Immanuel Wallerstein: What Can Israel Achieve?





[Mr. Wallerstein is a sociologist and is considered by some "the dean of global history."]

The State of Israel was established in 1948. Ever since, there has been continuous violence between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and between Israel and its neighbors. Sometimes, the violence was low-level and even latent. And every once in a while, the violence escalated into open warfare, as now. Whenever full- scale violence broke out, there was an immediate debate about what started it, as though that mattered. We are now in the midst of warfare between Israel and Palestine in Gaza and between Israel and Lebanon. And the world is engaged in its usual futile debate about how to reduce the open state of warfare to low-level violence.

Every Israeli government has wished to create a situation in which the world and Israel's neighbors recognize its existence as a state and intergroup/interstate violence ceases. Israel has never been able to achieve this. When the level of violence is relatively low, the Israeli public is split about what strategy to pursue. But when it escalates into warfare, the Jewish Israelis and world Jewry tend to rally around the government.

In reality, Israel's basic strategy since 1948 has been to rely on two things in the pursuit of its objectives: a strong military, and strong outside Western support. So far this strategy has worked in one sense: Israel still survives. The question is how much longer this strategy will in fact continue to work.

The source of outside support has shifted over time. We forget completely that in 1948 the crucial military support for Israel came from the Soviet Union and its eastern European satellites. When the Soviet Union pulled back, it was France that came to fill the role. France was engaged in a revolution in Algeria, and it saw Israel as a crucial element in defeating the Algerian national liberation movement. But when Algeria became independent in 1962, France dropped Israel because it then sought to maintain ties with a now- independent Algeria.

It is only after that moment that the United States moved into its present total support of Israel. One major element in this turn-around was the Israeli military victory in the Six Days War in 1967. In this war, Israel conquered all the territories of the old British Mandate of Palestine, as well as more. It proved its ability to be a strong military presence in the region. It transformed the attitude of world Jewry from one in which only about 50% really approved of the creation of Israel into one which had the support of the large majority of world Jewry, for whom Israel had now become a source of pride. This is the moment when the Holocaust became a major ideological justification for Israel and its policies.

After 1967, the Israeli governments never felt they had to negotiate anything with the Palestinians or with the Arab world. They offered one-sided settlements but these were always on Israeli terms. Israel wouldn't negotiate with Nasser. Then it wouldn't negotiate with Arafat. And now it won't negotiate with so-called terrorists. Instead, it has relied on successive shows of military strength.

Israel is now engaged in the exact same catastrophic blunder, from its own point of view, as George Bush's invasion of Iraq. Bush thought that a show of military strength would establish U.S. presence unquestionably in Iraq and intimidate the rest of the world. Bush has discovered that Iraqi resistance was far more formidable militarily than anticipated, that American political allies in Iraq were far less reliable than he assumed they would be, and that the U.S. public's support of the war was far more fragile than he expected. The United States is heading towards a humiliating withdrawal from Iraq.

Israel's current military campaign is a direct parallel of Bush's invasion of Iraq. The Israeli generals are already noting that Hezbollah's military is far more formidable than anticipated, that U.S. allies in the region are already taking wide distance from the United States and Israel (note the Iraqi government's support of Lebanon and now that of the Saudi government), and soon will discover that the Israeli public's support is more fragile than expected. Already the Israeli government is reluctant to send land troops into Lebanon, largely because of what it thinks will be the reaction of its own people inside Israel. Israel is heading towards a humiliating truce arrangement.

What the Israeli governments do not realize is that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah need Israel. It is Israel that needs them, and needs them desperately. If Israel wants not to become a Crusader state that is in the end extinguished, it is only Hamas and Hezbollah that can guarantee the survival of Israel. It is only when Israel is able to come to terms with them, as the deeply-rooted spokespersons of Palestinian and Arab nationalism, that Israel can live in peace.

Achieving a stable peace settlement will be extremely difficult. But the pillars of Israel's present strategy - its own military strength and the unconditional support of the United States - constitute a very thin reed. Its military advantage is diminishing and will diminish steadily in the years to come. And in the post-Iraqi years, the United States may well drop Israel in the same way that France did in the 1960s.

Israel's only real guarantee will be that of the Palestinians. And to get this guarantee, Israel will need to rethink fundamentally its strategy for survival.

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact: rights@agenceglobal.com, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: immanuel.wallerstein@yale.edu.

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]


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Arnold Shcherban - 8/11/2006

Mr Cippola,
If I may: there would be an absolute waste of time on your part to debate on any topic that can lead to even tangential and minute criticism of Israeli or, for that matter, of the related US policy in Middle East with the person who as irresponsive to any relevant factual and logical arguments of anyone, ie. with such Zionist ideological zealot as Mr. Kovachev displayed himself on HNN boards through all his comments.
His main ideological credo: Israel
and US in its wholesale support of the latter are always right, even when they are wrong.


Peter Kovachev - 8/10/2006

Have you thought about your logic, Mr. Cippola? Try reading what you wrote again.

Israel's enemies want its destruction, but Israel is to blame for not negotiating with them in "good faith"? As for the "paltry" deal, it represented 96 % of the unreasonable and unrealistic demands made by the Arab world through the Arafat puppet. Yet when this came close to being realized, they panicked and went nuts with the "intifada." When Israel withdrew from Gaza, the "Palestinians" responded by firing rockets into civilian Israeli communities. Are these signs of a responsible people eager to begin nation-building? Because of the lataest series of "Palestinian" and Iranian stupidities, there is a high probability that an independent state of "Palestine" will never happen.

And why would Israel *need* enemies? With or without enemies, Israel doesn't need US financial support on an existential level, only to maintain its high living standards on par with the most advanced free market economies. Look at the cold, hard numbers issued by your own government; US support represents a very small percentage in Israel's otherwise robust economy. Your logic is not even circular, it's absent.


Peter Kovachev - 8/10/2006

No, Ms. Kazmier, the only shortsightedness Mr. Wallerstein exposed is his own. And if he is an an antisemite it would be because he applies standards to Israel not applied to anyone else and because he can barely conceal his desire for Israel's destruction or subjugation, even if it's by the world's most repugnant actors since Nazi Germany.

As for the rest of your comment, the only thing it communicates is your confusion. You are not to blame for that, as Mr. Wallerstein's article doesn't actually make much sense. You could, though, work a little on your English communication skills, if I may humbly suggest. Not that I'm perfect; if you were to hear my accent, and the way I mis-pronounce words, you'd collapse laughing.


Peter Kovachev - 8/10/2006

Good heavens. More like "the Dean of Stale Arabists Agitprop."

Here we go:

"Whenever full- scale violence broke out, there was an immediate debate about what started it, as though that mattered." (Wallerstein)

Of course. Sequences, causes, chronologies and such "fluff" don't matter to propagandists (and sociologists?) only to historians, one of which which Mr. Wallerstein is clearly not.

"...Israel still survives. The question is how much longer this strategy will in fact continue to work." (Ibid.)

This "strategy," which is actually Jewish survival, against backward lunatics caught up either in neo-fascist nationalism or jihadism will have to be utilised again and again and for as long as oil money can fuel these pathologies. Once their fortunes inevitably decline, the Arab world and Iran will have bigger problems than to worry about imaginary "Palestinians" and their imaginary cause.

"Israel's current military campaign is a direct parallel of Bush's invasion of Iraq." (Ibid.)

Not at all. The US isn't subject to rocket attacks and is not being asked to fight a war under such crudely biased demands and criticism by the famed "international comunity" (read: the world's worst dictators and obedient oil consumers).

"It transformed the attitude of world Jewry from one , for whom Israel had now becomin which only about 50% really approved of the creation of Israel into one which had the support of the large majority of world Jewrye a source of pride. This is the moment when the Holocaust became a major ideological justification for Israel and its policies." (Ibid.)

