Thinking Aloud: Kitchen Knives and the Limits of Tactics

Nov. 12, 2014 by Darius 

A recent spree of stabbings and car attacks have put the Israel-Palestine conflict firmly back in the headlines.  The attacks show what should have been obvious all along: Israel still doesn’t have a long-term strategy to deal with the Occupied Territories after nearly 50 years.

Instead, Israel has focused on tactics – preventing Palestinians from having access to guns and bombs with which to carry out attacks.  That’s why these latest attacks were carried out with knives and cars instead of guns and bombs.  Israeli tactics have kept the death rate much lower than it would have otherwise have been.  That’s to be admired.  But tactics, no matter how good, are not a replacement for a real strategy to end the conflict.

When Israel originally took East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in 1967, their main fear was that neighboring Arab states would see Palestine as a reason to continue war against Israel.  Based on many accounts of the period, Israeli policymakers intended to eventually cede Israel’s claims to most of this territory in return for comprehensive peace agreements with Israel’s Arab neighbors.  The trick was to drive the best bargain possible.  Over time, though, the situation changed.  With the US guaranteeing Israel’s military superiority and helping underwrite peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, though, neighboring Arab states became less of an issue.  The Gulf kingdoms eventually became quiescent, and Syria and Lebanon could be bullied as necessary.

But the strategic need to deal with the territory acquired in 1967 didn’t go away.  It merely shifted.  After all, the territory came with people.  A lot of people.  A lot of angry Arab people. With the departure of neighboring Arab countries from the battle for the land, Palestinian people themselves picked up the fight.  It has now been the Palestinians’ fight for roughly 40 years, and Israel has used tactics with great efficacy.  Today, the Palestinian Liberation Organization has been thoroughly co-opted into the toothless Palestinian Authority and Hamas gets knocked around in Gaza every few years.  Israelis in Israel aren’t dying.

Yet these latest attacks, hardly the coordinated military operations of old, show again the limits of tactics.  After all, is the Israeli military really going to take away cars and kitchen knives?  History has shown that an angry, repressed people almost always finds a way to make others share their pain.

Israel needs a strategy to deal with the Palestinians.  And no, pretending to have a “peace process” while building more settlements isn’t a strategy.  At best, that’s more tactics – trying to grab as much as possible before someone stops them.  Sadly, despite having nearly 50 years to come up with something, at present there seems to be no political will in Israel for any strategy to deal with the Palestinians themselves.

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