Israel’s Quiet Strategy of Conquest

While paying lip service to a two-state solution, some Israeli officials bluntly acknowledge that their goal is to repress the Palestinians and eventually absorb most of the West Bank into a Greater Israel. This strategy anticipates the continued acquiescence of the U.S., says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The two and a half years of uprisings in the Middle East known collectively as the Arab Spring have had an apparent hole in the middle; there has not been a new full-blown uprising during this time by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

This fact is testimony to the ruthlessly effective control measures of Israel, with a security apparatus that outclasses any mukhabaratin the Arab world. The Palestinian outlook in the face of these control measures is a combination of despair and being deterred.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Palestinians have been there and done that, with two previous multi-year uprisings, known as the First and Second Intifadas, in their recent history. They have every reason to expect that the Israeli response to a third uprising, especially given the direction of Israeli politics since the previous two, will be to press down even harder on the levers of control, not to do anything to move toward self-determination for the Palestinians.

The Palestinians also can see that, despite some erosion in the international support that Israeli governments have long been able to count on, there is little sign that the reactions of the international community, and most importantly of the United States, will be appreciably different next time.

The government of Benjamin Netanyahu, some elements of which are quite candid about this, evidently intends to retain the West Bank indefinitely, is continuing the colonization program that has been putting a two-state solution farther out of reach, and shows no sign of fearing pressure over any of this from the world and especially from the United States, even with the intensified international attention that a new uprising would bring.

None of this, however, changes the instability inherent in subjugation of the Palestinians. The humiliation, the heavy personal costs, the impairment of daily life and the frustration of national aspirations are all still part of that reality. Human reactions to such situations tend to be more emotional, more matters of anger and frustration than of calm calculation of the adversary’s likely responses.

A new uprising thus is probably only a matter of time. Exactly how much time is unpredictable; the timing of spontaneous uprisings for which the ingredients are already in place is always unpredictable. But as a point of reference, seven years transpired between the end of the First Intifada and the outbreak of the Second. The Second Intifada did not have a clear-cut end, but it has now been about eight years since it petered out.

A report on instability in the occupied territories published last month by the International Crisis Group reviews some of these realities. The report does not say a new uprising is imminent, but it observes: “Many conditions for an uprising are objectively in place: political discontent, lack of hope, economic fragility, increased violence and an overwhelming sense that security cooperation serves an Israeli not Palestinian interest.”

Outside powers, and especially the United States, need to be prepared for a new Palestinian uprising whenever it finally occurs. They also need to be prepared for the Israeli government’s response, which will be to couple a crackdown on the ground with declarations that in the midst of such turmoil nothing can or should be done to move toward Palestinian self-determination. The path of least political resistance will be once again to acquiesce in practice to this Israeli posture, while paying lip service to the need for diplomacy that works toward creation of a Palestinian state.

The path of greater political resistance would be the right path, which would be to address squarely what underlies the unrest. That path would recognize explicitly that following the Israeli lead means that no time would ever be right for moving meaningfully toward a Palestinian state.

It would recognize that if there is a crisis of legitimacy with Palestinian political entities (manifested most recently in serial resignations by prime ministers of the Palestinian Authority), this is largely because even when the Palestinians have had capable leaders their role has been limited mostly to assisting in carrying out Israel’s security and administrative responsibilities as an occupying power.

And it would recognize that if the Palestinians are divided between the competing political factions of Fatah and Hamas this is in large part because Israel has done everything possible to keep them from reconciling.

Taking the politically easy path will set the table for a Fourth Intifada and beyond. The current Israeli leaders evidently believe that they can live comfortably enough with this prospect. They see Palestinian disturbances now and then as a cost of doing business, the business in this case being to incorporate eventually and permanently all of the occupied West Bank into a greater Israel.

