Just as police see criminals as incorrigible troublemakers, so wizened Israeli security chiefs view Palestinians as irredeemable adversaries and reject the idea that these adversaries can learn a lesson; can lions reform hyenas? Security types oppose a tough approach because they want to avoid troubles. This outlook may make them sound like leftists, but they are not; long and bitter experience, not misty idealism, explains their reticence.
Israeli security services do not want again to rule directly over the West Bank or Gaza; fearing a collapse of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, they treat these deferentially. They see the P.A. under Mahmoud Abbas, for all its deficiencies, as a useful security partner. True, it incites murder domestically and delegitimizes the State of Israel internationally, but better to endure these aggressions than to punish Abbas, induce his downfall, and relive the nightmare of walking the streets of Nablus. So, he gets away with literal murder.
A combination of Palestinian military weakness and intense international scrutiny has caused Israel’s security establishment to see Palestinians more like criminals than soldiers; dealing with them has morphed the IDF into a police force, with a defensive mentality viewing stability as a goal in itself. Generals do not enter battle with the goal of saving the lives of their soldiers; but police chiefs want the struggle with criminals to break no laws and leave no one harmed. Generals seek victory, police chiefs seek quiet.
Finally, an exaggerated sense of morality interferes with effective action. In 2018, IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot justified passivity vis-à-vis the balloon arsonists for the eye-popping reason that “dropping a bomb on people flying balloons and kites” runs counter to his “operative and moral position.”
This security establishment, and not a weakened left, mostly stands in the way of resolving the Palestinian issue; time and again, its appeasing views have prevailed. Fortunately, the security establishment has dissidents and they speak out, especially after leaving active service. Gershon Hacohen calls for political leaders not to let the military leadership make their decisions; Yossi Kuperwasser calls for an Israel victory; Uzi Dayan wants the military giving the country’s leaders the means to achieve victory. Even the trio of chief-of-staffs who formed the Blue and White Party called for tough action.
Resolution of the Palestinian problem requires an end to the split in Israel’s defense establishment and the return to a unitary force dedicated to winning, to convincing the Palestinians that the conflict is over, they lost, and they should abandon their war goals.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.