EYES WIDE OPEN: An interview with MARTIN SHERMAN
Dr. Martin Sherman (Image credit: PR photo)
“Hell is truth seen too late”, wrote Thomas Hobbes in The Leviathan, his philosophical political masterpiece. Few are those who, like Martin Sherman, have the insight to see clearly enough the shape of truth in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the boldness to say things that not so many wish to hear, for truth can be too harsh or even unbearable at times, but hell, present and future is even worse.
Ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir, lecturer in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Tel Aviv University, Martin Sherman was the first academic director of the Herzliya Conference. He is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies whose declared aim is to “Confront, contain and counteract the ‘intellectual surrender’ to the dictates of post-Zionist political correctness often reflected in the conduct of official Israeli policy-makers and in the content of official Israeli policy-making”.
The author met him in Israel.
Daniel Pipes was here in Israel a few weeks ago in order to introduce to the Knesset the Israeli Victory Caucus. You have embraced this new and refreshing initiative. However, between you and Pipes there are some minor differences. In my opinion, the main one is that you don’t see, as he does, that if there will ever be a Palestinian state, Arab-Muslim animosity towards Jews and Israel will cease as a consequence of it. Would you like to elaborate on this?
As you said, I certainly warmly embrace Daniel Pipes’s initiative for Israeli victory. I think that he is quite correct about the fact that the previous policy paradigm of continuous Israeli concessions has proved disastrous and instead of Israeli concessions satisfying Palestinian appetites it has only whet those appetites for further concessions. In principle, on a conceptual level, I strongly endorse Daniel’s initiative and hope it will be the beginning of a paradigm shift in the approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This being said, as far as the idea of the Palestinian state goes, I think it is very important to understand that the context here is very different from the one that prevailed in the West in the aftermath of the Second World War after the defeat of Germany and Japan. Germany was not surrounded by a group of Teutonic nations and Japan was not surrounded by a group of Nipponese nations. If you want to take another example, Ireland was not surrounded by a group of Gaelic nations that could keep sending in insurgents, initiating incitement and undermining any arrangement that the victors might have imposed upon the defeated party. This, in my opinion, is also the miscalculation that America made in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Palestinian state, as are Afghanistan and Iraq, would be surrounded by groups of Muslim, Islamic nations that could always undermine any arrangement made with the victor. If, after an Israeli victory, the Palestinians, who as they see themselves part of the Arab-Islamic world, were to set up some kind of state, they will always be exposed to such incitement, aimed at reigniting their animosity against the Jewish state. I believe that any prospect of future Palestinian statehood is incompatible with the idea of Israeli victory. Israeli victory requires erasing any thought of a Palestinian entity west of the Jordan river because that will always be a target for future agitation, incitement and violence towards the Jewish state. It would be impossible to stop that.
If Arab-Muslim rejectionism is at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict isn’t the perspective of achieving piece based on very shaky foundations?
The word “peace” is a word that is both very dictatorial and very deceptive. First of all It is “dictatorial” because, just as you cannot oppose a dictator, you cannot be against peace. Everybody has to be for peace, so, in many ways, it is a very dictatorial word; you have to support it, you must agree with it. It is also “deceptive” because the same five letters can be used to describe two completely opposite political configurations. On the one hand, peace can mean mutual harmony between parties; while on the other hand, it can mean the lack of violence maintained by deterrence. Different sets of conditions make for different kinds of peace. In the Western European context, where you have democracies, open borders, free exchange of ideas, free exchange of people, mutual harmony is an acceptable kind of peace.
But in a dictatorial environment, that is not really the case. There you must maintain non-belligerence and non-violence by deterrence. It is essential to correctly diagnose what conditions you are in. If you are in a condition where only a peace of deterrence is possible and you adopt a policy of peace based on mutual harmony, you won’t bring peace any closer. To the contrary, you are going to bring war closer. This is because by undermining your deterrence posture through concessions you are going to tempt the other side into aggression.
So we have two opposed configurations, two conflicting paradigms.
Yes. On the one hand you have a situation where a protagonist make concessions and the other protagonist understands that the concessions were made as a sign of good will, so he feels obliged to make reciprocal concessions. So, by a process of concessions and counter concessions, things converge into some kind of consensual resolution. There is another equally feasible situation whereby you make a concession and the other side sees it not as a sign of good will but as a sign of weakness. Therefore, rather than inducing a process of reciprocal concessions, it induces a demand for further and more-far-reaching concessions, until, instead of converging into some consensual resolution, it diverges into a coercive or violent response.