The United States needs instead to pay attention to two things: what a just resolution of this long-running conflict would look like; and especially what is in U.S. interests, which run in a much different direction from the Israeli government’s objective of favoring land over peace.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

12 comments for “Israel’s Quiet Strategy of Conquest

  1. John
    June 26, 2013 at 22:00

    In support of this article: In the early 1970s, Arafat realized that militarily Israel could never be persuaded to make peace, so he spent much time trying to convince members of the Palestinian National Committee of this view and a move for peace, to recognize Israel (without recognition and acceptance by Palestinians, the Zionist program is actually illegal). In 1979 he succeeded (296 votes for, 4 votes no) and his plan which included recognition of Israel within the pre 1967 war borders, compensation for those Palestinian refugees who would not be allowed to return to their homes within Israel, and a Palestinian state became a proposal.
    It was a fair deal. Carter thought so too however Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister immediately tried to prevent US recognition of the PLO and in time, for no obvious reason (something that has bewildered me for some time) militarily drove deep into Lebanon to destroy the PLO and thus kill any hope of negotiation. This was the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacres when Sharon allowed Christian Phalange forces into the unarmed refugee camps. He knew full well the consequences for he had just falsely accused the Palestinians of killing the Phalange leader.
    Prior to the Lebanon invasion, a channel had opened between Arafat and Peres. Alan Hart, who wrote the books “Zionism: the Real Enemy of the Jews” from which much of this enlightenment comes, was one of the intermediaries. I highly recommend this series.
    Carter hoped Peres would win the coming Israeli election and boot Begin out and negotiations for a peace process begun. Peres did win the popular vote, however Begin drew together enough of the multitude of corrupt minor parties to keep power. Sharon became Defence Minister. Poor Lebanon, poor Palestinian refugees.
    Prelude to peace negotiations began and Begin was angry at Carter for having to appear at something so contrary to his concept of a Greater Israel. He made a deal with Reagan and the Iranians to hold the hostages at the US Embassy in Iran until the US election was over and Carter was voted out.
    So much for Zionists wanting peace and some form of slanted fairness in their favour.

  2. John
    June 26, 2013 at 21:55

    Yes Borat, In the Ottoman days, Jews had representation. But what proportion of Jews exist in other Arab countries, I think it rather small while Israeli Arabs represent 25% of the people, a good proportion and are generally confined, not by choice, to certain areas . There was no significant hostilities until partition appeared. Israeli treatment of the people in Gaza and the West Bank is awful, food, good water, protection from fanatical Jews etc.
    In the Knesset Israeli Arabs cannot form party blocs with one another as Jewish parties can and are limited with whom they have contact. They can also be turfed if Jews feel their views are considered improper. Israeli Arabs, they don’t have equal property rights, they don’t receive their share of infrastructure funding, they have no freedom on where to live. And the new boys in the Knesset are talking ethnic cleansing.
    As for your insinuation of Hitler, grow up and stick to fact. I admire those Jews who stand up for freedom and equality at great cost from political Zionists. I like those who get involved with society as a whole. A great danger of religion is isolation, those who think they have it right and others are wrong or are chosen (I think that is an ancient nationalistic myth). Religion is the spirit ones feels when helping anyone of any race or religion in times of need. I think political Zionism lacks that and is self absorbed and blinkered. Something a religion should never ever become. Come on, surprize me and take the blinkers off.

  3. bobzz
    June 26, 2013 at 16:32

    “As long as you have your neighbors vowing your destruction, why would any sane country negotiate?” The Arab League recently made an overture that was quite reasonable. Netanyahu turned up his nose, and the cowardly US did not even say “Wait, Bibi, you need to consider this.” The Arabs may once have wanted to sweep Israel into the sea, but that was long ago as was the British pogroms in British Palestine. If we are going to nurse grievances long past, there is no chance. And the ‘defensible borders’ argument is absurd. Not only would the vaunted Israeli military defend, the US would enter on the Israeli side and the Arabs know it. As far as I am concerned, the Jews are just being stiff-necked—a Biblical description.

