March 27, 2004

Taking The Palestinians Seriously

Steven Den Beste's current salvo regarding palestinian complaints about Israel's policy of targetted killings is right on the larger point of the sheer chutzpah of their outrage but, like the original miners in the Old West, leaves some wealth behind just sitting in the tailings.

The gold sitting there out in the open regards the subject of war. The palestinians, essentially, are complaining that the Israelis are not adopting the proper form of hypocrisy (you know, the one which would permit them to get exactly what they want) but rather are adopting a form of inconsistency that allows the Israelis to maximize their own gain on the international stage.

But hypocrisy is hypocrisy and it would do well for the Israelis to abandon it, though it would be tough sledding for awhile. The cause of the hypocrisy is the nature of Hamas and the rest of the intifada groups and what is their legal status both in the wider international system and in Israel itself.

The natural tendency would be for Israel to be in a state of war with palestinian groups that are committed to violence against it. This would put the members of these groups and their leadership in a state where they had the rights given to combatants under the laws of land warfare. It would be a tremendously clarifying stand and would both change international behavior and Israeli behavior. The idea of collective punishment would go right out the window, for example, but it is unlikely that in a true war situation the leadership of these groups would last very long. And without effective pro-violent leadership, it's quite likely that things would be very different in the palestinian territories today.

So why are we not seeing a declaration of war against the violent palestinian factions? Our old nemesis, the Peace of Westphalia, with its principle that war is a thing only between states, stands in the way. In fact, there was, a few years back, an injudicious statement (which I simply can't find on the net) where some high Israeli official said that they were at war with this or that group. This line of reasoning was immediately shut down because the Israeli consensus was, and probably still is, pro-Westphalian.

But Israel, I believe, is slowly learning that Westphalianism is impractical for it to continue to survive. The only question is when they're going to jump in support of the US and UK positions that Westphalia is dead and war, at least in the Gap, is possible between a nation state and a sub-national group.

I think that when this realization happens (and I hope it is soon) it's going to really fall in the pot. The other shoe will drop and everybody is going to realize just how big a change has been going on in the international system. They can either acquiesce to that change and live in the new world or the international system is going to fracture.

We're going to be living in interesting times for the foreseeable future.

Posted by TMLutas at March 27, 2004 12:44 PM