46 Comments
Nov 30, 2023·edited Nov 30, 2023

A good article. I agree that Zionism was always fundamentally a crazy project because it came too late, and that it had already failed by the 1920s when it became clear that Arab population growth would outstrip any conceivable rate of Jewish immigration. The Holocaust seemed to retroactively vindicate Zionism, when it all it really proved was that Zionism was a waste of resources that would have been better put to use getting Jews out of Europe and into ... well pretty much anywhere. The actions the Zionist leadership took to squeeze success out of this failure are tactically impressive, but only set up intractable problems that we are still dealing with. All granted.

But you are still completely wrong to think Israel should negotiate for a 2 state solution with Palestinian nationalist groups. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the most optimistic (for Palestinians) scenario happens: all settlements are removed, full withdrawal to 1967 borders including East Jerusalem. It is still the case that the most likely outcome (80% probability) is that a Palestinian irredentist group will take over. This doesn't have to happen within a year, like in Gaza, but it will almost certainly happen within a decade for the simple reason that Palestine will be a s**hole. It will be a s**hole because Palestinians are dumb, their smart fraction left already and is busy running El Salvador, and their culture stinks. So Palestinians will have the option of accepting that their 75 year struggle was actually all in the service of living in a s**hole, or they will decide that it's all the Zionists' fault they are poor and squalid, and they need to get their Wakanda olive groves back. Every single Palestinian political faction is either an irredentist paramilitary that subsequently moderated (or pretends to) or is still irredentist. Obviously, voting in an irredentist leadership will be an ever-present option, and all it takes is an economic downturn, or some real or imagined provocation and - boom - they are in power and it's war. Currently, Hamas is enjoying a massive popularity spike because Palestinians are depraved retards who don't even understand basic self interest, so a policy of self destructive war with Israel will become even more popular the more disaster it brings on them.

Your argument is that going on as we are is a doomed policy, so we might as well try, but it's a bit like telling a man barely staying afloat at the black jack table that he would be better off playing Russian roullette, except that in this case the revolver has five bullets. I appreciate that you put great effort into trying to sound moderate (couldn't resist the dig at Benny Morris though), but, speaking as someone in the 99th percentile of Israelis minded to listen to your opinions, I'll decline to commit suicide.

P.S. An important reason why the Arab population of Israel is largely quiescent is because of various privileges they get. If you see a BMW in Jerusalem, you can safely bet 1,000 dollars it's an Arab driving it. Why? Because VAT on cars in Israel is 100%, but Arabs don't have to pay VAT, or any other tax if they don't want to, and don't have to obey planning law, or any other law they don't like, are allowed to run protection rackets on Jewish farmers without worrying the police might intervene, and have an army of NGOs at their beck and call should, say, a landlord evict them for the trivial reason of not having paid any rent in 20 years. This actually started to blow up in their faces a little in the last couple of years, because the Arab mafias that operate with total impunity started to have major shootouts all over the place. Of course, if you are a fanatical race denier, you will say that Arabs still have a lower average income so Israel must be discriminating against them in some way. And all edgy Dissident Rightists magically turn into fanatical race deniers when Israel is the topic of conversation.

Expand full comment
Dec 1, 2023Liked by Philippe Lemoine

The Qibya massacre was in the West Bank not Gaza. The Khan Younis massacre, 3 years later, was in Gaza

Expand full comment

Hi Phillipe,

This is a good essay.

I think you set the bar to high for Zionist success, however, by saying that Israel will not be "truly secure" until it solves the problem of Palestinian irredentism and Arab hostility. In an anarchic international system, no state can be truly secure from all possible threats imaginable. I think if you went back in time and told Hertzl, or the founders of the Yishuv, that in 2023 they would have:

a) a real state, with

b) a demographic majority within its borders, and

c) de-facto control all of historic Israel, and

d) have repeatedly whipped every other state in the region that dared to fight against them, such that their state faces no conventional military threats for the foreseeable future, and

e) possess a secure nuclear arsenal, and

f) have enjoyed the steadfast support of the most powerful state in world history for at least the past thirty (if not fifty) years, and

