Thursday, October 30, 2008

Power of weakness


In all world politics - but especially in the Middle East - appearances can deceive. Although power is powerful and weakness is weak, power can weaken itself. Sometimes, weakness can even become a source of power. Nowhere is this paradox more apparent than in Israel's endlessly self-deceiving relationship with the Palestinians. From the start, the Palestinians, understanding the importance of language, have transformed their widely presumed weakness into a genuine source of power. Repeatedly, the "weak" Palestinians have outmaneuvered the "powerful" Israelis. For example, a few years ago the UN's International Court of Justice chose to condemn not the persistent criminality of Palestinian terrorism, but rather the fence erected by Israel to safeguard its citizens from suicide-bombers.

For almost 2,000 years, the Jews as a people remained stateless and defenseless. In a number of important spheres of human activity, however, they were still innovators and leaders. Today, when there does exist a sovereign Jewish state with modern weapons, as well as with advanced centers of science, learning and technology, the Jewish citizens of Israel comprise the most vulnerable Jews on the face of the earth.

The ironies are staggering. If we were also to consider ongoing Iranian nuclearization together with its openly exterminatory threats to Israel, Israel's Jews would likely represent the most vulnerable people on earth. For them, history must remain unspeakable.

The Palestinians - Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, it makes no real difference - are all fond of referring to their alleged "weakness." Still, they have exhibited considerable staying power in their pre-state form. Paradoxically, their oft-repeated "weakness" has been a prime source of this power.

The Arab world is comprised of 22 states, nearly 5 million square miles and more than 150,000,000 people. The overall Islamic world contains 44 states with well over 1 billion people. The Islamic states comprise an area 672 times the size of Israel.

The State of Israel, even together with Judea/Samaria (West Bank) is less than half the size of California's San Bernardino County. Leaving aside that present-day Jordan comprises 78 percent of the original British Mandate for Palestine, and that it has long had a substantial Palestinian majority, the now fratricidal Palestinian Authority is being encouraged to declare a second Palestinian state on land torn from the still-living body of Israel.

THE PALESTINIANS have consistently drawn tangible benefits from their alleged "weakness." Will "Palestine" enlarge Arab/Islamist power, or will it produce a weakened condition? Perhaps, with a tiny Jewish state existing next to a tiny Palestinian state, there will develop a mutuality of weakness. But this would be unlikely or even illogical, as power is always a verifiably relative notion.

Significantly, Plato wrote about the reality of ideas. In matters of national security, as in science, good ideas are always logically prior to good policy. With new leaders in Jerusalem and Washington, Israel and the US will soon need to fully understand the reciprocal ideas of power and weakness.

Israel must quickly understand that advanced weapons of war, however necessary, do not necessarily create decisive strength. By creating misjudgments of power, they can even create weakness.

Foreign policy making in Jerusalem and Washington has often displayed a marked absence of true learning. In the near future, the next prime minister and president should finally come to recognize that the core ingredients of power in world politics can be subtle and intangible. Oddly enough, these ingredients may even include weakness.

The writer, a professor of political science at Purdue University, is the author of 10 books.
This article can also be read at /servlet/Satellite?cid=1225199599438&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

No comments: