their soil. We reaped the rewards of such non-intervention with the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998, and then on September 11th. The gallant Israelis of battered Sderot can speak to the effectiveness of isolation as a policy for dealing with monomaniacal murderers: the Gazans have lived now for years in a Jew-free, all-Palestinian paradise, with all Israeli settlers and troops removed, but their attacks have sharply increased rather than declining.
For the United States, for Israel, and for all other nation states, negotiation and isolation can’t take the place of the capacity and determination to win a military struggle. This doesn’t mean total war against all adversaries: the United States and our allies prevailed in the Cold War because of patient strategizing and a preponderance of military and economic resources, applied with bi-partisan consistency over the course of forty years and interrupted only intermittently by bloody struggles (Korea, Vietnam, Central America, Afghanistan).
Sophisticates derided Ronald Reagan when he came to power in 1981 expressing his conviction that in the struggle between the United States and Soviet Communism, one side would ultimately lose and one side would ultimately win. According to “enlightened” thinking of the time, this attitude brought a childish, cowboy sense of black-and-white, good-and-evil to a worldwide competition full of grey areas, moral confusion and permanent standoffs. Reagan persisted in his historically based conviction that every long-term battle ultimately resolves itself in favor of one side or the other. As much as a weary participant to such a struggle may wish to isolate itself from the conflict, withdrawal or retreat can’t bring security or success. Moreover, negotiation may serve as a tool in winning concessions from a foe already at the point of defeat or surrender, but it never serves to resolve disputes between two powers that each maintain reasonable hopes of prevailing.
In short, Reagan understood, as did MacArthur before him and McCain after him, that in the clash of national ambitions and irreconcilable claims there is, in the end, no substitute for victory.
A version of this article originally appeared on "Palestinian Rocket Report," a project of the Jewish Policy Center (http://www.jewishpolicycenter.org/prr)