g) seem likely to enjoy the support of that hegemon for the forseeable future, but that

h) the people they had expelled from Israel, and those they de-facto ruled over, and the arab world more broadly were more or less permanently hostile and irredentist,

then they would have been ecstatic, and would declare that they had achieved their goal of creating a secure Israel. The whole point of Jewish nationalism, as opposed to assimilationist or cosmopolitan strategies, was to protect the Jewish people from a hostile world by getting them a state. It was not based on the belief that the world could be made less hostile to the Jews; if you believed that, you ended up in one of the other camps.

It is true that Israel cannot count on the status-quo persisting forever. But at the same time, it is quite possible that the status-quo will persist for a very, very long time. In this context, I think the two-state solution seems like a fantasy (though it is a fantasy I admire and endorse). It offers a thin hope of improving the problem of palestinian and Arab hostility, and perhaps, over the long term, of reducing terrorism against Israel. But it also holds at least a similar probability, and probably a much greater one, of creating a secure base for further terrorism, and one day perhaps, for conventional threats against Israel. It is a strategy of substantive and unilateral concession in exchange for promises about the future. Powerful states rarely accept such bargains.

The Israelis will accept a two state solution only if the United States puts a gun to their head and forces them. Losing the support of Washington is the one thing that could really up end Israeli security, for then they might face a South Africa style campaign internationally (though not for certain). Some people think this is happening now, but like you, I think this is greatly exaggerated.

Expand full comment

This isn't really an historically focused essay. There's history, but the core of the argument is about the future, so I'll ignore my disagreements there. Lets talk about the future instead.

A) The essay talks about the hostility of the Arab world, but doesn't actually look at the state of that world. Literally every non-oil producing country is on route to collapse. Almost none of the oil producing countries has transitioned out of fossils save for maybe UAE, which is too small to be a threat (and MBZ's ideology is not really Israel-hostile, but that's another topic). Global warming and fossil transition will strike another blow. I can't see a turnaround in the next 30 years.

Israel can handle the current situation there just fine and barring radical scenarios, there's no prospect of it getting worse since the other side simply can't afford it economically. It's not where the threat lies.

B) Since conventional war is hopeless, The enemy's strategy is a terrorist campaign aimed at making life impossible and encouraging mass emigration. That is a massive, maybe existential threat - even if Philippe decided it doesn't exist.

C) The two state solution has run it's sell-by dated everywhere but some old-fashioned quarters in the West. It won't mollify anyone by this point and it will make the security situation worse.

D) It's difficult to talk about Western support. It depends so much on factors no one can influence and its trajectory is unclear. I'll say that the pro-Palestine cause has merged with the far Left, and that both aids and hinders it. Regardless, Israel has its own cards to play. It's a trivial matter to massively destabilize the area and every Western leader must take that into account.

Expand full comment

> unlike the French or British colonialists, the Jews in Palestine didn’t have a state of their own to return to

Indeed, because Israel is not a colony of another state.

Recently Israel actually has reached diplomatic agreements with Arab states (who oppose Iran). So I don't think they're incapable of it. There just isn't a comparable Palestinian state to make a deal with them, nor do I expect one to come into existence any time soon. They are in a conflict with Hamas, which runs Gaza (but not the West Bank), and Hamas' explicit objective is to destroy Israel rather than make any deal with it. People who support Hamas think they can actually win a military conflict. So I think Hanania is right that overwhelming victory could disabuse them of that notion, just as it did for the losers of WW2 or even Islamist movements crushed well after that. Perhaps at some point Palestinians will adopt the ANC strategy of seeking the binational state many western leftists support https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/1721126408720658909 but currently it's overwhelmingly more popular in Palestine to try to defeat & destroy Israel.

> has arguably played a greater role in preventing a settlement of the conflict

I might find that plausible if most of the fighting was now taking place with the inhabitants of the West Bank, rather than Gaza.

Expand full comment

Good piece and agree with the historical analysis. But I think you overweight both the elasticity of anti-israel sentiment in the Arab world (in response to peace with the palestinians) and underweight the role of radical Islam in the region.

1. The greatest existential threat posed to Israel in the region is by Iran (and it's not even close). And i don't think we have any evidence to say that the Ayatollahs, who have looked to export the revolution as soon as they came to power in 1979, will stop hating Israel (or any country it considers an outpost of the post) because of a two state solution. Have the Ayatollahs started hating the west less after we helped eradicate ISIS (an existential threat to them)? I'd argue not. Peace with the palestinians won't mean the eradication of Hezbollah or a less belligerent Iran. It'll mean Israel has one more unfriendly state with less buffer around its borders where they don't have security control. In fact, if Israel knows how to stop Iran from gettign a bomb, that would be the best way to ensure security. I'm not claiming that this is mutually exclusive with negotiating peace with the Palestinians but it certainly dilutes the value of making peace solely for the purpose of enhanced security.

2. Palestinians do have legitimate historical grievances but it's a fallacy to say that that implies that removing that historical grievance will likely result in peace. That might be where the causal chain started but the emergent threat of a radicalized, fanatical population isn't particularly elastic to how Israel behaves. The Palestinians seem much more radicalized and regressive on basically every poll you can find than even other Arab populations. Again, you can attribute some of that blame to Israel. But it doesn't change the fact that they are. And if the Palestinians can't come up (perhaps through a civil war) with a way to represent themselves through a more palatable organization or figure, it's perfectly rational for Israel not to want to give up the control they do have.

Ultimately , I support starting with giving the palestinians more economic aid and rights (assuming they have someone reasonable representing them) but making increasing levels of autonomy and security control contingent on demonstrating both less belligerence from the Palestinian side AND proof of investment against radicalization (re schools, msoques etc).

Expand full comment

This is a good article except for the sociology 101 cant about nationalism and the 19C. Nationalism has always existed. What was new in the 19C was the idea that the People should rule themselves, and once you ask that question you have to ask - what people, who are the people? And that leads to ethnic groups, or nations demanding self determination.

However the idea of being part of a nation distinct from other nations (and by nation here I don’t mean states but Peoples) goes back hundreds of years, if not thousands.

Arab nationalism is different, admittedly, in that the Arab people are not confined to one state ( being Arab is a continuing process of ethno-genesis) , but to what would be an Arab empire were it united, but that’s just expanded nationalism. Just a larger State.

Although some Arab countries like Egypt also have a strong pre Arabic nationalism, Palestine isn’t like that. This doesn’t mean that if the Palestinians were expelled in the 19C they wouldn’t have a desire to return - this would just need arab nationalism and Palestinian regionalism for that. And swirling around all of this would be the fact that the Israelis would be in charge of Muslim holy sites, and Jerusalem - once almost entirely Arabic after all. And maybe a fiery 19C Zionism actually damages Islamic holy sites - adding insult to injury.

So a descendant of somebody who once owned property in Jerusalem would surely remember this. Arab nationalism would concentrate on these injustices, even if the displaced Palestinians didn’t see themselves as anything other than Arabs.

Also of course there’s a precedent in hoping for “next year in Jerusalem”.

Expand full comment

This isn't my main critique of Philippe's analysis but It's interesting to dissect this idea that having a marginally less hateful Arab population is worth Israel taking significant security risk.

1. As I pointed out in my earlier comment, there's no evidence that Iran changes its stance towards the west or israel if the palestinians get a state (especially if that state is NOT run by their proxies, which is a requisite assumption since the israelis aren't suicidal). Hezbollah doesn't goes away either . The best way to addresss this risk is to do everything to prevent a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Ayatollah

2. The risk that this plausibly does decrease is of the Arab populations of either egypt or jordan strongarming their leaders to go to war with israel. That is a speculative risk of course and if that were to happen, it wouldn't blindsight israel since it would be more of a reaction to appease the public rather than a carefully planned strategic attack. And ins o far as israel has nukes, we should expect these sttes to act with a fair amount of caution.

