Monday, July 10, 2006

Palestinian Goals: Rational Questions, Irrational Answers 

In the Jerusalem Post, Saul Singer asked an interesting question about the nature of Palestinian goals:

Attacking Israel from territory that Israel has withdrawn from makes no sense in terms of the Palestinian message. If the Palestinians want Israel to continue to withdraw, why would they attack mainly from the areas they do control, rather than those they want to drive Israel from?
Oddly enough, from that point on he treats his own question more rhetorically than seriously, focused primarily on the possibility that international recognition of the completeness of Israel's Gaza withdrawal might render Palestinian leadership suddenly rational in its pursuit of the goal he has assigned them.

Of course that doesn't stop me from taking his question seriously and wondering whether perhaps the Palestinians really don't want Israeli withdrawals at all, no matter how rational we imagine such a goal to be.

But how is that possible? What could the Palestinians possibly get out of dragging the IDF back into Gaza -- literally, in Gilad Shalit's case? What would they get out of launching Qassams from abandoned territory, prefering to suffer the inevitable Israeli reprisals rather than simply enjoying the Jew-free Gazan land they've always claimed to want?

Inspiration for what I think is missing here comes from another Jersualem Post column in which Barry Rubin discusses the irrationality of Palestinian aspirations and the way in which many Western-oriented analysts therefore totally misread the situation:

Understandably, most people in the world fail to understand Palestinian ideology and strategy today largely because it is so bizarre compared to politics as usual. [...]

Normal politics features realizable goals, paying keen attention to the balance of forces, avoiding losing conflicts, and seeking a stable state.

They also include such things as putting a high priority on raising living standards and building effective institutions to serve the people.

Every day Western governments, media and academics try to impose this model on Palestinian behavior, politics and ideology. Yet it just doesn't work. The things many in the West think motivates Palestinians - getting a state, ending the occupation - are of no interest in their own right. [...]

Fatah and PLO strategy rests on the belief that defeat is staved off as long as you keep fighting. Their only true victory is to continue the struggle. Of course, the cost of this is not only violence, suffering and disruption, but also a failure to achieve anything material.

This is why the "cycle of violence" concept is useless. Palestinians don't attack Israel because Israel attacks them, but because that is their sole program. [...]

The interim goal is to be able to claim phony victories, which are actually costly defeats. If after 40 years of armed struggle the movement's great triumphs are destroying one Israeli outpost a year or kidnapping a single soldier, this shows its remarkable weakness on the battlefield. Inflicting damage on Israel via rocket attacks serves no Palestinian strategic objective except to make people feel good about damaging Israel (even while they suffer far more damage themselves).

Celebrating martyrs simply means bragging about your own casualties. [...]
So now let's answer Saul Singer's question: "If the Palestinians want Israel to continue to withdraw, why would they attack mainly from the areas they do control, rather than those they want to drive Israel from?" Instead of trying to understand how their behavior can be made to fit a desire for more withdrawal, let's hypothetically accept that such a desire may not be the ultimate objective and see where that gets us.

A Palestinian leadership demanding nothing short of total victory in a fight to the death wouldn't risk the fight for a few square miles of land it expects to eventually inherit from its defeated enemy anyway. A Palestinian leadership that can only hope to destroy its opponent by dragging allies into a never-ending conflict would never allow the all-important conflict to quietly fade away through disengagement while its enemy still draws breath. Viewed iin that light, it seems quite rational for such a leadership to inflict upon itself defeat after defeat, discounting every achievable goal set before it, all in the name of preserving the one big dream: destroying the Jewish state.

Given all of this, what would be a rational response from an onlooking world that claims to want peace in the region? At present, the world seems only interested in ensuring that the Palestinians never be allowed to lose this fight they continually refuse to settle through compromise. The Palestinians refuse all compromise, and Israel must not be allowed to fight to win. Tough situation. Unless the world plans on ensuring that Israel loses and is destroyed, the only goal this behavior seems capable of bringing about is never-ending violence. And that's just not rational.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: