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Daydreaming with Stephen Walt

Stephen Walt, co-author of “The Israel Lobby,” is now a blogger at the revamped Foreign Policy website. In one of his opening salvos, Walt proposes what he calls a “thought experiment,” although one suspects that, for him, this is closer … Read More

By / January 16, 2009

Stephen Walt, co-author of “The Israel Lobby,” is now a blogger at the revamped Foreign Policy website. In one of his opening salvos, Walt proposes what he calls a “thought experiment,” although one suspects that, for him, this is closer to erotic fantasy:

Imagine that Egypt, Jordan, and Syria had won the Six Day War, leading to a massive exodus of Jews from the territory of Israel. Imagine that the victorious Arab states had eventually decided to permit the Palestinians to establish a state of their own on the territory of the former Jewish state. (That’s unlikely, of course, but this is a thought experiment). Imagine that a million or so Jews had ended up as stateless refugees confined to that narrow enclave known as the Gaza Strip. Then imagine that a group of hardline Orthodox Jews took over control of that territory and organized a resistance movement. They also steadfastly refused to recognize the new Palestinian state, arguing that its creation was illegal and that their expulsion from Israel was unjust. Imagine that they obtained backing from sympathizers around the world and that they began to smuggle weapons into the territory. Then imagine that they started firing at Palestinian towns and villages and refused to stop despite continued reprisals and civilian casualties.

Here’s the question: would the United States be denouncing those Jews in Gaza as “terrorists” and encouraging the Palestinian state to use overwhelming force against them?

Here’s another: would the United States have even allowed such a situation to arise and persist in the first place?

From the way he poses these two questions, Walt suggests that his answer to both of them is “no.” To arrive at those conclusions though, he has to contort his experiment in such a way as to exclude the likeliest outcome: one which, for political reasons, he’d rather not consider.

Take the fact that the population of Israel in 1967 was 2.9 million. From that, we can conclude that 1.9 million people are missing from Walt’s refugee population. What happened to them? Walt doesn’t say, but it’s not too hard to figure out, if we allow reality to intrude into the experiment for a brief moment. They are all dead.

And they are dead not just because Walt doesn’t account for them. They are dead because – whether in 1967 or 2009 – the elimination of Israel as a sovereign state is possible only through the imposition of massive force against the Israeli population. As Michael Oren notes in his book “Six Days of War,” Cairo Radio was threatening Israel with “death and annihilation” on the eve of the 1967 war, in much the same way as Radio Milles Collines in Rwanda issued bloodcurdling threats to the Tutsi population in 1994 and various Serb broadcasters did the same to the Bosnians between 1992-95. Walt’s thought experiment, therefore, is predicated on the occurrence of genocide.

With that established, let’s then say, in keeping with Walt’s number, that one-third of the Jewish population survives the onslaught. What on earth would they be doing in the Gaza Strip? And why would they be permitted to carry on existing there? Under the terms of Walt’s own experiment, it doesn’t make sense to conceive of somewhere called the Gaza Strip in the first place: that sliver of land would have been subsumed into a territory reunited, as the pro-Hamas demonstrators like to chant, from the river to the sea – and then carved up between Egypt and Syria.

More fundamentally, under the terms of this experiment, it is impossible to conceive of a sizable Jewish population remaining in the environs of Israel/Palestine after such a defeat. The conquering powers would have no reason to end their offensive against the remnants of Israel’s population. Quite who their “sympathizers from the outside world,” as Walt puts it, might be is an utter mystery – The Elders?

There would be no outside body – no UN peacekeeping force, for example – to shepherd the refugees into an adjacent territory, like Gaza, and ensure they were protected from further attacks. For that to happen, the UN would be required to do what it has traditionally been reluctant to do: deploy its Blue Helmets in an offensive capacity, in this case against the armies of three powerful states allied with the oil-rich Gulf monarchies and with plenty of friends among the newly decolonized countries in the General Assembly.

So if the one million Jews can’t go to Gaza, where can they go? To begin with, in a horrible echo of what German Jews were faced with in the 1930s, the answer would not immediately be apparent, and so many more would be slaughtered while they were trying to figure out their final destination. At the end, the number of those spared or lucky enough to get out would thus be far, far smaller.

Having established the consequences of Israel’s military defeat, we can now return to Walt’s two questions. With question one, the answer is still no, but for very different reasons. No, Jews would not be lobbing missiles from “Gaza” into Greater Syria – or whatever the successor state might have been called – because they wouldn’t be there in the first place. And by extension, the US wouldn’t be denouncing them for precisely that same reason: there would be nothing to denounce. What is more conceivable is the prospect that a tiny group among the small band of survivors would have bombed an Arab diplomatic mission in Paris, say, or New York. And the strong likelihood is that the US would have condemned that.

As to question two, if Walt believes that the US would have stepped in to prevent Israel’s defeat in 1967, he is probably right – but the reason has nothing to do with the Israel Lobby. The Six Day War was an excellent example of how Cold War tensions were concentrated in a regional conflagration. An Israeli defeat would have massively boosted Soviet power. The Soviets would have been in virtual control of the Suez Canal. The petrified Gulf monarchies would have done Moscow’s bidding on oil prices and oil supply. In fact, one can arguably say that had the 1967 war resulted in the scenario described in Walt’s thought experiment, the Berlin Wall would still be standing as erect and as forbidding as ever.

“The Israel Lobby,” the book which Walt co-authored with John Mearsheimer, forced the facts to fit its basic thesis – and Walt is doing that again. So driven is he to prove that Israel’s domestic lobby forces the US to follow policies that it otherwise wouldn’t follow, anything contradictory or inconvenient is brushed aside.

Walt is therefore prepared to consider, under the terms of the first question, the existence of a powerful Jewish lobby without a Jewish State. In other words, AIPAC would still exist – it would just have to remove the letter “I” from its acronym. Observes a puzzled Ross Douthat, “…presumably the rump Orthodox Gaza – run, perhaps, by Verbover Jews – wouldn’t have an all-powerful lobby shaping U.S. policy and public opinion to its specifications. Or am I missing something?”

As Megan McArdle correctly remarks, a pro-Israel lobby doesn’t necessarily require a Jewish state – but it is equally true that without one, its prominence would be much diminished. Stephen Walt appears to be saying that, even if the State of Israel had been destroyed in 1967, he and Mearsheimer would still have published their book in 2007. If this is correct, then, at this point, his theory of Jewish power leaves the realm of the real for the realm of the cosmic.

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