Even the most pliable protagonist will, at some stage, reach the limit of the concessions he can make; and when it reaches that limit, he will find himself in a far weaker position than he was at the beginning. Churchill had a wonderful quotation about this situation which I don’t remember by heart but which basically says: “Unless you are prepared to fight now, you might find yourself forced to fight later, when your victory is not certain and defeat much more likely”. I believe that concessions are counterproductive. The only kind of peace that is feasible in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict is a peace of deterrence – not a peace of mutual harmony. I always thought this. This might have been a more difficult position to defend in the early 90s when Israel signed the Oslo Agreements, but when you look at the Arab world today, it is almost impossible not to accept this position. The Arab world has become a sea of violence and how can one hope in any way to reach a peace of harmony with what is going on in the Arab world at the present time?
In the last fifty years Arabs have constructed a very powerful and emotional narrative depicting the Palestinians as victims and the Israelis as oppressors. Hasn’t Israel been very lacking in contrasting this narrative?
Very much so. I think Israel has been very derelict in presenting its case to the world. I have been advocating for years that if Israel will spend 1% of its state budget on public diplomacy, that is one billion dollars, it could make a huge impact on public opinion across the world. The resources allocated today for public diplomacy in Israel are a bad joke. It is literally less than what a medium to large size corporation spends on promoting fast food and snacks. So if you are not investing in conveying your message it should be no surprise that your message has not being conveyed.
I think this [public diplomacy] is one of Israel’s greatest strategic failures, one of its greatest strategic challenges. I think more people will lose their lives because of the failure of Israeli public diplomacy than those who lost their lives in the Yom Kippur war. It is a very dangerous situation; it has made Israel very vulnerable. I have never heard a good answer as to why Israel is not putting up a more forceful and robust defense of its position. Why isn’t the Foreign Ministry financing Zionist NGO’s? Foreign governments are financing Israeli NGO’s with millions of dollars to undermine Israel’s name and the government is doing nothing to help pro-Israel NGO’s defend Israel’s name. It is totally unacceptable, totally inexplicable.
Bassem Eid, probably today the foremost Palestinian human rights activist, recently told me in an interview, “The main job of the Palestinian leadership is how to continue keeping the Palestinians as hostages for the sake of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is their main aim. We are hostages of our leadership; we are not hostages of Israel, not of the occupation. It is exactly the opposite”. Would you like to comment on this?
I think he is completely correct and this is why I advocated funding large scale Palestinian or Arab immigration to third party countries to remove the Palestinians from the control of the cruel, corrupt cliques that have controlled their lives for decades, leading them from disaster to disaster. So I think that Bassem Eid is completely correct. This is why I suggest removing the Palestinians from the control of these people and allowing them to find better, more secure lives in third party countries of their choice, arriving as well funded immigrants, not destitute refugees.
We keep hearing that the 450,00 Jewish inhabitants of Judea and Samaria are illegal, notwithstanding the fact that the British Mandate of Palestine of 1922 and later the League of Nations explicitly granted Jews the right to settle in any portion of Palestine west of the Jordan river. Isn’t the reality that for the Palestinian leadership and for most of the Arabs, Jews are illegal and illegitimate everywhere in this portion of the Middle East?
I think that the Arabs reject any idea of Israeli self-determination, political sovereignty, political independence in any borders whatsoever. You can see this from the reluctance or the refusal of Abu Mazen to accept Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. He said he is prepared to accept the existence of Israel but not as the nation-state of the Jewish people which is, of course, a totally absurd position. Why is Israel prepared to give Abu Mazen a sovereign state if this gives him any right to veto the nature of Israel? So, you are right, I believe that this profound Arab rejection of any idea of Jewish sovereignty, of Jewish independence is based on the fact that they find it absolutely unacceptable in terms of their world view and it is futile to try and change this. I think we can’t do anything to bring them to accept us, the only thing we can do is to prevent them from undermining our sovereignty . It is basically a question of strength.
I don’t know what is going to happen in the next ten or twenty or thirty years, whether there will be a change in the Arab psyche, but what I know is that you cannot base Israeli policy on the supposition that, somehow in the coming decades, the Arabs will change their mindset and their attitude towards Israel. Our working assumption must be continued Arab rejectionism. Israel cannot realistically rely on being accepted by the Arabs. The maximum that Israelis can hope for is to be grudgingly tolerated; the minimum they have to achieve is to be greatly feared — because the less Israel is feared the more likely it will be attacked.
How is it possible that the left, both here in Israel and in the West, continues to promote the idea that it is only through more concessions to the Arabs that peace will be achieved, notwithstanding what the Oslo Agreements failure and the disengagement from Gaza have brought to Israel? Is it merely bad faith or a complete detachment from reality?
It is a combination of both. In many ways it is bad faith. So many people on the left, especially in high-level academic and political positions, have based their future, their personal prestige, their livelihood on advancing this idea. So for them to admit error would amount to a catastrophe. It is a last ditch effort to try and maintain it.
