Category Archives: Peace and Conflict Politics
The article below is reprinted from Tablet and makes a gentle and fair-minded case for why Representative Omar should expand her experiences in Israel. We expect her to criticize Israel for the occupation as well as labeling Israel a colonial state along with additional critical vocabulary. But if she truly is trying to learn with an open mind, then Omar should heed Carly Pildis’s suggestions.
When news broke last month that Rep. Ilhan Omar was planning a trip to Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank with some of her congressional colleagues, I felt a subtle sense of hope. I disagree with many of Omar’s comments on the conflicts, but, given her rapid change in viewpoint after winning her election, I hope that she’ll come to the region with an open mind and an open heart. And having myself visited Israel on numerous occasions—visits that were deeply meaningful to me and helped me shape my view of regional politics—I believe the right itinerary could make a real difference. I’m no travel agent, but I wrestle daily with a complicated view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, with that in mind, sat down to imagine the trip I would arrange for Omar and her friends.
Tzfat is a good place to start and get rooted. The town has a deep history of Jewish mysticism, religious study, and art. Local legend claims the city was created by Noah after the flood. Yes, that Noah. It has ancient Jewish roots, including mentions in the Jerusalem Talmud and the writings of Jewish historian of Roman times Josephus, as well as a vibrant modern Jewish culture of mystical study and art. I hope Omar will stop by Abraham Loewenthal’s studio and chat with him about mystic art; I have one of his pieces in my kitchen.I hope she walks the ancient streets, exploring its beautiful unique synagogues. Abuhav Synagogue, built by Rabbi Abuhav and his disciples after they were expelled from Spain in 1492, is a favorite of mine. Another is the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue, built in 1570. In 1948 a piece of shrapnel flew through the synagogue while congregants were praying, and, miraculously, no one was injured. People still write notes to God and slip them in the the hole the shrapnel left behind. I have left my own prayers there.
Why should Omar spend a day touching ancient stones and chatting with hippie mystic artists? Because some of her fellow progressives are likely to tell her that nothing about Israel is authentically Jewish, that it is all a modern construction, a colonialist, white supremacist enterprise. I am hoping after a day in Tzfat she will vocally disagree. Tzfat was the home of PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas before his family fled in 1948, and the home of Rabbi Abuhav who took refuge there in 1492. Roots tangle, especially in the Holy Land.
Now that Omar has rooted herself in history, I think she should visit those who best understand what’s at stake, because they have lost the most: the parents who lost a child to the conflict. Parents Circle-Families Forum is a grassroots organization of Palestinians and Israelis who have lost an immediate family member in the conflict. In 2007, I met with Aaron, a father from PCFF who told me lovingly and achingly about his son Noam, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War. His hands never stopped shaking, rolling and unrolling a piece of paper as he recalled hearing the news of his beloved son’s death and how he felt called to push for peace, reconciliation, and dialogue. PCFF brings families together to share their grief, and their hopes that by sharing grief they can create a path to reconciliation and peace. They have offices in both Ramat Efal and Beit Jala you can visit, where members engage in dialogue circles. Additionally, PCFF runs a summer camp for bereaved youth and a hotline that allows Israelis and Palestinians to talk for free and make new connections. It has had over a million callers. PCFF is both heartbreaking and inspirational, and it’s the kind of project that needs more support. In this era of American activists creating “anti-normalization” clauses and refusing dialogue and debate, PCFF stands in stark contrast to Western bombast. It is a model that is both heartbroken and hopeful for peace, deeply committed to recognizing the pain of all its members.
Another space that will help Omar understand the stakes of the conflict is Sderot. The people of Sderot have been hit with thousands of rockets over the past decade, including this past May, when over 450 rockets attacked Southern Israel from Gaza. One landed right outside a kindergarten in Sderot. Forty percent of children in Sderot suffer from PTSD and anxiety due to the trauma of rocket attacks, which is far higher than the national average of 7% to 10%. The Israeli Education Ministry’s psychological service is now training teachers to help them better support children who are traumatized by the conflict. In 2009, the Jewish National Fund donated an indoor playground that doubles as a bomb shelter, so that the children of Sderot can play without risking being too far from a bomb shelter. When a Code Red alert sounds, residents have only 15 seconds to reach a bomb shelter. There are over 200 throughout the city. Rep. Omar and members of her “squad” have proposed cutting U.S. military aid to Israel. I think when she is in the region, she should meet with the families in Southern Israel that would bear the brunt of that cut.
While examining investments in keeping the people of Sderot safe, both in terms of bomb shelters and the Iron Dome, it is important to contrast the average citizen of Sderot with the average citizen of Gaza, who does not have access to a bomb shelters. It seems the Hamas government is unwilling to invest in civilian bomb shelter, preferring instead to invest in underground smuggling tunnels that further the effort to bomb the citizens of Sderot. If Rep. Omar and her colleagues get a chance, they should question the Gazan government’s priorities.
More than any one specific tour stop, I hope Rep. Omar integrates into her itinerary a search for duality. Sometimes we must hold two difficult, even seemingly contradicting truths in our mind at the same time, especially as people of faith. When she visits a West Bank checkpoint, as I hope she will, and confronts the cruelty of the occupation and the hardship it causes, I hope Omar will also talk to the Israeli soldiers on duty. If she does, she’ll see that they are often very young, just out of high school, and very frightened by the burden of responsibility for security placed on their shoulders. I hope she speaks to Palestinians who lost everything in 1948 and became refugees, just like her, and I also hope she speaks to Jewish refugees from Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Ethiopia, and the former USSR, who found a home in Israel when they were in desperate circumstances. If the congresswoman chooses to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, I hope she also goes to the Kotel. When I touched the stones of the Kotel for the first time, I laid my head on it and wept, because God felt so close and yet so far away. It is the same way for peace in the region, it seems both within our grasp and devastatingly far away.
We all know that Trump Lies. But he is actually more sophisticated than the simple bold faced fabricator. Check out some of his strategies for manipulating information. I am sure he is not consciously aware of these strategies but they are characteristic of his discourse nonetheless. The below is from Foreign Affairs.
KELLY M. GREENHILL is Associate Professor and Director of the International Relations Program at Tufts University and a Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She is completing a new book on the strategic use of extra-factual information in international politics.
Psychological manipulation is an influence technique designed to change the behavior or beliefs of its target audiences through distraction, deception, and misrepresentation. One strikingly effective variant relies on the strategic deployment and exploitation of rumors, conspiracy theories, fake news, and other forms of what I call “extra-factual information ”—a term that encompasses not only false or misleading information but also unverified statements and other sources of nonfactual knowledge, such as literature and “common sense”—in order to fan fears that have little or no basis in objective reality but ring viscerally true to target audiences.
U.S. President Donald Trump  has shown himself to be a master practitioner of such manipulation, especially when it comes to the subject of immigration and refugee policy. Trump has systematically used distraction and the repetition of misleading information to conflate the real challenges of migration policy with false (albeit psychologically satisfying) ones, allowing him to normalize previously fringe solutions, including his well-known proposals to build a border wall with Mexico and bar Muslims’ entry to the United States. In doing so, Trump has transformed the tenor of mainstream political discourse, stymieing the ability of journalists, politicians, and members of the public to effectively debunk his claims and thereby fundamentally altering the political bargaining space.
Combating Trump’s skilled use of deception and extra-factual information will take more than fact-checking—although the narratives he pushes often contain lies, they are successful because they feel true to, and purport to address the real concerns of, many American voters. What those who seek to oppose Trump’s migration policies need is a compelling narrative of their own, one that takes voter concerns seriously, defining problems responsibly  and offering comprehensible and attainable solutions. Unfortunately, whatever the shape and content of that narrative, the changes that Trump has brought to the United States’ public discourse and policy arena may prove more difficult to undo than they were to effect.
BRIGHT, SHINY OBJECTS
Although there are myriad  long-standing  methods of psychological manipulation, Trump has used four to great effect in order to shape public perceptions of migration, all of which involve the deployment of extra-factual information: distraction, threat conflation, normalization, and repetition.
The first of these methods, distraction, is designed to do just what its name implies: encourage audiences to divert their energies and resources away from topics the manipulator finds politically troubling and toward the cognitive equivalents of what former Republican primary candidate Carly Fiorina referred to  as “bright, shiny objects”—divisive, often symbolic issues that monopolize attention and crowd out more nuanced and factual debates.
According to a June 1 article  in The Washington Post, Trump averaged more than 6.5 false or misleading statements a day during his first 497 days in the White House. Not only does this dynamic drive journalists to devote time and column inches to fact-checking nonsense instead of focusing on consequential policy issues, it causes the resulting coverage to suggest uncertainty over settled facts where there should be none at all.
Although Trump has used this method on everything from diplomacy to climate change, his statements on migration have been particularly egregious. He has consistently misrepresented (or simply failed to understand) the diversity visa lottery  that he wishes to abolish and repeatedly claimed that sections of border fence  under construction along parts of the U.S.-Mexican border—local infrastructure projects in the works since the previous administration—are part of his long-promised border wall. One of his favorite tricks  has been to accuse prominent Democrats, including Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Kamala Harris, of supporting the violent Salvadoran gang MS-13—an absurd contention that is nonetheless effective in drawing attention away from his harsh and controversial immigration enforcement policies.
Trump has also proved successful at transforming vague and inchoate sources of anxiety into proximate and existentially menacing, albeit unverifiable, threats to personal or national security, through a process that I call “threat conflation.” Threat conflation is an extreme manifestation of its better-known cousin, threat inflation, whereby a real but manageable potential threat is magnified into a crisis through exaggeration or the presentation of facts in the most alarming way possible. Threat conflation ups the ante—by using extra-factual information to blur the boundaries between widely shared sources of anxiety, enterprising actors can mobilize support for policies that fact-based appeals (even inflated ones) fail to muster. Threat conflation is a variation on another tried-and-true instrument of propaganda: create a problem and then offer a solution to it. This bait and switch simultaneously permits manipulators to achieve their preexisting policy objectives and to look like heroes for promising to vanquish ostensibly significant—but actually illusory—threats.
Examples of Trump using threat conflation to distort the migration debate are distressingly easy to identify. He has sought to leverage sometimes quite understandable anxieties about the effects and costs of irregular migration and mass refugee flows and then embroider, embellish, and twist the facts to suggest that these cross-border movements pose existential security threats to our country, when the preponderance of available evidence  suggests otherwise.
Most famously, Trump suggested in a June 2015 campaign speech  that Mexico was sending “rapists” who brought “crime” and “drugs” into the United States. Despite extensive reporting to the contrary in recent years, nearly half of all Americans still believe  immigration raises crime rates, although immigrants commit crime s at lower rates than the native-born population. Trump and his officials have also repeatedly warned  that terrorists were infiltrating the United States through its refugee program, despite the fact that terrorist attacks by refugees are nearly nonexistent . This conflation of national security threats with refugee policy may also help explain why public support for the United States accepting refugees  is dropping, especially among Republicans.
Conflation may also explain why, despite a significant uptick in recent years in reporting designed to correct the record on migration-related issues, 93 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Independents, and 62 percent of Democrats still view “large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States” as a “critical” or “important” threat to the country . (Unsurprisingly, among core Trump supporters, these numbers are higher still.)
Threat conflation feeds directly into the third method of manipulation, which is the normalization of previously abnormal ideas. At any given time, there is a range of ideas and potential policies that a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain public office. This range is referred to as an “Overton window” after Joseph Overton, the public relations executive who developed the concept. Ideas that fall outside the existing Overton window are usually rejected without much debate.
Yet Overton windows are not fixed—the range of acceptable ideas can be shifted over time. Publicly arguing for fringe ideas and policies can make other ideas—even those that would have been considered extreme relative to the status quo—appear moderate by comparison. By introducing conflated threats into policy discussions and deliberately promoting extreme solutions to them, Trump has made a variety of slightly less fringe ideas seem like acceptable compromises, thereby normalizing policy responses that were previously unmentionable.
In the realm of immigration and refugee policy, it is easy to identify examples of Trump shifting the Overton window such that policies that were recently considered unthinkable—and even laughable—are now mainstream. Trump’s initial desire to prevent Muslims from traveling to the United States helped make his later iterations of the travel ban, including the one recently upheld by the Supreme Court , seem moderate to many by comparison. His policy of separating the children of undocumented immigrants from their parents at the border, from which he has now retreated, paved the way for indefinite family detention . And Democrats have offered to provide funding  for a very expensive border wall—one that is unlikely to make the United States safer or prevent unauthorized entries —in exchange for backing legislation to protect the so-called Dreamers.