3. But what happens 10, 20 or 30 years from now? I'm fairly worried about bioweapons , autonomous weapons and other assymetric tools of warfare - especially as these get cheaper and democratized. And if defensive technologies don't keep up, this could become a problem for Israel. But the risk is almost identical in the two worlds: Richard Hanania's world and Philippe Lemoine's world. You only need a very small element of the population to be radicalized for this to be a concern. In fact, if you dont prove that Hezbollah goes away once you make peace with the palestinians, this remains as large a concern. In fact, if i had to guess, I'd say israel is better off having better security control and larger buffers in this world where extremist gruops can deploy this type of asymmetric warfare. Having a palestinian population (even if only 10% of them hate jews by then) virtually at your doorstep wouldn't make me feel safe if i were Israeli.

So i really wish Philippe would actually highlight the mechanisms through which his scenario pans out, because as of now, it sounds vaguely directionallly right at first glance but there's nothing there.

Expand full comment

I agree with almost everything you wrote here. However I think you underestimate the risk involved in establishing a Palestinian state in the west bank.

You are correct that it's unlikely Palestine could ever present a conventional military threat to Israel. But the risk is that it becomes another Gaza, ruled by Hamas and bent on the destruction of Israel.

The west bank has a much longer border than Gaza, almost entirely in hilly terrain. But it's extremely close to the coastal plain, only 15 km from Tel Aviv and the most densely populated part of Israel. It cuts straight through Jerusalem with another million Israelis, and it's mountains give a clear view of almost the entire urban areas of Israel.

If Hamas were to start firing rockets from the west bank at Tel Aviv, millions of people would have only 30 seconds to reach a safe room. Economic life in Israel would come to a standstill.

If they were to fire mortars at Jerusalem there would be practically nothing Israel could do to defend against that. Hundreds would die.

And if they were to repeat October 7th, there's a possibility of them killing 10s of thousands of civilians, instead of 'only' 1300.

If this were to occur Israel would be forced to reconquer the West Bank, with all the misery that would entail for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Is this likely? I don't know. Perhaps Palestinians would realise this is the best deal they're going to get, and work to ensure the continued independence and prosperity of their state. But the majority of Palestinians are still hoping that they will achieve a unified Palestinian state "from the river to the sea". Hamas is the most popular Palestinian organisation in the West Bank, and has threatened to carry out October 7th again and again and again until Israel is destroyed. Under such circumstances, this doesn't seem like the sort of risk Israel can afford to take.

I do think that Israel has become too complacent in their occupation of the west bank, but I think they should focus on improving economic life in the West Bank, removing all settlers, and strongly focussing on reforming the education system in both Israel and Palestine. Perhaps then in another generation we'll have fertile ground for peace.

Expand full comment

Thanks for this. Very well put and jibes almost perfectly with my thoughts on the issue, after decades of following it fairly closely. Particularly salient is the historical timing of the project vis-a-vis the rise of nationalism, which is something I've thought quite a bit about but seems to be rarely discussed despite its importance (likely because it requires taking an objective view of colonialism, which is too emotionally charged for most folks). What we know about COIN/4GW, especially after the big GWOT experiments post-9/11 tells us the Israelis can't just kill or ethnic cleanse their way out of the problem except in the short term. Assad Sr. was far more ruthless than the Israelis could ever get away with n putting down his Arab insurgency (c.f. Homs) and the problem returned with a vengeance a little over a generation later.

You've clearly done your homework -- unlike certain of your colleagues who have read a couple of blog posts over the last month and now assume they know it all because they're too smart for books or something.

Expand full comment

Good article. I liked how you elucidated the Israeli mindset, which as an Israeli I’ve found to be quite accurate. I also agree with the alternate-reality part, as in Zionism having come too late to prevent the Palestinian question from arising.

But I have to disagree with your fundamental premise that this ‘Zionist Dilemma’ is just that, a Zionist dilemma. Your article has a whiff of “Israel could end this if it tried”, ignoring the Palestinian mindset altogether save for that meek “I do realize Palestinians hate Jews” comment, which directly points at a major problem inseparable from this conflict, but which you fail to adequately address.

Instead, you go on to say that it’s Israel that “must demonstrate a willingness to accept a fair settlement and make the necessary sacrifices, which they never really have so far”. I think that’s just wrong. Israelis have shown a willingness to accept sacrifices in the past — Oslo is evidence of that. And no, Oslo wasn’t just something Israel had been forced into. There was a genuine movement and prevailing mindset in Israeli society at the time that this conflict could be ended with negotiation and land settlement. This view was divorced from reality, because the conflict is obviously not just about land. It is chiefly about who gets to be the dominant group from the river to the sea, and who gets to be the dhimmi. Still, if there was any time in history when the Israeli ethos of strong risk aversion, as you have described it, could be broken, it was then.

But this window was quickly closed when the Second Intifada broke out. From the Israeli POV, negotiations had rewarded them with more terror than ever before. The recognition of the PLO — the terrorist organization that had killed hundreds of Israelis — as the autonomous governing entity and sole representative of the Palestinians in the Territories had, perhaps expectedly, led to their excusing and abetting terrorist activities. You say Israeli oppression has made Palestinians more hateful toward Israel and more prone to terrorism (sure, as if their hatred of Israel hasn’t maxed out already), but you fail to apply this logic to the other side: that rampant terrorism has made Israel even more risk averse, more forceful in its counterterrorism operations and, surprise, more oppressive of Palestinians.

And this is what I’m getting at. Palestinians, like the rest of their Arab brethren, are incapable of introspection. It’s never what they’ve done that’s led to their current predicament, but what others have done to them. Violent insurgency, which they have been practicing since before Israel was founded, has led them nowhere but to a worsening of their conditions and position. This is very obvious to any outside observer. But it’s not at all obvious to them. Martyrdom is enshrined in their depraved culture, death in the name of Allah against the Yahoodi usurpers of Falastin is lauded.

This isn’t going away even if Israel adopts all of your proposals. As commenter משכיל הבינה said, an independent Palestine would be a shithole. A failed state. Why would it be different to other regional Arab states? They’ve mismanaged and misappropriated tens of billions of international aid dollars. They are the most subsidized people in the world. Why would this suddenly change simply because they’re granted sovereignty? Irredentism and violent struggle against Israel would remain embedded in their national identity, and it would be only a matter of time before they relaunch attacks against Israel, this time with a military. You say this isn’t an existential issue for Israel. Sure, it isn’t as Israel will continue to exist. But it would most certainly lead to more violence and death than Israel currently has to contend with. Why would it agree to such a bad deal — indeed, a worse condition compared to the status quo? And I don’t accept the silly premise that this could be prevented if the Palestinian state were demilitarized. Setting aside the fact that Palestinians wouldn’t agree to this caveat, not having a military has never prevented them from being very creative when it comes to killing Israelis.

You also mentioned a very important point in the second to last paragraph which I don’t think you’ve fully realized the significance of, about Palestinians knowing they don’t have to relinquish their perceived rights in order to prevent Israeli oppression from getting much worse. The rest of your interpretation is arguable; I don’t think Palestinians’ reluctance to move an inch from their position is because they know Israel can’t give them full rights lest it risk losing the Jewish character of the state. Writing this is quite silly; Palestinians don’t want to be part of Israel, don’t recognize it, and would not give up their national struggle even if granted all the rights in the world. Rather, it is born out of their aforementioned inability to introspect and their profoundly innate irredentism. And it is also these ugly qualities that render them incapable of peaceful self-governance.

