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Monday, November 22, 2010

The If/Then Fallacy

Diplomats, pundits and politicians, whether Israeli or European or American, have consistently made the same mistake when deciding what Israel must do to gain peace. I call it the "If/Then Fallacy."

The logic goes that if Israel makes a unilateral move towards peace, then it will inevitably gain some sort of reward.

And it is false - consistently and provably so.

I recently stumbled onto and quoted a 1988 version of this formulation in Time magazine, where columnist Michael Kramer wrote:
If [Israel puts forth a detailed plan for peace and] the Palestinians reject an offer reasonable people can identify as forthcoming and courageous -- as they have rejected every attempt at compromise for almost a century -- [then] no one could fault Israel for then saying, "Shalom. Come to talk to us again when you've grown up."
Of course, Israel has done exactly that - at Camp David as well as at other times. But the "else" clause didn't follow as the script demanded - on the contrary, Israel's offer was met with a pre-planned war against Israeli civilians that ended up killing thousands.

Zaki Shalom, in Strategic Assessment's October issue, goes through the goals of Israel's disengagement from Gaza. He writes many implicit and explicit reasons that the Israeli government wanted to make such a drastic move, and notes:

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, withdrawing IDF troops from the Gaza Strip, destroying the Jewish settlement there, and evacuating Israeli residents were supposed to bring about Israel’s complete divestment of responsibility for the Gaza Strip and its residents. From this point onwards, so the plan’s authors contended, the local residents would be their own lords and masters, choose the leadership they would desire, and bear responsibility for their actions, for better or for worse. Gaza, so it was explained, is a bottomless hole, an expanse of quicksand. Israel freed of responsibility for the Strip was a highly important strategic asset for the future development and prosperity of the State of Israel.

If Israel would go through that exercise, then Gaza will no longer be Israel's problem. How did that work out?
In practice, these expectations were not realized. On paper, it seemed that removing IDF forces from the Strip, dismantling all Jewish settlements there, and moving the residents into the areas within the Green Line would allow a complete disengagement from the Gaza Strip and a divestment of all responsibility for it. As coined by Yitzhak Rabin and long echoed by Ehud Barak, the idea was, “We’re here and they’re there.” The disengagement plan of April 18, 2004, stated: “The process of disengagement will serve to dispel claims regarding Israel’s responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”11

Five years later, it is clear that this expectation did not materialize. Rather, “We left Gaza, but Gaza didn’t leave us” is the reality. The international community sees Israel and its government as bearing full responsibility for the Gaza Strip.
The same fallacious logic was used in 2000 when Israel withdrew from Lebanon in conformity with UN resolutions. The UN certified that Israel's withdrawal was complete. Certainly there was a drastic reduction in tension in the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal, but Hezbollah did not accept the UN-drawn Blue Line and made a number of additional territorial claims against Israel, of which the Shebaa Farms is the most famous.

Then, of course, in 2006 Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers to spark the Second Lebanon war. Somehow, Israel's move towards peace did not result in peace, against what everyone assumed. And in the years since the war, Israel - having no territorial claims against Lebanon and reacting to Hezbollah's increased provocations - is today perceived as the aggressor.

Now there is a new instantiation of the If/Then Fallacy, with Israel prepared to withdraw from Ghajar. The logic, as always, is that it gives one less thing for Hezbollah to complain about and therefore would contribute to peace.

And, as always, that logic is wrong.

From Ma'an:
Hezbollah on Sunday dismissed an Israeli decision to pull troops out of a disputed village on the border with Lebanon as nothing more than a "trick" and accused the UN of complicity with Israel.

"The Israeli enemy wants to show that it has fully pulled out from Lebanese territory," Hezbollah MP Mohammed Raad said in a speech in south Lebanon, excerpts of which were distributed to the media in Beirut.

"This is maneuvering in complicity with the United Nations," Raad said in the first reaction by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah since Israel announced its decision.
So the residents of Ghajar will be sacrificed for no real political or tactical benefit by Israel, except perhaps for a very limited amount of goodwill from the UN that will disappear on the next border incident initiated by Hezbollah that Israel dares respond to.

While there may be some short-term diplomatic gains for Israel when it announces these unilateral moves, there is an elemental flaw with the "If Israel does X, then Arabs will respond positively" formulation. The flaw is that it assumes good faith on the part of people who are determined to eliminate Israel.

The world, and even Israeli leaders, keep forgetting that the entire raison d'etre of Palestinian Arab nationalism (and Hezbollah's very existence) is not to build a state but to destroy one.

The "historic Palestine" desired never had anything to do with history and always was congruent with what Israel controlled. The major political and military entity controlling Lebanon has, in its charter, the phrase "Our struggle will end only when this entity [Israel] is obliterated." Neither Hamas nor the PA has shown the least interest in building a state, and every single PA action that seems to point towards state-building has been done because of US pressure, not because of an innate desire for independence. The fate of millions of stateless Palestinian Arabs is being purposefully delayed by their and other Arab leaders for no other reason than to use them as a demographic and political weapon against Israel. Poll after poll has shown that the Palestinian Arabs desire to wipe Israel out.

It is not possible to make peace with those who are determined to destroy you. This simple fact, which should be axiomatic, is set aside and ignored time and time again because of the deep desire for Westerners and Israelis to find a formula for peace despite all evidence to the contrary. Wishful thinking and false assumptions have replaced cold, hard and admittedly uncomfortable facts.

Just because everyone in the West wants a solution doesn't mean there is one.