The effects of this shift in the Overton window are unlikely to stop here. As my previous research  has shown, intolerance and xenophobia often beget more of the same, which in turn tends to lead to a further tightening of immigration policy and a hardening of hearts and closing of borders to refugees. Such vicious cycles, moreover, are hardly limited to the migration sphere.
REPEAT AFTER ME
Trump’s final manipulation method, repetition, is arguably the most insidious. Repeated exposure to a piece of misinformation significantly increases the likelihood that people will, over time, come to believe it is true, even if they understood it to be dubious when they first encountered it. This is what is known as the “illusory truth effect .” When individuals assess veracity, they rely on two things: whether the information comports with their own prior understanding and whether it seems familiar. Unfortunately, familiarity can trump rationality, so hearing something repeatedly increases its perceived veracity.
In my research  on unverified information in conflict zones, for instance, we found that having heard a rumor before made an individual between two and 8.5 times more likely to believe it. To make matters worse, the illusory effect is more powerful when people are tired or distracted by other information. So even among the most skeptical audiences, Trump’s thousands of speeches, campaign rallies, and tweets laded with extra-factual information—as well as all the media reporting on those claims, whether supportive or skeptical—are likely having some impact.
More specifically, as previously mentioned, The Washington Post counted more than 6.5 false or misleading statements a day, including “at least 122 claims that the president has repeated at least three times, some with breathtaking frequency,” many related to immigration. The New York Times reported that at a June 27 rally in Fargo, North Dakota, Trump repeated  “numerous claims that [the Times]has previously debunked,” including that Democrats “want open borders and crime”; that Pelosi “wants to protect” MS-13; that his administration has deported “thousands” of MS-13 members; and that he has “already started” building a border wall.
The president has not paid much of a political price for this staggeringly large number of misrepresentations, at least so far. Although he is viewed favorably by only ten percent of Democrats, a recent poll  shows 90 percent of Republicans giving Trump a favorable rating, and his approval rating among Independents has improved as well. Note, moreover, that this poll was taken after a public outcry had erupted over Trump’s family separation policy.
Although it is too hard to discern the precise role that repetition has played, what we know about the illusory truth effect suggests saying the same things over and over has likely convinced some voters that the United States is facing significant security threats along its southern border. It is suggestive, for instance, that according to recent polls  49 percent of the registered voters favored Trump’s decision to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border (versus 42 percent opposed) and 41 percent said building a wall should be either a “top” or an “important” priority, versus only 38 percent who opposed the wall.
There is a lesson in all this for Trump’s opponents: having a good story to share is more powerful than simply having facts on your side. Those unhappy with the current state of affairs in the United States need a better story. That story doesn’t have to be untrue, but it needs to contain some of the same elements that make Trump’s true-feeling alternatives so compelling—namely, it must speak to audience concerns and fears, not simply dismiss them as false and unfounded. It needs to offer concrete and comprehensible solutions.
Most of all, a compelling alternative to Trump’s narrative should speak to Americans’ collective identity and emphasize that what Americans share—irrespective of political leaning, ethnic or racial background, or socioeconomic status—offers a better path forward than the prevailing tribalism and division that spawns fear and threatens U.S. values and institutions. Absent a more compelling and unifying narrative, we should anticipate more polarization, fear, and distrust of “others,” migrants and citizens alike. This is not an alternative fact but an inconvenient truth.
The below is from the International Crisis Group. On this page is the executive summary of a report on the issue of annexation and Israel. You can access the complete report at the link below.
Israel is advancing new policies to entrench its de facto annexation of most of occupied East Jerusalem. Moreover, depending on what coalition government emerges from forthcoming parliamentary elections, it could shunt the city’s Palestinian areas lying east of the separation barrier into disconnected Israeli administrative units outside the municipality’s jurisdiction.
Why did it happen? Israeli decision-makers are concerned that Jerusalem will soon have a non-Jewish majority. The Netanyahu government has conceded that its neglect of East Jerusalem has failed to induce Palestinians to leave. Instead, neglect has bred crime and violence, and created numerous lawless areas, particularly east of the barrier.
Why does it matter? Israel’s plans – removing from the municipality certain Palestinian areas outside the barrier, cataloguing all occupied East Jerusalem lands in the Israel Lands Registry and inducing Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem to adopt Israeli curricula – would exacerbate the conflict in and over Jerusalem.
What should be done? Palestinians, Israelis and allies of both leaderships should press the Israeli government not to carry out these plans. If it wants to reduce poverty and crime in East Jerusalem, Israel should allow Palestinians to establish civic leadership bodies in the city and end its ban on Palestinian Authority activities there.
Israel is advancing new policies to entrench its de facto annexation of parts of occupied East Jerusalem. In 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem but never fully applied Israeli laws: land registration was partial, most Palestinian schools do not use Israel’s curriculum and East Jerusalemites have residency, not citizenship. In May 2018, with the stated aim of reducing socio-economic inequality, Israel adopted a five-year plan allocating $530 million to East Jerusalem. But the plan’s real goal is to assert Israeli sovereignty, including, most dangerously, by cataloguing all East Jerusalem’s lands in the Israel Land Registry and inducing its schools to use Israeli curricula. In parallel, to protect Jerusalem’s Jewish majority, Israeli leaders are thinking about redrawing the Israeli-demarcated municipal boundaries in order to remove Palestinian-populated areas that lie within these boundaries but to the east of the separation barrier. This “excision” scheme, along with the land registry and curricular initiatives, risks deepening conflict in Jerusalem. Whatever government Israel forms after the 17 September 2019 election should not carry out these plans.
For 50 years, the state has tried to attract more Jews to East Jerusalem and to prod Palestinians to leave. Israel’s national leaders increasingly recognise that this policy has failed to secure a lasting Jewish majority: too few Jews have moved in, and many continue to leave, while too few Palestinians have departed. If current demographic trends persist, Jerusalem could become a minority-Jewish city as early as 2045.
Unable to have all of East Jerusalem without most of its Palestinian inhabitants – and buoyed by support from the Trump administration, international neglect of the Palestinian issue and growing Israeli cooperation with Arab states – Israel is phasing in a plan that would consolidate Israel’s rule over East Jerusalem territory west of the separation barrier. (The separation barrier is a physical divide erected during the 2000-2005 intifada with the security aim of preventing West Bank assailants from entering Israel and the political aim of establishing that in any future solution, Israel would annex many Jewish settlements, including those in and around East Jerusalem, even as a large number of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents end up on the other side of the border.)
In East Jerusalem and its vicinity, the barrier mostly separates Jewish settlements from Palestinian communities, East Jerusalem from the West Bank and Palestinian areas from one another. In order to increase the proportion of Jews in Jerusalem and prevent the loss of a Jewish majority in the city, a number of Israeli leaders across the political spectrum advocate excising Palestinian-inhabited areas of East Jerusalem east of the barrier from the municipality, turning them into separate Israeli regional councils. The most widely supported excision proposal would leave Palestinians with status as residents of Israel in excised areas (there are also Palestinian citizens of Israel in these areas). Palestinians fear that this step would be the prelude to revocation of their residency – without which they cannot enter East Jerusalem or Israel. Other excision proposals call for rescinding the residency status of excised areas’ inhabitants.
Excising Palestinian-inhabited areas in order to forestall the loss of a Jewish demographic majority in the city could set a dangerous precedent, offering a model for how Israel could annex large parts of the West Bank while shunting Palestinian residents into separate Israeli administrative units, where they might have residency but not citizenship. Excision would also deepen poverty, chaos and militancy in the most forsaken corners of the city. An excision plan could go into effect shortly after a new coalition government takes its seats following the 17 September Knesset election, depending on its composition.
Israeli political parties, from both the coalition and the opposition, that seek to preserve stability and minimise the risk of escalation should block any excision of Palestinian areas, press their government to discard the most inflammatory components (East Jerusalem land registration and Palestinian adoption of Israeli curricula) of its five-year plan and loosen Israel’s ban on Palestinian Authority activities east of the barrier in areas that Israel has refused to govern. The international community, and in particular the EU and Arab states, should warn Israel of these schemes’ possible repercussions and signal that excision would bring Europe closer to recognising a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Outside powers also should allocate funds to help Palestinian Jerusalemites establish civic leadership bodies in East Jerusalem to operate both east and west of the separation barrier, in coordination with Israel. Indeed, Israel, too, should have an interest in having such a leadership, which can help reduce crime that spills over into West Jerusalem, provide services that could begin to correct for decades of neglect and create a mechanism for addressing conflict in East Jerusalem.
FOR A STATE, PALESTINIANS WOULD CEDE “RIGHT OF RETURN”—AND MORE
by David Pollock
December 3, 2018
Polling in the Palestinian territories demonstrates a dissonance between public and governmental opinions regarding peace and statehood.
It’s always good to get reliable data out of the Palestinian territories and some fresh data is reported below. There are some interesting results and the next post will expand on the interpretations.
Two surveys conducted by different Palestinian pollsters in October show unexpected popular flexibility on core issues of an eventual peace deal with Israel, despite widespread skepticism among Palestinians about current prospects. These findings suggest that American, Israeli, and Arab policymakers should all pay more attention to what the Palestinian people really want and less attention to what their politicians or partisans say they “should” want.
Two surveys conducted by different Palestinian pollsters in October show unexpected popular flexibility on core issues of an eventual peace deal with Israel, despite widespread skepticism among Palestinians about current prospects. These findings suggest that American, Israeli, and Arab policymakers should all pay more attention to what the Palestinian people really want and less attention to what their politicians or partisans say they “should” want.
REFUGEES AND THE “RIGHT OF RETURN”
The most startlingly moderate and unequivocal results from these two surveys center on this issue, which are based on not just one or two but a whole battery of related questions. This moderate view is especially strong in Gaza, where most residents are themselves descendants of the Palestinian refugees.
Two-thirds of Gazans say Palestinians should accept that the “right of return” not apply to Israel, but only to the West Bank and Gaza, if that is the price of a Palestinian state. When asked about their own personal preferences, a mere 14 percent say they would “probably” want to move to Israel, even if they could. Moreover, the overwhelming majority, 79 percent, would accept the “permanent resettlement” of Palestinians from other countries in just the West Bank or Gaza, “even if that is not where their families originally came from.” A solid if somewhat smaller majority, 59 percent, say it would be a good idea if “Arab states offered extra economic aid in order to resettle Palestinian refugees in the West Bank or Gaza, but not inside Israel.”
Attitudes on these questions are also relatively moderate, though more mixed, in the West Bank. West Bankers are approximately evenly split on the suggestion that refugees not enter Israel: 48 percent would accept this suggestion, though 52 percent are opposed. But a mere 5 percent say they would probably move to Israel even if they could. Moreover, two-thirds would accept the permanent resettlement of diaspora Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza even if their families originated inside Israel.
Expectations regarding refugee resettlement are even more modest than the preceding preferences, especially in the West Bank. Both surveys show that a solid majority of West Bankers think that “regardless of what’s right, the reality is that… most Palestinians will not return to the 1948 lands.” Gazans agree, but by a narrower majority—61 percent in one poll; 54 percent in the other.
ISRAEL AS A JEWISH STATE
On this issue, Palestinians are again significantly more open than the public positions of their political leaders would imply. If Israel “recognizes an independent Palestinian state and ends the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza,” the percentages of Palestinians who would accept Israel as “the state for the Jewish people” are as follows: Gaza, 55 percent; West Bank, 36 percent; and East Jerusalem, 60 percent.
In sharp contrast, PA leaders from President Mahmoud Abbas on down have consistently emphasized that they will “never” agree to any such formulation. Hamas persistently states that it will never recognize Israel at all, let alone its Jewish character. In so saying, both governments are taking a much more rigid stance than is expressed by many of their own people.
END OF CONFLICT
This essential (but rarely posed) question asks if a two-state solution should either (a) “end the conflict and open up a new chapter in Palestinian history,” or (b) “not end the conflict, and resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated.” West Bankers pick “end the conflict” by a sizeable margin, 50 to 37 percent, with the remainder responding “no opinion.” Meanwhile, Gazans are almost evenly split: 47 to 49 percent. East Jerusalem Palestinians, who maintain everyday contact with Israelis, decisively choose “end the conflict,” by a margin of 73 to 22 percent.
Related to this long-term question is a more immediate issue: should Hamas “stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders?” Results are clearest in Gaza, where two separate polls show that more people favor than oppose this radical, peaceful policy shift. West Bankers are also clearly supportive in one poll by a margin of 58 to 30 percent; the other poll, with a slightly larger margin of error, shows a narrow majority opposed.
On this issue, however, East Jerusalem Palestinian opinions trend in the opposite direction: 36 percent say Hamas should accept peace with Israel, but more—47 percent—say that it should not. An unusually high proportion, 17 percent, refuse to answer the question. This surprisingly divided picture may reflect the growing presence or appeal of Hamas among East Jerusalem Palestinians, many of whom feel neglected by both Israel and the PA.
These findings are based on personal interview surveys conducted by two different reputable Palestinian pollsters during the period of October 3-19, 2018, using standard geographic probability sample techniques. One poll comprised a representative sample of 732 West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians and 468 Gazans, yielding margins of error of approximately 3.7 and 4.1 percent respectively. The other poll, conducted by the Palestine Center for Public Opinion based in Beit Sahour in the West Bank, comprised representative samples of 500 each in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, yielding margins of error of approximately 4 percent in each territory. Full methodological details are available on request.
David Pollock is the Bernstein Fellow at The Washington Institute and director of Project Fikra.
Below is a set of ideas related to how a two-state solution can work. It is presented by Professor Cohen-Almagor
The recent monthly Peace Index of the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, published in September 2018, finds that half of the Jewish Israeli public thinks that Palestinians deserve an independent state, while (43%) think they do not. Analysis of the Jewish sample by age shows that support for a Palestinian state increases with age: among those aged 18-34 only a minority (35%) supports the Palestinians’ right to a state, 54% of those aged 35-54 support it, and in the oldest age group a 61% majority supports it. Arab-Israelis believe unanimously (94%) that Palestinians are entitled in principle to an independent state of their own.
47% of Jewish-Israelis support signing an agreement based on the formula of two-state solution while 46% answered that they do not. Among Arab-Israelis, 73% support such an agreement. 83% of Jewish-Israelis thinks that “the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people before peace talks with them can be revived.”66% of Jewish-Israelis agree that “most of the Palestinians have not come to terms with Israel’s existence and would destroy it if they could.”This rate has remained more or less constant, with slight fluctuations, since the first Peace Index survey was conducted in June 1994.
The Palestinians aspire to have an independent state in the 1967 borders, with Arab Jerusalem as its capital and a substantial return of refugees to Israel. The Israelis wish to retain the Jewish character of Israel, being the only Jewish state in the world. Both sides wish to enjoy life of tranquillity and in security, free of violence and terror. Both parties should explicitly accept UN Security Council Resolutions 242,338,and 1397 and then begin their full implementation. The endgame will be based on the following parameters:
Palestinian sovereignty – will be declared and respected.
Mutual recognition – Israel shall recognize the State of Palestine. Palestine shall recognize the State of Israel.
Mutual diplomatic relations – Israel and Palestine shall immediately establish full diplomatic relationships with each other, installing ambassadors in the capital of the respective partner.
Capital – each state is free to choose its own capital.
Borders– These should be reasonable and logical for both sides. Settling the conflict would give Israel greater international legitimacy to fight terrorism and enable it to deal with the more serious emerging threat from Iran.
Israel will withdraw to the Green Line, evacuating settlements and resettling the settlers in other parts of the country. The major settlement blocs — Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Gush Etzion, Modi’in Illit and Ariel –- which account for approximately 70% of the Jewish population in the West Bank and for less than 2% of its size, may be annexed to Israel upon reaching an agreement with the PA of territory exchange that will be equal in size.Border adjustment must be kept to the necessary minimum and must be reciprocal.
Territorial contiguity– a corridor would connect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to allow safe and free passage. As long as peace is kept, the road will be permanently openand solely Palestinian. No Israeli checkpoints will be there. Palestinians will not be able to enter Israel from this corridor, nor shall Israelis enter Palestine from the corridor. Palestine will ensure that this safe passage won’t be abused for violent purposes. Such abuse would undermine peace and trust between the two parties.
The Separation Barrier creates a political reality. It should run roughly along the 1967 mutually agreed borders.
Security– Both Israel and Palestine will take all necessary measures to ascertain that their citizens could live free of fear for their lives. Security is equally important for both Israelis and Palestinians as this is the key for peace. Palestine and Israel shall base their security relations on cooperation, mutual trust, good neighborly relations, and the protection of their joint interests.
The Palestinian state will be non-militarized. This issue was agreed upon in 1995. Also agreed upon were joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols along the Jordan River, the installation of early warning posts, and the establishment of a permanent international observer force to ensure the implementation of the agreed security arrangements. The early warning posts will be periodically visited by Israeli security officers but they won’t be permanently present on Palestinian soil. If there is a need for a permanent presence, this would be trusted to an agreed-upon third party.
Terrorism and violence– Zero tolerance in this sphere. Both sides will work together to curb violence. Both sides will see that their citizens on both sides of the border reside in peace and tranquility. Zealots and terrorists, Palestinians and Jews, will receive grave penalties for any violation of peace and tranquility.
Jerusalem– What is Palestinian will come under the territory of the new capital Al Kuds. Al Kuds would include East Jerusalem and the adjacent Palestinian land and villages. Abu Dis, Al-Izarieh and Al-Sawahreh will be included in the Palestinian capital. The Israeli capital would include West Jerusalem and the adjacent Israeli settlements. To maintain Palestinian contiguity, Israel may be required to give up some of the settlements around Arab Jerusalem. The Old City will be granted a special status. Special arrangements and recognition will be made to honour the importance of the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter for Jews, and similarly special arrangements and recognition will be made to honour the importance of the Islamic and Christian holy places. The Old City will be opened to all faiths under international custodianship. There will be Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in providing municipality services to both populations.
Haram al-Sharif– On March 31, 2013, aJordan-Palestinian agreement was signed between the PA and Jordan, entrusting King Abdullah II with the defense of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.While Jordan may be a party to any agreement concerning the site, a broader arrangement is welcomed. As agreed by Abbas and Olmert, it will be under the control of a five-nation consortium: Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The Waqf will continue its administration. Jews will enjoy right of access. Excavation for antiquities may be undertaken only with the full agreement of both sides. Similarly, alterations to the historical structures and foundations can be made only upon the consent of both sides.
Education – Israel and Palestine will institute a shared curriculum on good neighborhood, understanding cultures and religions, respect for others and not harming others. This education program will commence at the kindergarten and continue at primary and high schools. In every age group vital concepts for understanding the other will be studied. This program is critical for establishing peaceful relationships and trust between the two parties.
Languages – Starting in primary schools, Arabic will be a mandatory language for pupils to study in Jewish schools. Similarly, Hebrew will be a mandatory language for pupils to study in Palestinian schools. Language is the most important bridge between different cultures and nations. Israelis will master Arabic to the same extent that they presently master English. Palestinians will master Hebrew as their second language.
Incitement– Both sides need to clean up the atmosphere, fight bigotry, racism, incitement and hate on both sides of the fence/wall. This includes a close study of the education curricula in both the PA and Israel. Both sides need to overhaul their school books, excluding incitement, racism, bigotry and hate against one another.The curricula should reflect a language of peace, tolerance and liberty. Both sides should utilize the media to promote peaceful messages of reconciliation and mutual recognition.
Prisoners– As an act of good will, part of the trust-building process, Israel will release a number of agreed upon prisoners. With time, as trust will grow between the two sides, all security prisoners will return home.
Refugees and their right of return– This is a major concern for both Palestine and Israel. For Palestinians, this issue is about their history, justice and fairness. For Israelis, this is a debated issue, where many Israelis are unwilling to claim responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy and most Israelis object to the right of return as this would mean the end of Zionism. The issue is most difficult to resolve as the original refugee population of an estimated 700,000-750,000 has grown to 4,966,664 refugees registered with UNRWA at the end of November 2010. About 40% of the refugees live in Jordan, where they comprise about a third of the population; another 41% are in the West Bank and Gaza, 10% are in Syria, and 9% are in Lebanon. In the West Bank, refugees constitute about one-third of the population while in Gaza they comprise over 80% of the population.
Israel and the PA have been arguing endlessly about this issue as a matter of principle without examining by surveys how many of the refugees and their families actually are intended to return to Israel if this option were to be available to them. What needs to be done is twofold: first, Israel needs to recognize that it has a shared responsibility with the Palestinians to solve the problem. Israel needs to honestly confront history, refute myths and acknowledge the role it played in the creation of the refugee problem. Second, there is a need to identify the population, establish the numbers, and after mapping the refugee population conduct a survey among them that would include the following options:
- Return to Israel;
- Return to the West Bank;
- Return to the Gaza Strip;
- Emigrate to third countries that would commit to absorbing a certain quota (appeal will be made to countries that receive immigration on a regular basis to participate in this settlement effort);
- Remain where they are. President Donald Trump has started to put pressure on several Arab countries to grant Palestinian refugees living in those countries citizenship.
The 1948 Palestinian refugees will be able to settle in Palestine. The rest of the world is legitimate to set immigration quotas for absorbing Palestinians who apply for settlement in their designated choice of country. Unification of families should be allowed in Israel on a limited quota annual scale. But massive refugee return to Israel will not be allowed. This dream should be abandoned. An international tribunal of reputable historians and international lawyers, including equal representatives of Israel and Palestine, will determine the level of compensation. If needed, Israel and Palestine may establish an international relief fund to which humanitarian countries that wish to see the end of the conflict contribute.
Termination of the conflict– following the signing of a comprehensive agreement covering all issues and concerns, an official statement will be issued declaring the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Four Party Permanent Team – Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Jordan will maintain a permanent organization that will meet periodically to discuss concerns and resolve problems amicably. This forum will discuss issues such as the Gaza ports, economic development, water, tourism, security controls along the Jordan River, security concerns in Sinai, counter-terrorism and counter-radicalism.
International Arbitration– Difficult issues that won’t be resolved by direct negotiations will be delegated to a special arbitration committee. This special committee will have an equal number of Israeli and Palestinian delegates plus an uneven number of international experts. Only experts approved by both parties will be invited to serve on the arbitration committee. The committee will include lawyers, economists, human rights experts and experts on the Middle East. Their resolutions would be final, without having the right of appeal. Both Israel and Palestine will commit to accept every decision of the arbitration committee. One model to follow might be the arbitration committee comprised to resolve the Taba dispute between Israel and Egypt.
To resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is a need for courageous leaders on both sides who seize the opportunities presented to them and make the most for their peoples.
To erect peace, it is essential to have trust, good will and security. It would be far-fetched at present to hope for peace in the short term. We should have little illusions about peace, at least so long as Hamas is determined to wipe Israel off the map. Israel does not even appear on Hamas maps. Israel should aspire to enter a long-term interim agreement; to build trust; evacuate isolated settlements; consolidate economic conditions for Palestinians; bolster security on both sides; stop enlarging existing settlements; dismantle checkpoints to make the lives of Palestinian civilians easier; develop the nautilus Iron Dom against rockets and other anti-rocket mechanisms. Finally, international cooperation is required to lift the existential Iranian threat.
 Tamar Hermann and Ephraim Yaar, “Is the Two-State Solution Still Relevant?”, The Israel Democracy Institute(September 5, 2018),https://en.idi.org.il/articles/24478?ct=t(EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_9_6_2018_16_39)
 Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967, http://unispal.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/7D35E1F729DF491C85256EE700686136
U.N. Security Council Resolution 338 of October 22, 1973,
UN Security Council Resolution1397 (March 12, 2002), http://www.rewordify.com/index.php?wpage=2001-2009.state.gov/p/nea/rt/11134.htm
For pertinent maps, see http://www.geneva-accord.org/mainmenu/static-maps/. See also West Bank “Settlement Blocs”, Peace Now, http://peacenow.org.il/eng/content/west-bank-%E2%80%9Csettlement-blocs%E2%80%9D
See Protocol Concerning Safe Passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip Signed in Jerusalem on October 5, 1999, http://www.israel.org/mfa/foreignpolicy/peace/guide/pages/protocol%20concerning%20safe%20passage%20between%20the%20west.aspx
 Analysts: Jerusalem deal boosts Jordan in Holy City, Ma’an News Agency(April 3, 2013), http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=581765
See Daniel Bar-Tal, “Challenges for Constructing Peace Culture and Peace Education”, and Salem Aweiss, “Culture of Peace and Education”, both in Elizabeth G. Matthews (ed.), The Israel-Palestine Conflict (London: Routledge, 2011): 209-223, 224-246.
Alan Dowty, Israel/Palestine(Cambridge: Polity, 2012): 243.
Yasser Okbi, “Report: Trump furthers program for Palestinian refugees in Arab countries”, Jerusalem Post(September 15,2018), https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Report-Trump-furthers-program-for-Palestinian-refugees-in-Arab-countries-566966
In the wake of Trump’s declaration about moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, any framework for peace has been destabilized and any sense of direction has been lost or at least seriously attenuated. And as of now, it doesn’t look like the peace process can meet the minimum standards of both sides. A peace process will proceed in one of two directions: given the volatility of the situation any “mistake” or unrealistic proposal can cause serious deterioration. On the one hand, the US and the PA can develop modest objectives that are stabilizing for the near term along with continuing to develop international coalitions. This is a stability path and is best for establishing the conditions of serious negotiations. It is a steady but slow path that can promote stability but also end up frustratingly grinding away at the same old issues.
The second path is more dangerous and can surely lead to tensions and differences. It is the path of escalating differentiations; that is, differences are exaggerated and produce progressive differentiation of the two groups. If political and cultural experiences are defined as sufficiently different or even incommensurate then the two sides can exaggerate those differences and drift increasingly into intractability.
If the announcement about moving the embassy is going to be used as a zero-sum game – in other words, each side sees itself as either gaining or losing only – then these adversarial groups will foreground the impediments to peace such as settlements, terrorism, religion, and begin the process of exaggerating differences. There was, as predicted, violence following the announcement but it was not particularly intense or drawn out violence. This is not to say that if the United States actually started to break ground on a building site then violence would be more imminent, but it was a good sign that the reaction was reasonably subdued.
Escalating differences is particularly destructive because the two sides grow farther apart and retreat into their own psychology of identity and historical narratives. The more the two groups are differentiated the more distorted the communication between them. Their group narratives and perceptions of the conflict are catapulted toward polarization on the basis of assumptions rooted in differentiation, separation, and between-group differences.
Given these two competing paths, what can be done? How can the process be influenced such that the two sides do not exaggerate differences but also engage in interactions that are supportive and lead the process in the desired direction.
First, there must be diplomatic efforts that blunt the pressures toward exaggerated differences. This requires dialogue and structured interactions designed to find mutuality. Ideally, the quartet (US, United Nations, European Union, and Russia) should be reconstituted and provide a constructive environment for the parties to reengage. Adding the two Arab countries that Israel has a peace agreement with (Egypt and Jordan) would be helpful.
Second, practical everyday issues must be addressed. The first is security. The training of Palestinian security forces by the United States to manage their own population and security issues has been successful. Such programs should be reinforced and continued. Next, is the issue of Gaza which is becoming increasingly explosive. There should be an increase in humanitarian aid and other Arab countries should be brought into the process, including funding, so as to bypass Hamas. And finally the Palestinian Authority must make efforts to eliminate corruption and promote a clean and transparent government that reverses the perceptions of corruption. Such perceptions delegitimize the peace process.
Changing the attitudes, beliefs, or values of someone else has always been a central research concern in the social sciences. Theories of social influence, group decision-making, contact, and conflict resolution are all concerned with solving problems or getting one party to change in an effort to redress differences or keep the peace. Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen in their book, Difficult Conversations, write about strategies for talking to one another when the subject is anything you find difficult to deal with. This could be political opinions expressed in a newspaper or relational issues between couples concerning gender, equity, or housework.
In my own book, Fierce Entanglements: Communication and Ethnopolitical Conflict, I write about difficult conversations between ethnopolitical groups where ethnicity and religion are implicated and the conflicts are contentious and intense with deep implications for identity and nationalism. So this issue of change or solving problems runs the gamut from mundane micro issues to politically significant macro concerns.
We see this distinction expressed in the realm of politics in the contrast between those with a slow hand and diplomatic sensibilities who search for common ground and invoke a strategy of engagement, compared to those who carry a bigger stick and keep an opponent in check out of fear or raw power. Scholars continue to argue over the basic theory here about whether or not reaching out to opponents and overtures of engagement and mutual reciprocity actually have any effect on adversaries, or whether or not a strong stance forcing adversaries into submission is more effective. This question is even more interesting when posed as an option for dealing with strong autocratic forces that have little history of democratization or facilitative engagement. The oppositional stance differences between Obama and Trump is an example.
But I would argue that the historical record, and the brunt of research efforts, clearly favors a strategy of accommodation rather than intimidation – a strategy of communicative contact and reciprocity. During the last few decades in the United States those with a more confrontational stance have claimed they favor engagement and reciprocity but demand conditions be met first by the other side such as democratization. Telling Iran or some ethnopolitical group they must democratize before the US will engage in respectful reciprocal relations is a grand goal but pretty unattainable. There are reasons to engage the other side without requiring them first to be more democratic.
For example, business relations and interdependent economic and financial exchanges are typically thought to be a form of rational engagement that promotes cooperation and has economic benefits. The standard thinking is that such economic arrangements promote peace and rapprochement, but there are arguments for the other way around that peaceful and cooperative relationships must come first and business exchanges follow. Clearly, a politician like Obama was attacked for referring to such a strategy and called “weak.” In fact, it went further than that because Obama was described as putting the country in jeopardy and subjecting us to disrespect.
But cautious engagement is better than mutual hostility that can escalate at any moment. Surely, cautious engagement requires the participation of both sides and reciprocity and this will take time. These “difficult conversations” must be developed and nurtured along a pathway to peace and their complexities are many. But still, by the standards of history and scholarship it is better than the alternative.
The two-state solution to the Palestinian problem continues to be a hopeful image and a rational solution that benefits everyone. Historically there was considerable popular support for the two -state solution but surprisingly enough it seems to be waning. The two-state solution is now in jeopardy. Mosaic, a magazine of Jewish thought, recently published a thorough article reporting polling results that serve as evidence for what Palestinians actually think of the two-state solution. The most common line of thinking has been that everyone supports the two-state solution but leadership and provocative actions from both sides threaten its possibilities.
And we don’t have to guess Palestinian opinions about two-states because polling the Palestinians is persistent and, according to experts, of high quality. Moreover, a variety of reputable organizations frequently poll the Palestinians.
So what do the Palestinians think of the two-state solution?
When asked a direct question about their support for the two-state solution, over a two-year period (from 2012 to 2014), 52% of the Palestinians supported a two-state solution. That number dropped to just under 50% from 2014 to 2016. The average level of support by Israelis was 59%. Over time that number decreased slightly.
This general question about two states is by itself only minimally of interest but when it is converted into specific policy the results are very interesting. One polling study offered to Palestinians a solution package that was beyond what had ever been endorsed by an Israeli government. Palestinians were presented with a two-state solution in which the state was established in line with 1967 borders, East Jerusalem would be the capital and Palestinians would control the Al-Aqsa mosque, they would be allowed a strong security force, and provisions would be made for refugees. The solution package was considered to be acceptable to Israelis and include a generous response to all key issues.
This hypothetical solution was met with more opponents than supporters. There were more opponents 14 times out of the 16 times the package was presented to the Palestinian public. The deal was rejected about 54% of the time and decreased over time such that an average of 61% opposed the deal. Palestinian opposition intensified when they were presented with specific components of a resolution. They rejected the definition of East Jerusalem as their capital, did not think the proposal for refugees was sufficient, and strongly rejected the requirement that Palestine be a demilitarized state. Finally, only 39% of the Palestinians responded affirmatively to a statement that required the recognition of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
There are other responses to the specific planks of the proposal but the main point as of now is that the Palestinians generally indicate support for two-state solution, but continue to express opposition to the specifics of a generous offer available in the near future. I would add that a number of Palestinians (especially intellectuals) support a one-state or a binational solution, which has never been acceptable to the Israelis or discussed seriously as a political possibility.
But the most troubling finding reported in the Mosaic article is that there has been a regular increase (13% to 18%) in the number of Palestinians who support an “Islamic solution” which calls for a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. This is a position more in line with a “liberation of Palestine” perspective rather than a negotiated political solution. When polls asked Palestinians to make a choice between a single state, or a two-state solution, an unexpected 62% indicate their preference for a Palestinian single state in all of historic Palestine. Subsequent polls found that “reclaiming historic Palestine” was the first choice of 60% of respondents.
This more extreme position does not bode well for negotiations or solutions to problems. It indicates a radicalization that will only further divide the two groups. It represents a rejection of the recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and polarizes the discourse by assuming positions that are untenable or considered extreme by the other side. The next post will explore in more detail the implications and the explanations for this liberation preference.
I recently returned from five months in Israel where I did many things but also had a chance to refine my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But this trip I spent a little more time trying to understand Palestinians – their wishes, goals, mentalities, and political aspirations. Below I say a few things about what I concluded. I know, and one hears this refrain regularly, that the Palestinians do not need one more Western academic, or any Westerner, telling them what to do. But I am going to offer up some observations anyway.
In short, the evidence seems to indicate that the Palestinians have missed opportunities, squandered finances, and generally failed to build institutions and infrastructure. Again, I understand that these are complex issues with complex explanations, and the Israelis are certainly not innocent. Let’s take a look at some specific points that I believe undergird this argument. There is a short informative reading on the state of the Palestinians here.
- The Palestinians have been governed by Fatah and Hamas. Fatah is secular and Hamas is a creation of the Muslim brotherhood. The competition between these two organizations has not served the Palestinians well. Neither Fatah nor Hamas governs in an effective and transparent manner. There has been no emergent collective political ideology and the divide between the two parties is wider than ever.
- Both Fatah and Hamas rely on authoritarian governance which alienates them from large sections of their population. The use of violence, patronage, and general corruption is a conservative influence and makes change difficult.
- The Palestinians have not moved beyond” liberation” as their primary agenda item. The two political parties spend little time on the challenges of governing because liberation from the occupation remains the central animating force. Although this is understandable, it remains the case that alternative narratives or workable pathways to liberation have eluded the Palestinian leadership.
- Related to all of these points, is the failure on the part of the Palestinians to build civil society. There is internal strife and dissatisfaction because basic governing structures don’t work well or exist at all. The world has poured money into Palestinian organization only to have little to show for it. True enough, that Palestinians have been successful at making their case on the world stage and garnering international sympathy. But this has all been at the cost of civil society and internal governing structure.
- Finally, I have come to the conclusion that political will and more attention by the United States is called for. The US must redirect some of its energy and resources toward the Palestinians and help work to develop their legitimacy in the context of their Israeli neighbors. Washington can directly support elements of civil society (schools, trade unions, community governance structures, medical and financial services) and contribute to the empowerment of Palestinians along with organizing them for civil political activity rather than “liberation.”
The strike against the Syrian al-Shayrat Air Base south of Homs is certainly controversial but generally supported around the world. The base was used as a launching pad in a chemical weapons attack that truly does cross a “redline.” As much success as Obama had as president – and he will ultimately be described as a successful president – he did fail to act against the Assad regime and of course was never to be taken seriously again with respect to Syria after his hollow threat about chemical weapons crossing redlines. And even though like much of the world I find Trump dangerous, unstable, lazy, and uninformed I have to give him credit for taking a moral and political stance that was difficult but necessary. Up until now, Assad had been confronted with little more than empty speeches condemning the use of chemical weapons.
One of the goals of foreign policy is to get others to recalculate their cost-benefit ratios. Assad’s calculations were much in his favor because his history told him that nobody was going to do much about his behavior. He used chemical weapons last week because he calculated he could get away with it. But now Assad has to recalculate his position. In an excellent policy report from the Washington Policy Institute, Michael Eisenstadt writes cogently about altering cost-benefit ratios and the variables that factor into Assad’s thinking. You can read it here. Here is one analysis along the way to a decision about whether or not to bomb Syrian airbases and what Assad is likely to do about it.
Historically Assad has shied away from military responses when he concludes that his opposition is aggressive and determined. The Israelis have on more than a couple of occasions struck Syrian targets because their intelligence told them that weapons were being transported to Hezbollah. And although Syria has at times returned fire most of the time they do nothing. And, of course, even though Obama threatened responses after crossing “redlines” the Syrians just ignored it and used chemical weapons anyway. They calculated that Obama would not respond and their actions would reap more benefits than costs. Eisenstadt concludes the following cost-benefit ratio and the decisions that go with them. These conclusions are based on historical occurrences as well as “logical” assumptions.
(1) Assad backs down when confronted with a strong and potentially threatening proponent. (2) If Assad is unsure of how an adversary counts his costs or benefits he will test the waters but then withdraw if things appear threatening. And (3) if Assad sees no major cost to his behavior he will proceed as he wishes. Of course there are other situational and strategic factors involved but the United States is in a position to use force to maximize the likelihood that the other side will recalculate cost-benefit ratios such that they realize predictable consequences. This is the only way ceasefires will be respected and some predictability can be inserted into the decision matrix that characterizes international brinksmanship exchanges.