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Israel and Palestine: A Statist War

Mises Daily: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 by

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[An audio version of this review, read by Dr. Floy Lilley, is available as a free MP3 download.]

In light of recent events in Israel and Palestine, it seems appropriate to put forth a suggestion on how this seemingly never-ending conflict could be solved. To end the ongoing violence in the region, many pro-Palestinians are calling for the complete abolition of the Israeli state. This is actually not a bad idea, but it only addresses part of the problem. The real solution is to abolish both the Israeli and Palestinian states — for as long as these governments exist, there can be no peace and freedom in the region.

Indeed, from a statist point of view, the conflict is in a constant stalemate; both the Israeli and Palestinian governments and much of "their" respective citizens are laying a claim on the same piece of land. Both sides also back these claims with separate religious and historical arguments in a word-against-word battle that is impossible to arbitrate in any objective manner.

Violence is of course a hallmark of the conflict. On the one hand, Islamist nationalists in Palestine carry out suicide bombings and grenade attacks against various targets in Israel, as they consider the Israeli government to be illegally occupying "Palestinian" land. On the other hand, the Israeli government bombs Palestinian areas where it claims terrorists are residing, often hitting and killing civilians instead. All these violent attacks incite counterattacks from the opposite party of the conflict, thus creating an unremitting spiral of violence.

The problem, however, isn't which side is right, i.e., which of the two governments is entitled to control all or parts of the Israeli/Palestinian territory. The problem is the very existence of these two governments to begin with — and the fact that they lay claims to any land at all.

Let's examine the two main proposals that are typically put forward by statists as a way to resolve this six-decade-long conflict.

First is the popular two-state solution, the general idea of which is that both governments should coexist side by side and reach a peace agreement that will put an end to the violence. A vital condition for these agreements is, of course, that the two governments — one "Israeli" and one "Palestinian" — come to a final conclusion on what piece of land should belong to what country.

At present the "State of Palestine" is split up into two different areas: the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These are located some 25 miles apart (40 kilometers), which would make it very difficult to form one Palestinian country without joining these two areas geographically first. If this were done, however, Israel would get cut in half instead, which would be equally impractical. National outrage would also ensue among Israelis, particularly those living in the areas that would come under Palestinian rule.

It's also hard to imagine the Israeli government voluntarily handing over control of the West Bank to a Palestinian government, especially since it surrounds most of the city of Jerusalem, which is not only the de facto capital of Israel but is also considered a sacred city by both Jews and Muslims. Governments also have a tendency to try to expand their jurisdictions. This is certainly the case with the Israeli government, particularly regarding its presence in the West Bank. All this means the two governments would forever argue (or worse, fight) over which piece of land belongs to whom, as they both consider all or most of it to be rightfully theirs.

But even if this particular question were settled between the governments, they would still face the same problems with violence as before. After all, the main dispute that most radical Palestinian nationalists have with Israel doesn't concern the much-debated Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but rather the existence of the entire state of Israel itself. These Palestinians do not want to live under an Israeli government, no matter how small, and at the same time they consider all of Israel to belong to Palestine. Hence radical Islamists would continue their war against Israel for what they see as the continued illegitimate occupation of Palestine. The Israeli government would in turn retaliate by bombing Palestinian areas as a form of revenge or alleged terrorist hunt, thus sustaining the spiral of violence. All such attacks also have a hydra effect — kill one Palestinian or Israeli, and a dozen friends and relatives will swear to avenge the death of their loved one.

Further complicating the matter is the internal struggle for power within Palestine between Hamas and Fatah, parties that strive for two very different goals. Fatah, whose present stronghold is the West Bank, has shown interest in working with the Israeli government to achieve a two-state solution. In stark contrast, Gaza-based Hamas's primary goal is to get rid of the Israeli state altogether. Given Hamas's popularity and their militant activism, the prospect of political cooperation between the two parties is not a very realistic one.

It is also naive to think that a magical peace agreement will suddenly come along and settle all disputes between the two nations and all involved parties, especially judging by all former peace agreements that have been tried up until now. The latest of these were the Annapolis negotiations held in November 2007 (which Hamas boycotted), where the aim was to have a final resolution by the end of 2008. The grim irony here is that during the very last week of 2008 more than 400 people were killed in new clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli government.

This is why one must remember the core cause of the conflict, namely that the very existence of the Israeli state will never be tolerated by all Palestinians, and will always be met with violence. It is also a battle between two rivaling states, each competing for political and military control over the same territories.