You can see now what is happening in certain circles like, for instance, The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) They are still promoting withdrawal – but no longer for the sake of peace! What they say is we wish withdraw now (unilaterally) and keep the chance of two-states alive for the undefined future, to withdraw unilaterally from Judea and Samaria, leave the army there but withdraw the civilian population, basically transforming the whole of Judea and Samaria into a giant South Lebanon. What they are advocating is exactly the same situation that prevailed in South Lebanon. You had the army deployed but no civilian population. They are doing everything, they are desperate not to admit an error because if they do so their whole reputation will collapse. I believe this is largely fueled by their bad faith and intellectual dishonesty.
How much damage has the persistent promotion of the two-state solution, as the only feasible and rational one, done to the outcome of the conflict?
Massive damage. The two-state paradigm has severely damaged the Zionist enterprise and imperiled the Zionist ideal. Indeed up until the late nineteen-eighties and early nineties, you could go to prison for advocating this. It was considered treason. The left has completely changed the discourse – mainly because of the right wing incompetence and impotence. The Israeli right has been completely incompetent and impotent in presenting its case. One of the reasons is that they never put forward their own alternative paradigm until recently. Recently, a few alternative have been advanced. Sadly they are even worse than the two-state solution because at least with the two-state approach, if it fails, Israel still has a chance for a remedial coercive response – invasion, conquest, etc. but if you go with the right wing proposals, like those of Caroline Glick or even Mordechai Kedar, you can’t respond which the same military measures.
If you annex the territories and accord permanent residency to the Arabs there, you will have a Lebanese like situation - with ethnic strife and bloodshed. Then what are you going to do? It is almost an impossible situation to resolve with the limitations on a democratic state. This is why I am so insistent on saying that you need to remove their presence from inside Israel’s sovereign territory, principally by non-coercive means, by offering them a better, more secure life elsewhere, outside the cycle of violence.
According to Mordechai Kedar, the only viable solution for a positive outcome of the conflict is that of transforming the Arab enclaves into Emirates as he sees this grounded into Arab sociology and culture, for Arabs are clans and tribes and the idea of a nation doesn’t belong to their mindset. Do you agree with him?
I totally agree with his sociological analysis and totally disagree with the political implications that he derives from it. I think that it is completely impracticable to think that you can surround Arab enclaves today, delineate them geographically, because even if you can find an pliable Arab who is prepared to be the “Zionist warden” and control these people for the first generation, with the second generation it will no longer work. What do you do when the population expands and the geographical area into which you have delimited them can no longer support them? How are you going to secure the borders? How are you going to deal with trans-border influences? What are you going to do with sewage flows? What are you going to do with education? There are all sorts of trans-border effects which you cannot allow them to determine. The only way that Israel can maintain its sovereign status is by applying its sovereignty from the river Jordan to the sea.
What solution do you think is the most rational and feasible?
The only way you can deal with demography is to reduce the Arab presence in the territories, preferably, as I said, by non coercive means, by economic inducement and if it doesn’t work, by increasing incentives for leaving and increasing disincentives for staying. There is no other way, you cannot square a circle. There are basically four alternatives today on the table. The first one is the two-state solution, which basically means establishing yet another homophobic, misogynist, Muslim majority entity on the fringes of Tel Aviv, which, in a very short time, would turn into a mega-Gaza. The second one is the model proposed by Caroline Glick, which, in my opinion, is a clear formula for the Lebanonization of Israeli society, that means, for ethnic strife. The third solution is that of the Emirates proposed by Mordechai Kedar, or that of Naftali Bennet, enclaves of self-governed Palestinian entities which will culminate in the Balkanization of Israeli society.
The fourth one, which is my solution, is, in my opinion, the only way to address both of Israel’s imperatives: The geographic imperative and the demographic imperative. If you annex the territories, you will – at minimum—have a 35% to 40% Muslim minority. You will not be able to maintain a cohesive, coherent society which has Jewish symbols, a Jewish national anthem, a Jewish calendar, because, as a point of departure, you will have a 35-40% hostile minority which not only refuses to accept them but rejects them vehemently . Then there will also be the socio-economic gaps which you will need to reduce, between the Israeli society where the per capita income is almost 40 thousand dollars a year and Palestinian society where it is about 3000 dollars pro-capita. You will need to divert enormous amounts of budget resources in order to try and reduce the socio-economic gaps. This will inevitably undermine what Israel is investing in education, research, infrastructures, which in itself will induce Jewish emigration from Israel and undermine the existing demographic balance. So, you can either have a mega Gaza overlooking Tel Aviv, Lebanonization or Balkanization, or you can have what I call the “Humanitarian Paradigm”. I don’t see much choice here.
What you propose is in some way similar, even if far less drastic, to what the late Meir Kahane proposed. The removal of Arabs with compensation for their property.
We come from a very different point of departure. Meir Kahane had a religious point of view, I am a completely non-observant person. But that is not the point! One must look at the merits of my argument, not who else supports it, or supported it. You think that a mega-Gaza is a better outcome? You think that Lebanonization is a better outcome? You have to judge a proposal on its own merits. That’s all.
