National Security & Defense

Peace Is Impossible in the Face of Permanent War

I would urge everyone to read Mario Loyola’s extended piece on the home page about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It serves as a useful reminder of the truth that Dennis Prager so effectively articulates — the conflict is a complex problem with a simple cause. The simple cause is the persistent Arab desire to destroy Israel. The complex problem is creating “peace” when that desire persists for generations.

Mario’s six steps would offer a necessary corrective to several decades of bipartisan American wishful thinking in the Middle East, but I fear that we still don’t get — and won’t get — the nature of the challenge we face. We have to face the possibility that Israel faces more or less permanent war — or at least war with no end in sight. For example, accomplishing Mario’s first two steps — requiring universal recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and requiring the Palestinians to prove that they can run a competent administration, free of incitement and terrorism — would require not only years of decisive diplomatic and military efforts, it would also require profound Palestinian culture change. 

In that circumstance, the goal of the nation-state isn’t to secure peace but to wage the necessary war in a sustainable manner — securing as much as possible peace and prosperity on the home front, minimizing losses, and maximizing military results. In fact, one could argue that since the worst days of the Second Intifada, Israel has grown very effective at waging its permanent war. Gaza is isolated, periodic military operations keep Hamas from gaining any real striking power, and thanks to walls and improved security measures, even the much larger West Bank has less real capability of hurting Israel. In the meantime, Israel’s economy and population have continued to grow, and Israelis enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Americans and Europeans may be facing a version of the Israeli reality. So long as jihadist Islam finds purchase with a sufficient number of Muslims, the terror threat will loom. We should now know — fifteen years after 9/11 — that one cannot negotiate or reason with pure religious hatred. If the mandate is “convert or die” (or, for Israelis, just “die”), then there is no choice but to fight, and to learn to do so in a way that preserves our way of life and fundamental liberties as much as possible. 

Wars end through surrender and negotiated settlements, but they can also end through exhaustion. The goal is to exhaust the enemy, not yourself, and since 1967 Israel has done a very good job of sustaining its national vitality even in the face of unrelenting hate. The fact that there is no peace is not an Israeli failure. The fact that Israel prospers is a magnificent achievement.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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