This leads us to the second, less popular solution to the conflict, namely to merge the two warring nations into one single state. This could eliminate the border disputes, but leaves many other problems that would render this alternative an impossibility.

One of the most obvious of these would be the process of lawmaking within this new, unified country. One can only imagine the mayhem that would ensue if, for example, the present-ruling Israeli Kadima party and the Palestinian Hamas party were trying to cooperate on legislation, especially since Kadima (as well as the Likud party) consider Hamas a terrorist organization — and vice versa, in a sense. The major political parties from both countries have vastly differing opinions on everything from internal affairs to foreign policy: Israeli politicians tend to be more westernized and base much of their ethics in their Jewish faith, while most Palestinian politicians tend to be more left-wing and strongly influenced by Islam. Should then the present-day Israeli laws be preferred, or should the new government strive toward creating an "Islamic state" of the kind that Hamas wants to build? (This is not to say that all Israelis and Palestinians have diametrically differing views on ethics and politics, but it's a big enough problem to cause internal conflict on a grand scale.)

Another problem with the one-state solution concerns the balance of power within government. Israelis greatly outnumber Palestinians in the area, which means Palestinian politicians would most likely constitute a minority within parliament, and perhaps even be reduced to playing the role of constant opposition leaders. This would hardly please Palestinians seeking to decrease Israeli political power in the region. In fact, this system could quite possibly land the Palestinians less political power than they possess today. If the tables were turned, and the Palestinians and other Arabs got the upper hand in parliament through, say, a reverse Palestinian diaspora, many Israelis would find themselves in fierce disagreement with the government instead. This would doubtlessly provoke aggressive protests and civil unrest among Israelis.

A very real concern in both cases, then, would be that a civil war breaks out between "Palestinians" and "Israelis," or that large groups of people in some regions, such as Gaza, the West Bank, or parts of present-day Israel, would try to break free from the national state and form autonomous mini-states, using violence if necessary.

The differences in ethics and faith between Judaism and Islam generally poses no problem for a Jewish and a Muslim family living next door to each other (as they are both masters of their own property and lives), but becomes a major danger and obstacle for peace when turned into politics. After all, Jews and Muslims were living side by side for 13 centuries in the Arab world, until the creation of the State of Israel sparked hatred and conflict between the two groups in the region. This is therefore not a predominately religious conflict, but a political one.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal wrote the following in an editorial in the Guardian:

Our message to the Israelis is this: We do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture.… We have no problem with Jews who have not attacked us — our problem is with those who came to our land, imposed themselves on us by force, destroyed our society and banished our people.

Indeed, when the UN decided to split up the Palestine Mandate in 1947 and create the Israeli state, 70 percent of the population in the area was Palestinian, while the balance consisted of Zionist pioneers who owned approximately 8 percent of the land. Giving a minority group political power over other people's land in any part of the world and between any kind of ethnic or religious groups is asking for trouble.

One must also remember that it's not just Palestinians who are paying a high price in human lives from this conflict. The Israeli government jeopardizes the safety and well-being of Israelis, Jews and other civilians all over the world by its very existence. Countless hijackings and terrorist attacks have been carried out over several decades by pro-Palestinians as a protest against Israel. In one of the most recent examples, two Israeli salesmen were shot in Denmark around New Year by a Palestinian man in what is thought to have been an act of revenge for the Israeli government's recent attacks on the Gaza Strip. Just as many innocent Americans have been automatically associated with the cruel acts of George W. Bush, so have many innocent Israelis been associated with the misdeeds of the Israeli government.

"This democratic 'triumph,' however, is actually one of the biggest obstacles for peace in this conflict."

Israel is often hailed by western supporters as a beacon of democracy in a region with largely undemocratic governments. This democratic "triumph," however, is actually one of the biggest obstacles for peace in this conflict. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe points out in his book Democracy: The God That Failed and elsewhere, democratic governments do not fear going to war with other countries and wasting enormous amounts of resources in the process.

There are several mainly economical reasons for this. One is the fact that Israeli politicians do not actually own the government of Israel, but are mere administrators of it. Thus they have little economic interest in keeping a tight rein on government spending, as they are only spending other people's money and for a limited time only. It also means that the government is less worried about the market value of the areas it invades or occupies, since the politicians as nonowners aren't in a position to sell the war-torn land once they've seized it. Using bombs and military might to fight any perceived foreign threats thus becomes an all too "easy" way out.

