In the Art of War, the oldest military treatise in the world, Chinese writer Sun Tzu states: “ All warfare is based on deception.”
If Sun Tzu were alive today and had witnessed the Arab-Israeli conflict, he surely would have had a great deal of observations to make, and not only about war as deception: About how the Anglo-French-Israeli military campaign against Egypt in 1956 turned into a political disaster for the invaders and a triumph for Egypt; about the lightening speed of the 1967 Israeli assault on Egypt, Jordan, and Syria; about Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat’s brilliant use of deception that preceded the 1973 war.
Sun Tzu would have certainly commented about the lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful Lebanon campaign in 1982.
Applying Sun Tzu’s thinking to the diplomatic warfare at the UN, that is pitting Israel and the US on one side, and the Palestinians and much of the international community, on the other side, leads to the following conclusion: Despite their crushing military superiority, the American/Israeli side is astonishingly weak diplomatically. Its arguments are unreasoned, its statements indefensible, and its assertions unsupported. In short, the weakness of its position is reflected in the incoherence of its arguments.
And thus one is tempted to formulate a new Sun Tzu principle for the Art of Political War: When your opponent appears confused and incoherent, despite his military superiority, it is a sign of weakness; press your political advantage — while leaving him a way out.
The Palestinians are seeking a UN declaration proclaiming Palestinian independence, and possibly admitting Palestine as a member state to the UN.
President Barack Obama, caught between vetoing the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and angering Israel and its powerful supporters in the USA, opted for expediency and threatened to veto Palestinian requests.
You would think that involving the UN in affirming the Palestinian people’s right to independence is a reasonable political initiative.
After all, it was a UN resolution (181) in 1947 that recommended the partition of Palestine, thus giving judicial basis for the establishment of the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. Is the UN useful when it serves the interests of Israel, but irrelevant when it serves those of Palestine?
The Palestinian initiative, however, viewed from Washington, is most unreasonable. It seeks to replace the deadlocked peace process with a set of dynamic initiatives that strengthen Palestinian access to various UN agencies, especially the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Access to the ICC would enhance Palestinian ability to hold Israel accountable for various charges of breach of international law including charges of war crimes against the people of Palestine. This would be a formidable development which Israel would be most anxious to block.
The US is virtually alone in defending the untenable Israeli position. And thus, trying to rally support for palpably untenable positions, leads directly to confused and untenable arguments.
Consider the American arguments. In urging some 70 countries not to support any unilateral moves by the Palestinians at the UN, the State Department argued that such a vote would ‘destabilise the region’ and ‘undermine peace efforts.’ How a UN diplomatic initiative can ‘destabilise’ the region and undermine ‘peace efforts’, is not clear. Is not the UN Palestinian initiative itself part of the ‘peace efforts’?
The same argument is repeated by Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently told the visiting EU Parliament President Jerzy Buzek that if the UN General Assembly recognised the Palestinian state, it would “bring peace talks with Israel” to a deadlock.
I hope Buzek asked the obvious question: “Tell me prime minister where are your country’s peace talks with the Palestinians right now?
The Obama administration has reportedly circulated a proposal for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. But whatever credibility Obama may have had as a result of his early and credible commitment to a peaceful settlement, has been tarnished by his repeated failures to stand up to Netanyahu.
Obama administration officials have also argued that an important statement by the Quartet (UN, EU, USA, and Russia) outlining a “series of meetings and actions” would likely change the dynamics and possibly prove more attractive than the sought-after UN resolution.
This is simply wishful thinking. The misnamed peace process has been principally moved by Washington, with the other members of the Quartet standing by for the occasional meetings and obligatory statement (although no statement was issued at their recent Washington meeting). If Washington failed to convince its stubborn Israeli ally to take the peace process seriously, why would the members of the Quartet — who do not have nearly as much leverage over Israel as Washington does — be more successful?
The Palestinians have the support of some 130 states ready to vote for an independent Palestine at the UN, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
And what are the Palestinians being offered as an incentive to abandon their effort at the UN? I am glad you asked. They are being offered “a series of meetings and actions” by the Quartet. Simply laughable.
Writing recently in the Israeli paper Haaretz, Louis Rene Beres asserts — without any supporting evidence — that the Palestinian initiative is an attempt to circumvent Oslo and the road map. Beres may not have noticed but Oslo has been torpedoed by Netanyahu, who admitted so himself. The road map has been frozen by Sharon whose principal aide Dov Weissglass admitted in an interview with Haaretz in Oct 2004, that Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan was meant to freeze the peace process and remove the road map from the agenda.
Reasoned arguments are conspicuously absent on the American-Israeli side because its position is thoroughly untenable and inherently weak.
Sun Tzu advised: “In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” The UN Palestinian initiative is a diplomatic strike at the right place.
Adel Safty is Distinguished Professor Adjunct at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky, and published in England by Garnet, 2009.