Two opposing mistakes are often made about victory. One is the idea that in war, victory is always the goal. The other is the idea that the goal in war must never be victory, but always compromise, because the pursuit of victory makes it harder to achieve peace.
In war, neither general rule is correct. Some wars can end when one side or the other is victorious. Others can only end when both sides accept compromise. And sometimes the pursuit of victory is the most
effective way to make a compromise possible. Whether or not it is necessary to pursue victory depends on the real goals of each side (recognizing that each side of a major conflict is rarely unified).
Middle East peace requires Israeli victory.
The judgment that peace between Israel and the Palestinians requires Israeli victory comes from a recognition of the nature of the conflict. It does not imply that the Palestinians’ rights, interests and desires should be ignored, or that they must be humiliated. Nor does it imply that Israel does not have to make concessions to the Palestinians. Not all the right is on Israel’s side.
Israel’s essential goal is to continue to exist in its homeland, and the Palestinians’ essential goal is the elimination of Israel. Thus, if one side wins, the other side loses. There is no way Israel can continue in peace and at the same time be eliminated. The two essential goals clash, making compromise impossible.
Victory is not a matter of declarations and celebrations. It means achieving your essential goal. Nor is defeat groveling and humiliation: it is giving up your central goal because you realize it cannot be achieved.
The Palestinians will have been defeated when they become convinced that Israel cannot be destroyed. That defeat would be tantamount to an Israeli victory, and it is required for peace to be possible. And for the Palestinians, their defeat — that is, Israel’s victory — would lead to great improvements in their lives.
The United States can promote an Israeli victory through a campaign of truth-telling and explaining three facts so insistently that their truth can no longer be ignored:
1. There has never been any “Palestinian territory” anywhere. That being the case, there cannot now be “occupied Palestinian territory.” Nor can Israel have stolen “Palestinian land.”
2. There were Jewish kingdoms in much of what is referred to as “Palestine” for hundreds of years before the birth of Islam. The Palestinian belief that the Jewish people are European colonialists invading the area with no historic claim or right is entirely false.
3. There are not millions of Palestinian “refugees.” A just peace in the area does not require that Israel take in so many Palestinians that it cannot continue to exist as a democratic Jewish state.
Max Singer, a founder and senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, is a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.