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The Unjust War

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Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at the Arab League headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo on February 1, 2020. 
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at the Arab League headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo on February 1, 2020. Credit: AFP

It requires great naivete not to ascribe all the talk of annexation, and the Trump peace plan itself, to the Likud election campaign. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that this talk gives legitimacy to ideas that distance the possibility of an agreement with the Palestinians and will lead to new rounds of violence.

As someone who spent most of his adult life in Israel’s defense establishment, I have learned that anyone who looks at Israel from the outside and tries to understand it must wear the special glasses through which we see ourselves – as a people in an ongoing state of war. One of the main significances of this prism is that Israelis do not distinguish between the ideas of “security” and “defense.”

Defense is an idea we can measure. We can ask ourselves each day if we’ve accomplished a certain task or not. We can set goals for defense against a defined, specific threat. We can plan and build a system to deal with this threat and examine to what extent it has met its goals.

Security, in contrast, is an abstract concept that relates to fears whose source lies in incidents and experiences we have undergone as individuals or as a group. So to understand our behavior as Israelis, one must understand the history of the Jewish people.

The past is part of us, and it shapes our view of reality even today. Centuries of pogroms, the Holocaust and the wars and terrorism that have accompanied Israel since the Zionist movement began still shape our view of security in the present, and fear for our very existence is one of its cornerstones.

Therefore, even though Israel is one of the best-defended countries in the world by any objective standard – as well as a scientific, technological and military power – its inhabitants live with a constant sense of insecurity. Our worldview is shaped not by the level of defense we enjoy, but by the level of insecurity we feel.

To someone looking from the outside, Israel is fighting two wars: the war to establish itself and then defend itself within the 1967 borders as a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, and the war to extend its eastern border to the Jordan River via the settlement enterprise and the military occupation that makes it possible. It’s important to distinguish between these two wars.

The first, against anyone who doesn’t recognize our right to self-determination as the nation-state of the Jewish people, is a just defensive war. But the second violates the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, which has been recognized by the international community, including through UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. Therefore, it is unjust.

The first war has been won. Israel was victorious in a series of military conflicts, and the Arab world accepted its existence in the Middle East through various agreements, Security Council resolutions and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which the Arab states made clear that they’re willing to establish normal relations with Israel and declare the conflict over on condition that it comply with the relevant international decisions.

But if we don’t separate from the Palestinians, while setting a border that will preserve our identity, our children will have to fight a war that will bring the end of the Zionist dream nearer.

Therefore, anyone looking from outside would conclude that the moment we achieved recognition of our existence, the only war Israel has fought is the second, unjust one.

Israelis also see their condition as one of constant war. Descriptions of Israel as “a small country surrounded by enemies” or “a villa in the jungle” are common in our public conversation and are used by political leaders who have an interest in preserving this consciousness.

Trump and Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020.Credit: AFP

This is exacerbated by Israeli distrust in the international community, which has turned the adage “at the moment of truth, nobody will be there for us” into a cornerstone of Israel’s security doctrine. And it’s further intensified by the reality of an unstable, violent Middle East

It’s important to remember that Israel’s war against the Palestinians isn’t a war between states. It’s a war against a people that seeks national independence and operates through terrorism. In this war, the main front is actually the home front. Even if we destroy a terrorist organization’s military wing, other groups, even more extreme, will arise in its place.

This is a war in which the occupation of territory and our ongoing control over the population only increase the violence and terrorism. In this war, there is no victory on the battlefield, and its continuation is destroying us as a democracy.

Thus in order to make progress, we must separate security from the settlements, which are the cause of the continued violence and aren’t a security asset, but a burden. This has been the defense establishment’s view for the past 40 years.

To ensure its security and its future, Israel must define an agreement based on the two-state principle as a supreme Israeli interest. We must take independent action, of our own volition, to ensure the feasibility of a diplomatic solution, without taking security risks and without being dependent on Palestinian consent in the initial stage. Creating a new, two-state reality, will also give us legitimacy in the international community, because we will be fighting a just defensive war.

Nobody can honestly promise an era of peace and an end to war. The Middle East is a violent, unstable region, and Israel must defend itself, with all the costs this entails.

Nevertheless, all Israeli parents should know that if we don’t separate from the Palestinians at our own initiative, while setting a border that ensures we can maintain our identity in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, their children will fight an unjust war that will hasten the end of the Zionist dream, perpetuate the bloody conflict with the Palestinians and make it dramatically more difficult to fight the BDS movement and the growth of anti-Semitism worldwide.