Mar 13th 2013

The Self-Imposed Ideological Siege

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Brief synopsis: The most puzzling aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be that after 65 years of violence, enmity and suffering, it remains unresolved when coexistence is inevitable and a two-state solution remains the only viable option. Although there are many contentious issues that must be specifically addressed, directly impacting every conflicting issue is the broader psychological dimension of the conflict making it increasingly intractable. To mitigate the conflict, we must first look into the elements that inform the psychological dimension and how to alleviate them as prerequisites to finding a solution.

Even a cursory review of the core ideologies of right-of-center Israelis and extremist Palestinians strongly suggests that regardless of the dramatic changes of the political landscape since 1948, they remained ideologically besieged, making the conflict ever more intractable. Since Israelis and Palestinians know that coexistence under any scenario is inescapable, the question is what it would take to modify their ideological bent to achieve a political solution to satisfy their mutual claims to the same land.

The contradiction between Israel and the Palestinians, in connection with “the land of Israel” as defined by right-of-center Israelis or “Palestine” as classified by Palestinian Islamists, is starkly evident in Likud’s and Hamas’ political platforms. The Likud platform states, “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values… Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel[emphasis added] and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”

Hamas’ platform affirms that “Palestine is Arab and Muslim Land; Palestinians are one nation regardless of location; the Palestinian People are still in the process of National Liberation and have the right to use all means including armed struggle to achieve this goal.”

Insisting on these principles amounts to a political dead-end, as neither can force the other by any means to relinquish their claim to the same land short of catastrophe. The question is, can they modify their ideological stances without abandoning their core ideological positions? Ideology is often understood to be “the process whereby social life is converted to a natural reality” (Eagleton, Ideology 1991, p. 2). As such, ideology becomes “the indispensible medium in which individuals live out their relations to a social structure.”

In either case, there are consistent efforts by Israeli zealots and Palestinian extremists to legitimize their respective ideologies by adopting a different strategy. As Terry Eagleton points out, “A dominant power may legitimate itself by promoting beliefs and values [ideology] congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so as to render them self-evident and apparently inevitable; denigrating ideas which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought… andobscuring social reality in ways convenient to itself” (1991, p.5).

Thus, to understand the depth of the Israeli and Palestinian contradictory positions we must look briefly at the evolutionary development of the conflict from its inception. The Jewish community sought to establish a state of its own early in the twentieth century, which was subsequently granted by the UN partition plan in 1947, thereby legitimizing the Zionist ideology to establish a Jewish Home in the ancient biblical land. The Palestinians refused the partition plan along with the rest of the Arab states, who waged a war on the nascent state resulting in the loss of more territory and the mass exodus of Palestinian refugees. Although the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which led the Palestinian revolutionary movement, and Israel recognized each other at the Oslo Accords in 1993, Hamas (established in 1987 likely as a result of 20 years of occupation) continues to object to Israel’s existence altogether.

Immediately following the 1967 war, Israel offered to return all the captured territories (except East Jerusalem); the offer was rebuffed by the Arab League (AL). Convening in Khartoum, Sudan in the same year, the AL submitted their three infamous NO’s: no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations with Israel. That response was seen by the Israelis as an outright rejection by the Arab states of Israel’s very existence, despite the Israelis’ willingness to relinquish the captured territories, which continues to resonate in the minds of many Israelis.

In the process, both sides moved to act to enforce their ideological beliefs. The Israelis consistently pursued settlement policies, and the Palestinians, especially Hamas, held onto their militant resistance. The continuing violent confrontations, in particular the second intifada and the Israeli crackdown on Palestinian terror attacks, further deepened the gulf between them while intensifying mutual distrust.

Ideological and political factionalism in both camps has made the conflict increasingly intractable. Since the creation of Israel political parties have mushroomed, reaching at one time more than 20 parties. As a result, all governments have been coalition-based, consisting of several deeply conflicted parties with little consensus on how to address the Palestinian problem and the disposition of the occupied territories. In the last election, 12 parties passed the threshold (receiving at least two percent of the electoral vote to qualify) and are currently represented in the Israeli Knesset.

Although weakened in the last election, the right-of-center parties still represent nearly half of the Israeli electorate and hold significant sway over settlement policy. What started with the building of a few settlements to protect Jerusalem has now become a major enterprise embedded in the ideology that “the land of Israel” is the Jews’ inherent historical land. The settlers’ movement became a powerhouse and now enjoys tremendous influence on any government, regardless of its ideological makeup.

Factionalism within the Palestinians has made it also impossible to speak in one voice. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, however, a growing majority of Palestinians began to realize that they must find a way to co-exist with Israel, which subsequently became the official policy of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. Hamas, which controls Gaza, continues to struggle to find a way to reconcile with the reality of Israel. Yet, despite the growing pragmatic view, a significant constituency of Israelis and Palestinians continues to reject one another on ideological, religious and political grounds.