I must ask: Is historical ignorance resulting in idiotic conclusions a requirement for becoming a "dean of global history"? Zionism followed a similar pattern and timelines of all other nationalists and national liberation movements. Political Zionism and popular support for it predates the Holocaust by several decades at least. Israel was being already being settled by Jews when it was still being mismanaged by the Ottomans and by Britain. The Holocaust was more than a "justification;" after being nearly wiped out, Europe's Jews rightly concluded that their European "phase" was over and being unable to book tickets to Mars, had little choice but to seek a return to their rightful homeland.

"After 1967, the Israeli governments never felt they had to negotiate anything with the Palestinians or with the Arab world." (Ibid.)

How does one "negotiate" with those demading one's exctinction? But this line too is a falsehood. Israel tried to and at times succeeded in negotiating with their neighbours, even (unwisely) sacrificing important strategic gains like the Sinai Peninsula.

"Israel wouldn't negotiate with Nasser. Then it wouldn't negotiate with Arafat. And now it won't negotiate with so-called terrorists. Instead, it has relied on successive shows of military strength." (Ibid.)

One doesn't negotiate with the inconsequential. Nasser was a servant of the Soviets, Arafat and his manufactured "Palestinians" were flunkies of the Arab states and the "so-called" terrorists, Hezbollah, are Iran's fodder.

"...it is only Hamas and Hezbollah that can guarantee the survival of Israel." (Ibid.)

LOL! I just can't possibly comment on this.

Wallerstein does bring out a few points, though; Israel should not count unconditionally on the US, but needs to make aliances with others, especially nations who are also under attack by either Arab nationalism or globad jihad. India and China come to mind. The cornerstones of Israel's survival are its military competence and its exceptional economic and industrial competence. Even if Israel is forced to reach an unsatisfactory ceasefire, few will be fooled that this is a sign of Israel's military weakness. Everyone knows that the Hezbollah problem could have been solved within a week if Israel's hands were not tied with unrealistic demands for protecting Hezbollah human shields and if it had turned its attention to the source of this conflict, Iran.

Like a kid straight out of high school, Wallerstein makes predictions on his wishful thinking, his ideology and projections based on static models. While the West is willing to help out the Islamic world now because of its need for cheap oil, the tables will rapidly turn when this layout changes. Then, the "Palestinians," who never prepared for statehood because they never wanted statehood, will be obscured by true victims and by genuine national movements such as those of the Darfurians, Chechens, Kurds, sub-Saharan Africans and Tibetans.


Lisa Kazmier - 8/5/2006

I hear ya but it seems that argument could apply to extremists in Hamas/Hezbollah need an enemy, too. That's why I don't get how one need is greater. Did I miss the explanation?


Stephen Cipolla - 8/5/2006

Obviously, Professor Wallerstein can speak for himself. But, I believe that Israel's "need" for Hamas and Hezbollah is a recapitulation of its prior "need" for the continued Arafat and the PLO. Without the existence of a constant military threat from radical Islamic(READ: "irrational") groups, Israel's constant refusals to engage in good faith peace negations are undermined completely. Remember the paltry deal offered to the PLO in Oslo, which distributed Palestinian "sovereignty" across the desert like spots on a Dalmation puppy. Similar to the US during the cold war with the USSR, Israel needs enemies more than it needs peace. Peace would possibly bring devastating effects on Israel's political status here in the US, and render its cries for monetary and military support inaudible on the world stage. Like I said, I am not in a position to interpret Immanuel Wallerstein, but I am guessing that at least some part of my response is close to what he was getting at in the use of the term, "need."


Lisa Kazmier - 8/5/2006

This is sensitive piece that has a lot of logic to it. Of course, someone is sure to claim you must be a anti-Semite since you don't back Israel 100%. I think you expose the shortsightedness of that view.

I would wonder why Israel needs Hamas/Hezbollah more? I would think they sorta need each other's militancy to be militant themselves. For example, Israel fuels support even for that outlandish Iranian president by seeming to justify his posturing. This is turn fuels the Israelis to think they must dictate a settlement on their terms. The cycle continues as it has continued. I can't see which comes first. To me it's been a case of alternating. Why does Israel need these militants more?