‘Peace’: A Deceptive and Dictatorial Word

After a long absence, “Peace” is back in the headlines – due, in large measure, to this week’s visit by the French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, trying to promote a new French initiative to somehow — by as yet unspecified means — resuscitate the moribund “peace process”.

 Much-needed clarification

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (right) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Perversely planned to take place sans Israel and the Palestinian-Arabs, the principle protagonists between whom it is purported to promote peace, the conference, has now, fortuitously, been delayed to accommodate the schedule of US Secretary of State Kerry, who apparently had better things to do than take part in yet another doomed charade to forge Mid-East “peace”.

However, despite its ill-conceived rationale and dauntingly dim prospects, the planned summit can — in fact, should — serve one constructive purpose.

This is that it can — in fact, should — focus attention not only on what the quest for the elusive condition of “peace” really entails, but on the even more fundamental question of what we actually mean (and what we can realistically expect) when we talk of “peace” — particularly as a desired goal, particularly in the Mid-East context and, particularly, from an Israeli perspective.

Indeed, the need for such clarification becomes even more vital and pressing because of recent reports of possible Egyptian involvement in attempts to initiate “peace” negotiations with Arab regimes, teetering on the brink of extinction and involving a perilous Israeli withdrawal to indefensible borders. All this in exchange for grudging recognition as a non-Jewish state by a partially no longer existent, partially disintegrating Arab world!

A dictatorial word

It takes little reflection to discover that, in fact, “peace” is a word that is both dictatorial and deceptive.

It is dictatorial because, like a dictator it brooks no opposition, no nay-sayers. Just as no-one can openly pronounce himself an opponent of a dictator without risking severe repercussions, so one cannot be openly branded  as opposing peace without grave consequences for one’s personal status, one’s professional stature — even not infrequently one’s very livelihood.

Indeed, life can be harsh for anyone with the temerity to challenge the tyrannical dictates of the politically-correct liberal perspectives. As British columnist Melanie Phillips remarked several years ago in an interview on Israel’s Channel One,

“Believe me, it has a very chilling effect on people, because you can lose your professional livelihood, your chances of promotion; you lose your friends.”

In a surprisingly candid admission, the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof  (“Confession of Liberal Intolerance,” May 7) conceded:

“Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological… We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.”

This peer-imposed doctrinaire uniformity has had a debilitating impact on the quality of intellectual discourse in general, and on the question of “peace” in the Middle East in particular.

Thus, for example, an earlier NYT opinion piece, “Academia’s Rejection of Diversity” (Oct. 30, 2015) by Arthur C. Brooks, cautioned: “Excessive homogeneity can lead to stagnation and poor problem-solving.” Citing studies that found a “shocking level of political groupthink in academia,” it warned ominously that “expecting trustworthy results on politically charged topics from an ‘ideologically incestuous community [is] downright delusional.’”

A deceptive word

The considerable potential for defective analysis in the intellectual discourse on such a “politically charged topic” as “peace” also accounts for another detrimental attribute that can be ascribed to the word “peace.”

For not only is it a rigidly dictatorial word, perhaps even more significantly, “peace” is a grossly deceptive term.

For the very same five letters can be — indeed, are — used to denote two very disparate — even entirely antithetical political situations.

Thus, on the one hand, “peace” can be used to designate a state of mutual harmony prevailing between parties; on the other hand, it can just as aptly be used to characterize an absence of violence between them, maintained by deterrence.

In the former, the word “peace” entails a situation in which violence is eschewed by mutual perception of a common interest in preserving a tranquil status quo, as the preferred option of all protagonists.

In the latter, it entails a situation in which violence is avoided because the protagonists are dissuaded from embarking on a course of violence as a preferred option only by the threat of incurring exorbitant cost.

The significance of this distinction goes far beyond a mere semantic curiosity. To the contrary, if not clearly understood, it is likely to precipitate calamitous consequences.

Common nomenclature: The perilous pitfalls

It is crucial in terms of practical policy prescriptions that the common nomenclature, “peace,” does not blur the sharp substantive differences between these two totally dissimilar political realities. For each requires completely different policies, not only to achieve, but more importantly, to sustain them. For the inappropriate pursuit of one kind of peace may well render the achievement — and certainly the preservation — of the other kind of peace impossible.

Clearly, “peace” of the mutual-harmony variety typically entails relationships characterized by openness, and free movement of people, goods, ideas and capital across borders. Perhaps exemplified by the relationship between Canada and the US, virtually no effort at all needs to be invested by one state in efforts to deter hostile action by the other state. Differences which arise are not only settled in a non-violent fashion, but the very idea of using force to do so is virtually inconceivable as a policy option. By contrast, in the second, deterrence-based variety of peace, perhaps typified by relations between the USA and USSR during the “Cold War” or between Iran and Iraq up to the 1980’s, the protagonists feel compelled to invest huge efforts in deterrence in order to maintain the absence of war.

Indeed, whenever the deterrent capacity of one state is perceived to wane, the danger of war becomes very real – as was the case in the Iraqi offensive against Iran, when the latter appeared sufficiently weakened in the wake of post-revolutionary disarray.

In this latter type of “peace” there is no harmonious interaction between the peoples of the states. The movement across frontiers, whether of human beings, goods, ideas or capital is usually highly restricted — always heavily regulated, often totally forbidden.