  4. John
    June 25, 2013 at 22:23

    Borat, It was a stupid gut reaction to ‘partition’ which started the problem with Jews in other Arab nations. But, as is documented, many left not because of harassment but for the hope or promise of a better future (land bought for them by huge Zionist foundations).
    The Arabs didn’t accept partition as promoted by a plan in the General Assembly. They had no input into the plan. Why would the minority Jews get most of the land and the best land excluding The West Bank which in reality was far more linked to the Jewish faith than what the proposal offered. It never passed as the Security Council never voted on it.
    And once again, Palestinian Arabs are a mix of all religions, Muslims, Christians and Jews. There was a shift in belief as they gave up one faith for another. The Jews who never left the Middle East are very much akin to Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
    And you talk about radicalism, you constantly diminish the growing role in that field of fundamentalist Jews who are multiplying faster than the saner European stock of the past. They burn Arab crops, cars, deface Mosques, and write on Christian churches things like, “Mary the Whore”. Perhaps you would like to live among them Borat.
    Once again, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in peace before Zionism, an old colonial program when communications crept along unlike today, was invented. I should think there will be a great exodus from Israel when fundamentalist Jews increase to a more significant and disturbing number. Politics and Religion are a bad mix.

    • gregorylkruse
      June 26, 2013 at 11:19

      Thank you for one of the most lucid comments on Israel I’ve seen here. The Real News showed video a few months ago from Israel of “fundamentalist Jews” threatening and harassing journalists and tourists and shouting vicious threats against anyone who would try to question their “God given” right to all of Eretz Yisrael. They thought they were acting like lions, but they looked more like hyenas.

  5. Don Bacon
    June 25, 2013 at 12:19

    The Israeli position is for a “Greater Israel,” the territory of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories, the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine. However, because of the controversial nature of the term, the term Land of Israel is used.–wiki

    The Israeli position on borders goes back to UNSC Res 242 which included:

    (i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
    (ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

    The Israeli position: Israel, in any future agreement with the Palestinians, has a critical need for defensible borders in order to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

    As this video shows, Israel’s “defensible borders” coincide with Palestine’s plus the airspace above it.
    “Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace”

    • anonymous_coward
      June 25, 2013 at 23:10

      the Greater East Israel Co-Prosperity Sphere

  6. Hetman
    June 25, 2013 at 00:14

    Such Israeli policy, which has been clear for quite some time, will serve ultimately to clear the way for a one-state solution, and the human rights struggle will be to establish a true democracy in Israel/Palestine, to replace the present faux democracy which is based on racist, Apartheid bantustans, on the racist denial of the rights of half of the population of the land, and on the denial of the right of return of those that have been terroristically expelled from their land since 1948.

  7. Bob
    June 24, 2013 at 21:06

    The Jewkilling that goes by the name of Palestinian rights has ended Land for peace. Jews are never going to give Land for a piece of paper signed by murderers. When the next war heats will give the Jews a chance to take more Land and keep it. Stop denying Jewish rights and make peace on the street of reality before asking for any Land. More war means more Land for the Jews.

    • John
      June 25, 2013 at 21:32

      So Bob, did you forget Sabra and Shatilla in 1982 under Sharon (he knew what was going to happen), the bombing of the King David Hotel killing near 100 people including the UNs Bernadotte, the letter bombs to politicians against partition, all the British soldiers shot before 1948 by political Zionist gangs. Also, only the UN General Assembly passed a motion to plan for partition (no set plan yet). Nothing was passed by the Security Council so there was no legal partition agreement, something political Zionist forget. Also consider all the massacres of Palestinians in 1948 which set in motion the Nakbah and well documented by Benny Morris.
      I think it quite reasonable for people treated the way political Zionists have treated Palestinians, to expect some will be radicalized. Why can’t you and others with your views also see the problem from the other peoples shoes?

    • gregorylkruse
      June 26, 2013 at 11:02

      Why would any insane country negotiate? BTW, Israel is a Jewish state who’s door is open to Jews and only Jews.

      • sulphurdunn
        June 30, 2013 at 20:27

        That about says it all. A Jews only sign on the boarder of Israel. A form of national self-ghettoization,I suppose. Truly amazing! By the way,the West Bank and Gaza are not part of that ghetto.

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