Democratic governments often succeed in making the greater population support such military campaigns by portraying them as necessary and natural responses to foreign attacks on "us" and "our nation," hence playing on basic patriotic sentiment.

Furthermore, since the government's main revenue source is taxation, i.e., extracting money from "customers" by force or threat of force, there are no sales-based profit-and-loss calculations to take into consideration. For most governments, spending more than they earn is a rule rather than an exception. Indeed, the "national" debt of Israel has been trailing the 100%-of-GDP mark for several years, standing at more than 80% in late 2007.

Governments also have no competitors to fear, in the sense that no one else can poach their "clients" by giving them a better deal on police protection or other services presently monopolized by the government. "Value for money" is therefore a catchphrase that governments scarcely need pay attention to.

Contrast all this with the "third" solution: to abolish both the Israeli and Palestinian states. First, this would, without a doubt, free the region of a great deal of the conflicts experienced today. After all, the goal of all Palestinian militant groups — to get rid of the Israeli state — would now be fulfilled. Hence there would be no "need" for them to attack any parts of former Israel, as there would be no Israeli government to fight. In return, there would not be any "need" for former Israeli troops to bomb Palestinian areas in a war against terrorism.

Secondly, the private protection agencies taking on the task of offering police and military protection would operate in a radically different way than the present governments. Unlike politicians, the owners of such agencies would always have to take into consideration whether spending huge amounts of money on wars would be a good way of settling disputes. This decision would be made easier by the fact that these agencies have very limited budgets, thanks to their revenue stream coming from voluntary customers. Wars are costly and would dig a deep hole in any protection agency's budget, which they wouldn't be able to just crawl out of by raising taxes, printing money, or going into huge debt by selling the equivalent of government bonds.

Furthermore, the protection agencies would have to compete among themselves for customers, which means going out of their way to offer the "value for money" that governments so arrogantly disregard. This means good services at low prices, which also doesn't leave much of a profit share to be spent on wars. Customers would also be more interested in their protection agencies spending any profits on improving their protection and lowering prices rather than wasting money on senseless wars.

But isn't Palestine a largely anarchist society today? The short answer is no. While some parts of the West Bank are de facto in what could be described as a state of "anarchy," at least two governments are competing for control over these areas. Much of Somalia was also "stateless" for several years, but during that whole time at least three governments (the United States, the Ethiopian, and the exiled Somali government) were intervening and trying to destabilize and gain control over the country. Just because there is limited government control doesn't mean that there's no government control.

But what about the governments of Iran, Syria, or other neighboring countries? Wouldn't they seize the opportunity to invade the stateless Israel/Palestine area? For starters, it's difficult to see what the target of this attack would be. With the aggressive Israeli government gone, and Israelis and Palestinians living side by side with no ability to oppress each other through political means, there would be nothing for these bandit states to attack.

If the Iranian government or others saw the stateless Israeli/Palestinian region as an opportunity to march in and establish an Islamic state (which of course would require the use of force, just as with the creation of any government), they would have to fight the protection agencies first. This may, at a first glance, seem like a walk in the park for the Iranian military to defeat a group of private, independent protection agencies with much smaller "armies," but looks can deceive. There are basically two ways to defeat any large government army: one method is to have an even bigger and more advanced army, and the other is by using small militias and insurgency groups. There are countless historical examples of the latter: the Vietcong against the US military; the Taliban against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; the Americans against the British government during the American Revolution; and, for that matter, the militant Palestinian groups that have kept the Israeli army busy for half a century.

It's a lot more difficult to fight an enemy who doesn't "exist" or isn't clearly recognizable and definable than it is to fight a government army. This is, of course, something the US government has come to realize during the war in Iraq. At first the US military easily defeated the worn-down Iraqi-government army, but since then it has spent more than $500 billion fighting Iraqi insurgents who come out of nowhere and blend in with the locals.

"The only way to achieve prosperity is through peace and commerce."

Furthermore, many of today's Israelis are both well armed and well trained for combat, thanks to Israel's stormy past. This would likely continue to be the case in a stateless Israel, particularly among Jews, given the high number of rogue Islamic states nearby.

Conclusively, it is vital for the Zionist movement to realize that the idea of an Israeli land does not equate to, nor require, an Israeli state. It is also vital to realize that there can never be peace and stability in the region as long as there is an Israeli government, nor can there ever be a "free Palestine" as long as there is a Palestinian government. The only way to achieve prosperity is through peace and commerce, and that can only come through a stateless society.