The perilous pitfalls (cont.)

It is therefore not surprising to find that “peace” of the “mutual harmony” variant prevails almost exclusively between democracies, since its characteristics of openness and unfettered trans-frontier interactions run counter to the nature of dictatorial regimes — in fact rendering such peaceful harmony almost conceptually unfeasible.

The perils of pursuit of one type of peace (mutual harmony) when only the other type (deterrence) is feasible, was succinctly summed up over two decades ago by Benjamin Netanyahu, in his widely-acclaimed book, A Place among the Nations: Israel and the World. In it, he too calls for making a clear distinction, differentiating between “peace of democracies” and “peace of deterrence.”

With considerable insight he wrote: “As long as you are faced with a dictatorial adversary, you must maintain sufficient strength to deter him from going to war. By doing so, you can at least obtain the peace of deterrence. But if you let down your defenses . . . you invite war, not peace.”

Over half a century earlier (1936), Winston Churchill underscored the dangers inherent in differing regime structures:

…the French Army is the strongest in Europe. But no one is afraid of France. Everyone knows that France wants to be let alone, and that with her it is only a case of self-preservation…They are a liberal nation with free parliamentary institutions. Germany on the other hand, under its Nazi regime…[where] two or three men have the whole of that mighty country in their grip [and] there is no public opinion except what is manufactured by those new and terrible engines — broadcasting and a controlled Press fills unmistakably that part [of]… the would-be dominator or potential aggressor.

Compromise counterproductive

To fully grasp the potential for disaster when a policy designed to attain a harmonious outcome is pursued in a political context in which none is possible, it is first necessary to recognize that, in principle, there are two archetypal and antithetical conflictual configurations.

In one, a policy of compromise and concession may well be appropriate; in the other, such policy will be devastatingly inappropriate.

In the first configuration, one’s adversary interprets any concession as a genuine conciliatory initiative, and feels obliged to respond with a counter-concession. Thus, by a series of concessions and counter-concessions, the process will converge toward some amicably harmonious resolution of conflict.

However, in the alternate configuration, one’s adversary does not interpret concessionary initiatives as bona-fide conciliatory gestures, but as a sign of vulnerability and weakness, made under duress. Accordingly, such initiatives will not elicit any reciprocal conciliatory gesture, but rather demands for further concessions.

But if further concessions are offered to assuage such demands, instead of convergence toward peaceable resolution, the result will be a divergent process. This will necessarily culminate in either total capitulation or large-scale violence – either (a) when one side finally realizes that its adversary is acting in bad faith and can only be restrained by force; or (b) when the other side realizes it has extracted all the concessions possible by non-coercive means – and further gains can only be won by force.

Accordingly, in such a scenario, compromise will be counterproductive; concessions will compound casualties and moderation will multiply the menace.

Whetting, not satiating, Arab appetites

Of course, little effort is required to identify that the conditions confronting Israel today resemble the latter situation far more than the former. No matter how many far-reaching compromises and gut-wrenching concessions it has made, they have never been enough to elicit any commensurate counter-concession/compromise from the Arabs. Indeed rather than satiate the Arab appetite, they have merely whet it, with each such gesture becoming the point of departure for further demands for even more far-reaching “gestures.”

Thus, if in any “peace” negotiations, compromises intended to induce counter-compromises actually undermine Israeli deterrence by increasing its perceived vulnerability, they will make war, not peace, more imminent.

Indeed, it was none other than Shimon Peres, in recent years one of the most avid advocates of the land-for-peace doctrine (or rather, dogma), who, in his programmatic book, Tomorrow is Now (Keter, 1977), warned vigorously of the perils of the policy he later embraced.

After detailing how surrendering the mountainous Sudeten region made Czechoslovakia vulnerable to attack, which eventually destroyed it (p. 235), Peres writes of precisely the concessions Israel is being pressured to make today to attain “peace” :

“Without a border which affords security, a country is doomed to destruction in war… It is of course doubtful whether territorial expanse can provide absolute deterrence. However, the lack of minimal territorial expanse places a country in a position of an absolute lack of deterrence. This in itself constitutes almost compulsive temptation to attack Israel from all directions …”

Ominously, he warns (p. 255):

“The major issue is not [attaining] an agreement, but ensuring the actual implementation of the agreement in practice.  The number of agreements which the Arabs have violated is no less than number which they have kept.“ 

Since then, of course, their record has hardly improved.

Will Netanyahu 2016 heed Netanyahu 1993?

Allow me to conclude with an excerpt from a 1996 Haaretz interview with Netanyahu, conducted by Ari Shavit , shortly after he was first elected prime minster, on positions he articulated in his book, A Place among the Nations (1993), which helped catapult him to political prominence:

Shavit: In your book, you make a distinction between … a harmonious kind of peace that can exist only between democratic countries, and peace through deterrence, which could also be maintained in the Middle East as it currently is. Do you think we need to lower our expectations and adopt a much more modest concept of peace?

Netanyahu: One of our problems is that we tend to nurse unrealistic expectations… when people detach themselves from reality, floating around in the clouds and losing contact with the ground, they will eventually crash on the rocky realities of the true Middle East.

Let us all hope that Netanyahu of today will heed the advice of Netanyahu of then. It is the only way Israel will be able to avoid the ruinous ravages of the deceptive and dictatorial word – “peace.”

 First posted at the Algemeiner

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