Recently, the Israeli Knesset passed a controversial law commonly referred to as the “Nation-State Law.” This law goes beyond practical policy charting the course for the future character of the State of Israel.
And it is exactly in this symbolic conceptual plane that the Israeli Victory Project (IVP), a two-year old lobbying group led by Daniel Pipes, operates.
Together with measures such as the Taylor Force Act passed by the U.S. Congress earlier this year and its Israeli equivalent recently voted through the Knesset, the Israel Victory Project seeks a conceptual change, paired with concrete policy measures, to redefine the peace process and broader relations with Israel’s Palestinian counterparts. Both these measures target the Palestinian Authority’s practice known as “pay-for-slay,” which rewards convicted terrorists serving time in prison.
Why is victory an issue for Israel?
The Israel Victory Project is a somewhat paradoxical name. Hasn’t Israel already achieved fundamental victory? From surviving the War of Independence in 1948 and the complete rout of Arab forces in 1967, to overcoming the hardest military challenge in 1973? And didn’t we just recently celebrate Israel’s 70th year as a sovereign state? Yet, an important corollary of victory is actually missing: Peace.
With victory should come peace. Yet peace is absent in Israel’s relations with the Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). And further, millions still claim refugee status and the right of return to what is today considered Israel proper. This indicates that despite Israel’s military prowess, in a strategic sense victory continues to elude Israel.
Victory and defeat in the Israeli-Arab conflict
The absence of victory is not surprising in an Israeli strategic context. Strategic victory over the Arabs has always been regarded as an impossibility. Even if Israel defeated the combined armies of its Arab enemies and adversaries further afield, they would always have the territory and manpower to recover. The best Israel could ever hope for has been successful deterrence. This is why the IVP is more groundbreaking than meets the eye: The project seeks to remedy this fundamental strategic weakness.
The main corollary of victory is peace, and the problematic gridlock after a decades-old peace process with the Palestinians is what prompts the different approach. With a counterpart unresponsive to negotiated compromise due a conceptual inability to make even symbolic concessions, it is necessary to seek victory.
But what, then, is this victory? Simply put, the IVP puts forth facts on the ground and deconstructs diehard Palestinian concepts, but this does not entail a renewed struggle with the Palestinians. The military victory has already been won. It is the translation of military results in the political discourse and, thereby, political reality that has gone awry. And it is here the IVP becomes relevant.
The failure of the Oslo peace concept
A second basic corollary of victory is the defeat of the opponent. Peace is best made with defeated enemies because this allows the victor to dictate the terms of peace instead of engaging in messy, unsatisfactory negotiations. The main thrust of the IVP’s conceptual revamp is to provide a better framework than the failed Oslo Accords, which nevertheless still serve as a zombie framework for the peace process.
The IVP points out that these accords brought not peace or prosperity but “tyranny, failed institutions, poverty, corruption, a death cult, suicide factories, and Islamist radicalization.” At the same time, the Oslo framework perpetuates a false hope of claiming all of Israel for Palestine.
Flawed concepts led to equally flawed policy measures, i.e., premature recognition of the PLO and unilateral withdrawals. Unlike the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, which resulted in a robust albeit frigid peace with Egypt, these steps were failures because they were interpreted as weakness and demoralization on the Israeli side instead of a genuine willingness to compromise for the sake of peace.
Concrete policy measures and symbolic moves
So, what are the accompanying policy initiatives that go with victory?
“The goal here is not Palestinian love of Zion, but closing down the apparatus of war: shuttering suicide factories, ending the demonization of Jews and Israel, recognizing Jewish ties to Jerusalem, and ‘normalizing’ relations with Israelis.” (https://www.meforum.org/projects/israel-victory-project )
The practical steps involve an aggressive approach to UNRWA and the Palestinian education system. UNRWA perpetuates the detrimental paradox of refugee camps in Palestinian-controlled land and the unique concept of inherited refugee status, which Palestinians are the only refugee group to enjoy. Dismantling UNWRA and annulling the idea of the right of return would be key policy goals flowing from a victory-concept approach to policy.
At the symbolic level, the Trump administration’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has served as a conceptual jolt to the entire international scene. This is why the bold move was so essential: It sidesteps starting negotiations at a point where Palestinians aren’t conceptually ready to compromise even on completely legitimate Israeli claims. It is also important to bear in mind that Palestinian flexibility was at its peak in 1991, when the PLO was isolated after the end of the Cold War and had sided with Iraq in its first confrontation with the U.S.
The next round of negotiations
Ultimately, the Israeli Victory Project is a stepping stone, because the final destination for these efforts is peace. In this way, it proposes to achieve what the international community has failed to broker: an agreement with the Palestinians. But this will happen because the conceptual reality of victory and defeat are brought into alignment instead of negotiating with an enemy that refuses to accept the consequences of defeat, and who clings to goals that it can never hope to attain through negotiations.
Weaknesses in the victory concept
The Victory Project’s logic is ensnaring because it frees up Israel to dictate its own peace terms. Yet it risks being a conceptual throw of the dice with no certain outcome. Biblical passages indicate that the Palestinians will always be in the land (Joshua 23:13); albeit, biblical history also shows varying degrees of Israelite control of the Promised Land.
Defeat of the Palestinians will remain partly outside Israel’s control. As long as the Palestinians refuse to admit defeat, even if they be reduced to the most basic levels of resistance, the conflict will continue. Thus, the ability to impose this recognition on the Palestinian side is partially beyond Israel’s control.
An A for effort
Regardless of its potential limitations, the Israel Victory Project is a bold recasting of Israel’s conceptual approach to its conflict with the Palestinians. Furthermore, the active lobbying efforts and nascent policy formulations make this an organization to be reckoned with.