I think my paradigm is the only way through which, for example, the Gazan public can extricate itself from the control of the people that Bassem Eid was talking about. It is the only way you can do it, by offering them a better life elsewhere. Why would this be considered in any way inhumane or fascist? Why would a liberal wish to support the establishment of a Muslim tyranny which will endorse gender discrimination , the persecution of homosexuals, the pursuit of political dissidents, intolerance towards all non Muslim faiths? What liberal in their right mind would support such a paradigm? It is beyond comprehension.
In an interview given to the French press in 2014, in the midst of Operation Protective Edge, at a time when Israel was undergoing international pressure for a ceasefire, Benjamin Netanyahu told the French journalist who was interviewing him that Israel was fighting “the same battle of France”. “If we don’t stand together”, he said, “this plague will come to you. It is just a question of time”. He was, unfortunately, a good prophet. Is the battle of Israel the same one that the West is fighting against Islamic radicalism?
I think that the battle against Israel includes the battle against the West. There are additional elements to the battle in Israel. You must remember that not all the terrorists who attacked Israel were Muslims. Some of the most bloody terrorists where Christians – people like Naif Hawatme, George Habash and Wadie Hadad were Christians. The Member of the Knesset, Basel Ghattas, who was recently imprisoned for smuggling phones to the terrorists, was again a Christian – certainly is not a radical Islamist.
I think that a large portion of the battle that Israel is fighting today entails the same dangers that are threatening Europe. The additional element here, that today probably is not as strong as it used to be, is that of Arab nationalism. In the battle that Israel is fighting there are large overlaps with the dangers that Europe is fighting which includes the religious elements, but there is a nationalistic element that Israel is also facing which is not included in what Europe is facing.
What I think, as you mentioned before, is that Israel has been very remiss, very derelict in presenting its case because its public diplomacy is hopelessly underfunded. It is not resolute enough, it is not assertive enough. It is one thing for Benjamin Netanyahu to give a great speech at the UN but that is not strategic public diplomacy. As I said, you need strategic effort funded by least 1% of state budget. I think that public diplomacy is one of the most important strategic priorities Israel has. Among other things, the message to convey to the West is that we are facing a largely similar set of threats – not identical but certainly very similar.
When Donald Trump was elected, here in Israel there was a strong hope that things were going to take a very different course from the one followed by the Obama Administration. However, it seems that we are once again on the track of the two state solution, albeit in a configuration which is not yet known to us in its details. What is your opinion?
I think this is largely Israel’s fault. The Trump Administration was very much a blank page when it came in and Israel could have written everything it wanted on It. You could not have thought of a more amenable set of people: Jared Kushner, David Friedman, Jason Greenblatt. These are people who are all strongly in Israel’s camp but who weren’t provided with the appropriate intellectual ammunition . Sadly the “right wing” allowed the “left wing” dominate the narrative and hasn’t produced any counter-narrative. I think we missed a huge opportunity. I think we could have done much more to get Trump to move the USA embassy to Jerusalem. The only electoral promise that Trump has not demonstrably tried to implement is that of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, among other things, because they left the argument to the old Obama-era officials in the State Department.
I am contending with ideological adversaries who can rely on multimillion dollars budgets and I am running on fumes. It is very difficult for me to keep on going and presenting my message – which is one of the reasons for which I thank you for this interview. It is very frustrating seeing ideological adversaries getting huge budgets and people who are trying to defend Israel scrambling for pennies.
Finally I would like you to comment on the Temple Mount crisis which has now added to it the episode of the killing of two Jordanians by an Israel guard inside the embassy of Israel in Amman. What do you foresee? (Ed. When Martin Sherman answered to our question, what had happened in Amman did not yet have an outcome and the metal detectors were still installed. Events proved him right).
I foresee Israeli capitulation, which I think is completely wrong. I think that it is absolutely inconceivable that Arabs can be allowed to use metal detectors, emplaced to protect themselves, as call for revolt against Israel. It is totally inconceivable and the fact that Israel is not receiving a mass of international support is a dire indictment, both of the international community and of Israeli diplomacy.
The same thing happened with Jordan, where the Israeli guard was attacked at the embassy and all Israel thought of was what it could do to appease the Jordanians – instead of saying from the beginning, “If you do not release him, we will stop supplying gas, water,etc”. We are making concessions because one of our personnel was attacked and managed to defend himself?!! It is absolutely crazy. There is no resolute response. In this way we keep inviting further pressure.
This article, reprinted with permission of the author, first appeared as Ferretti, Niram. "EYES WIDE OPEN: An interview with MARTIN SHERMAN." L'Informale - Dalla parte di chi brinda alla vita. N.p., 31 July 2017.