The question is how to reconcile ideological ethos with certain irreversible realities on the ground—Israeli-Palestinian coexistence—and their mutual claim to the same territory. History and experiences suggest that regardless of how deep an ideological conviction may be, it cannot be sustained if it does not enshrine justice, fairness and human rights at its very core. An ideological shift will become inevitable due to:

Inevitable failure: Notwithstanding the success of right-of-center parties in Israel and Hamas’ continued resistance, both will realize that failure is imminent. The falsity of the Israeli position to help to legitimate a dominant political order and the socially useful (or necessary) illusion will backfire. Indeed, there are certain conditions on the ground which neither can change, in particular their coexistence. Ideological divergence notwithstanding, their fate is intertwined and they must choose between reconciliation or mutual self-destruction.

Changing political wind: The changing political landscape among Israelis and Palestinians suggests that both camps are undergoing a gradual ideological shift. Fatah came to the conclusion that violence as a means by which to achieve political objectives has failed and began to focus on a solution by peaceful means. Hamas, however, has adopted a two track approach. On the one hand, they began to signal their readiness to establish a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders under condition of no war and no peace (hudna), while maintaining a military approach (armed struggle) as an option, primarily for domestic consumption.

Arresting shift to the right: The recent election in Israel indicated that there has not been a further shift to the right and, in fact, a significant segment of the population moved to the left-of-center, which calls for an end to the conflict with the Palestinians. While hardcore ideological positions continue and systematic distortions of communication (for example in connection with national security and its linkage to the final borders) do exist, the new political map may well slow the settlements’ incursion due to the growing strength of the constituency that rejects the status quo.

The demographic factor: As a result of the rapidly changing demographic ratios between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel is facing an imminent danger of losing its Jewish majority. Sooner than later Israel must choose between a true democracy with a sustainable Jewish majority or a democracy in name only, as discrimination against the Palestinians becomes a tool of necessity to maintain its Jewish dominance. If Israel refuses to relinquish much of the West Bank, it will have little choice but to resort to an apartheid state, inviting international censure, condemnation and sanctions.

The failure of armed struggle: Unless a negotiated agreement with Israel is reached, no armed struggle will dislodge Israel from its current position. The peace process, however, has evolved to a point where the PA has given up on armed struggle and instead resorted to unilateral actions, guided by the belief that it is the only way to advance its goal and force Israel’s hand. The Palestinians were successful in their efforts to upgrade their diplomatic status to “non-voting observer state” at the UN General Assembly, and Hamas, though it occasionally challenges Israel by the use of force, also recognizes that armed struggle has lived out its usefulness.

No gains but increased vulnerability: In the clash of ideologies, however, there comes a point where neither side is making any gains but is actually becoming increasingly vulnerable. Israel is becoming ever more isolated and the Palestinians are watching the territory of their future state usurped to make room for more settlements. The forecast for both sides appears to be bleak and further worsening. In the long term, however, Israel will end up on the losing side as the Palestinian cause will continue to garner overwhelming international support.

The potential for massive violent explosion: Given the simmering situation and the frustration over the stalemate, a violent eruption may well become inevitable. Ideology aside, the average Palestinian is edging ever closer to challenging the occupation. They understand that Israel has the capacity to quell such a violent challenge but they are now prepared to emulate their counterparts in Syria and other Arab countries, who have sacrificed themselves for their freedom. For Israel, this would represent a major dilemma as cracking down on Palestinian demonstrators will evoke international outrage, as the majority of the world views the Palestinians as the victims of immoral occupation.

Israelis and Palestinians can certainly introduce a modified version of their ideological bent, as the reality allows for a gradual shift without sacrificing their ideological principles and without losing face. The Palestinians can establish a state on a part of their homeland and Hamas will also recognize the inevitable and may well follow the PLO and come to terms with Israel’s existence. The Israelis must accept the fact that Israel will be limited to the 1967 borders with some land swaps. This is not to suggest that all issues will readily be resolved, but the realization that coexistence is not negotiable will trump the ideological ethos of both sides.

The alternative is the continuation of this self-imposed ideological siege which is bound to fail the test of time at a price that neither side can afford to pay.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS "Ever since she became a prominent political figure 12 years ago, Truss has been a shapeshifter. She started as a Liberal Democrat before becoming a Conservative, and she voted to remain in the European Union before championing Brexit. As a minister, it is hard to think of anything she accomplished. She signed a few EU trade deals as Secretary of State for International Trade, but most of those were rollovers." --- "But if until recently it seemed that Truss was driven solely by political ambition, her government’s 'mini-budget' proposal sheds light on her deeper ideological affinities."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
"On one side, there is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for whom all but the most partisan Tory would struggle to count many successes during her lengthy cabinet career." ---- "Rishi Sunak, whose proposed policies appear more attuned to the imperative of tackling inflation and the hardship it is causing. But on the big issues of the past few years, Sunak has been wrong. He backed Brexit from the beginning, denies the damage it is doing, and enthusiastically supported Johnson’s bid for the premiership." ---- " Which of these two can offer honesty to the British people, who deserve to be treated like grown-ups? To paraphrase the US Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman are better than average."
Aug 10th 2022
EXTRACT: "Central banks are thus locked in a “debt trap”: any attempt to normalize monetary policy will cause debt-servicing burdens to spike, leading to massive insolvencies, cascading financial crises, and fallout in the real economy. ---- With governments unable to reduce high debts and deficits by spending less or raising revenues, those that can borrow in their own currency will increasingly resort to the “inflation tax”: relying on unexpected price growth to wipe out long-term nominal liabilities at fixed rates."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."