Let’s inspect a proposal that’s been advocated by some on the Israeli right, like former president Ruvi Rivlin, of annexing the West Bank and granting all Palestinians there automatic citizenship, creating a binational state. This would place the demographic balance at 60-40 for the Jews. A major alteration, an extremely hard pill to swallow, but still something that Israel could hypothetically live with. Let’s also assume that Israel would transform into a confederation, where the two nations have equal rights. We’re banking all of this, all of these inconceivably generous concessions, on the Palestinians’ willingness to abandon their armed struggle. But would they? Why would they? They want all of Palestine, they want it to be Arab, and they’ve never been willing to recognize Jews’ right to any of the land, much less Jewish sovereignty. This belief is also common among Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, many of whom have this dual mindset of thinking life in Israel is good so they’d like to keep it, but also loathe the idea of Jewish sovereignty. If it hasn’t changed in decades of citizenship, if they still strongly identify with the Palestinian struggle, I’m not at all sure I’d like to give Palestinians brainwashed for decades by irredentist militants the benefit of the doubt that they’d finally become normal and not want to kill me.

To summarize, your article ignores big parts of what makes the “Zionist Dilemma” an existential one for the Jews in Israel. You keep shrinking from this term, ‘existential’, because Israel is so militarily powerful. But its existence isn’t just guaranteed by a strong military, but by its culture and institutions molded by Zionism. Israelis don’t want to give those up or indeed place them at risk for the irrational and illogical proposition that Palestinians will stop hating them and cease their violent resistance. This is incumbent on Palestinians developing the ability to self-reflect, an ability curtailed by Arab culture itself and by international pressure guaranteeing that Israel won’t be able to go as far as it wants or needs. Which is not to say that Israel is always competent enough to achieve its objectives, or clean of sin. It’s just to say that it takes two to tango, and Israel being the superior dancer here does not behoove it to lead. Palestinians are the oppressed dancer, and if they ever want a resolution to this conflict and sovereignty, they must make a profound change in how they view themselves, their national identity and their future.

Expand full comment

"First, while Israel may have gotten away with expelling all the Palestinians from within its post-armistice borders in 1948 and could probably have expanded those borders somewhat, it definitely couldn't have gotten away with expanding those borders to the whole of historic Palestine then and expelling all the Arabs from there."

I wonder about this. In one sense, Israel has already not 'gotten away with' the '48 expulsions, since right of return is one of the core Palestinian demands. If the territory conquered had been greater and the number of expelled had been higher, that core demand would be the same, meaning that the political tension around refugees would be basically similar to how it is today. If anything, by not having to occupy unincorporated territory a la '67, the overall situation would be less inflamed and it would be (I suspect) easier for Israel to sort of symbolically resolve the refugee problem to the satisfaction of 'the international community'.

Expand full comment

Have you read Efraim Karsh’s book _Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians_? He documents the misuse of sources. I recall that Bennie Morris is criticized in this book.

Expand full comment

I feel like this essay ignores the feasibility of relying on nuclear weapons as the ultimate deterrent. Israel already has at least a few nukes - and in the absence of Western support it would probably work hard to build up an even more impressive arsenal.

Egypt might somewhat care about Palestine but would they ever care about it enough to risk seeing Cairo nuked? I strongly doubt that.

Expand full comment

Did Zionism miss the train of history? Wrong question.

When Israel was founded, the Arab countries declared war. Each Jewish person had 3 choices. Stay and fight, leave, or die.

Each non Jewish person had choices. Stay and support Israel, fight with the Arabs against Israel, fight against the Jews, or flee. The Arab countries created the refugee situation.

What would have happened if the Arab countries had never declared war??????

The Arab countries lost the war they started, and they did nothing to help the refugees they created.

At some point (Egypt/Israel peace) Arab countries abandoned the refugee issue, and it could probably have been resolved, except that the Islamists claimed the refugees as useful pawns and doubled down.

Expand full comment

Can't help but think the Israeli leadership just hasn't been as smart as the early founders of the USA or Australia. Had it been the Zionists that colonised Australia they would've sent in so many settlers to Papua New Guinea preventing them from ever becoming an independent state and being tied to Australia forever, then subsequently crying about demographics and how their country is 50% hostile stateless aboriginals. Anglos are more measured and conscientious.

Benny Morris has predicted that Israel will lose in the end due to demographics. They're stuck with Palestinians forever because they were so greedy for the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Amazingly there are still Zionists angry that Jordan isn't part of the Jewish state.

Expand full comment