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A Trinity of Trinities for the Palestinians

The Arab-Israeli conflict is a Palestinian-Israeli duel within the environment of the “Arab World.” Yet, more importantly it exists within the meta-context of global American influence. Thus, there are three deciders: the Palestinians, the Israelis and the Americans. Solutions only rest with those three and unless they all want a solution, little progress will be made. Clausewitz wrote of his Trinity and today we have the simple analogy of a metal ball suspended between three magnets. If the magnets have equal pull then the ball rests in the center, if not, the ball is pulled out of ideal balance which represents imperfection.

For Clausewitz, the magnets were the: blind passion and enmity – a fight – depicted by the People; the play on chance coupled with the genius of the military (security) commander able to apply the inner eye (Coup d’œil) to see through the fog and work through the friction of battle; and the government which means war is an extension of foreign policy, ultimately subordinate to it, thus government makes war subject to reason. Put very simply, the Trinity is about people, the military (security) and the government and the balance among them. What can we learn from Clausewitz about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the influencing role of America? People are generally fragmented and disassociated from security and government as are young people who feel the situation is hopeless, due to high unemployment, “The Occupation” and the fact that little progress has been made toward peace since Oslo. Lone Wolf and group attacks also reflect a separation of the people from security and the government. There are also divisions due to the haves and have nots, the elites and the hoi polloi and the young and the old; the situation is acute.

The security forces are sometimes seen as agents of “The Occupation” and there is debate as to whether their efforts are in support of the people or indeed of themselves.

The security forces have one hand tied behind their backs and must be cautious lest they further distance themselves from the people, yet they must respond to the political demands of the government. Preventing a young protester from running toward an Israeli soldier might well save his life, but may also place Palestinian security forces on the wrong side.

The Palestinian government is not a government, but an authority, with limited powers, questionable legitimacy (as elections are a distant memory) and an uncertain line of succession following President Abbas. So, the Palestinian ball is imbalanced between the three magnets, the people, security and the government. The result is turbulence, uncertainty and unpredictability which is manifested in a tinder box ripe for ignition and possibly a mini Palestinian Spring. Potential future Palestinian leaders must see the benefit of setting conditions for a peaceful transition of power. The Trinity is not in balance.

The Israeli situation is different. The people are, in general, behind the security forces and the government. The killing of an injured Palestinian on 24 March in Hebron this year resulted in several responses, including general condemnation internationally. However, the incident was overshadowed by the 22 March Brussels attacks. Had Brussels not occurred it is likely the international response to the 24 March Hebron killing by a soldier who arrived at the scene 6 minutes later would have been more vocal. The soldier is on trial but there are some in Israel who consider him worthy of promotion for executing a “terrorist” and/or “martyr” intent on killing. Most Israelis have served in the security forces and generally support the military. The people tolerate Prime Minister Netanyahu as he hangs on to power with a single vote majority across his coalition. Israeli politics are complex and garner support from a wide range of agendas. The facts that Netanyahu has held onto power, the security forces support the government and the people support both, places the Israeli ball in the center. The Trinity is in balance for now in Israel.

The Palestinian Trinity is a direct result of the Israeli Trinity. The September 2015 restrictions to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, questions over security cooperation and Abbas’s future, likely ignited the current uprising, but it was only one of many causal factors and other issues could have been responsible. The Israeli Trinity influences the Palestinian Trinity absolutely. If Israel wants the current “troubles” to ebb, they can make that happen and maybe by reviewing the current situation through the eyes of Clausewitz, they can see that now is the time to ease off, or a collapse will follow. Widespread violence will increase, Arab supporters will aggitate from the margins, America will lose even more interest and the Israeli economy will suffer still further as security costs escalate even more. Not only will Israeli “easing” move the Palestinians back to the conditions of the pre-September 2015 period, there is growing pressure internationally for peace – the French initiative is an example and Netanyahu would be short sighted not to see those benefits. He stands on the precipice of the coveted fifth term in office; if successful he would overtake David Ben-Gurion as the longest-serving Israeli Prime Minister in history. If his legacy drives the agenda, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and/or his successor could be featured in the next iconic White House lawn photo.

America is changing. The public is embarking on the closing stages of a Presidential election which is set to be a watershed event. Depending on developments, the first women candidate could be pitched against a celebrity entrepreneur. The Republican-Democrat duel continues, but the candidates are markedly different than the African-American and the Mormon candidate of the recent past. Americans are insular, tied to the rights of individuals and often only somewhat reluctantly engage the international environment, unless they must. When they do, it can be as dynamic as it can be clumsy. But Americans, like people world-wide, seek a better life for their children and a better economy. Like most presidential campaigns, the battleground in this election will be domestically focused – although once elected, the main business is foreign policy. The people are distancing themselves from government. Americans rely on their security forces and veterans are held in high esteem and will remain so for the foreseeable future. For America, the Trinity for now is in balance but the ball tends to swing towards the people which suggests maybe an upset at election time.

The American Trinity as a meta-context affects all. It is not yet truly clear how the next president will view the need to intervene or not in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, despite the expected pre-election platitudes. But America has more influence than many realize. Although there has been a Palestinian tendency to look towards the International Criminal Court, the French and the United Nations for support, maybe due to the perception of American inaction, America is still the big guy on the block but America has decided not to act.

Consolidated and thought-through American pressure on Israel and the Palestine to move forward is needed, particularly if the Israelis “ease” their position and equally importantly if the Palestinians think through their leadership succession. 2017 may be the year of change. As Clausewitz said: “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish…the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.” There is now an opportunity to act in behalf of the people, governments and security forces of the Palestinians, Israelis and Americans.