A Firm Grip On Reality: Interview with Martin Sherman

To follow more the effectual truth of things instead of its fancy.

Niccolo Machiavelli (The Prince, 15)

Few, like Martin Sherman, posses such a deep insight into the Arab-Israeli, or Palestinian-Israeli conflict (the way it was rebranded after the Six Days war). Founder and CEO of the Israel Institute of Strategic Studies, ex Secretary General of the Tsomet Movement and author of the widely read column “Into the Fray”, Sherman is a staunch empiricist with a firm grip on reality.

Like many of those who see well but who are not listened enough, already in 1992 he predicted with extreme precision what was to happen in Gaza would Israel had left the Strip, as much as he was able to see exactly into the nature of Gonan Segev, the man whose political betrayal was essential to bring about the pernicious Oslo Accords.

After a year, L’Informale has met him again in Israel.

Martin Sherman, it is well known to readers familiar with your line of thought that for you the only feasible solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is what you call “the humanitarian paradigm”, which entails the end of the two state solution. Will you briefly state what is the core concept of the “humanitarian paradigm”?

In my opinion, the humanitarian paradigm which calls for the incentivized immigration of the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria and eventually Gaza as well, is basically the only non violent paradigm that can ensure the existence of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. For Israel to endure as the nation state of the Jewish people it has to successfully contend with two imperatives, the geographic and the demographic. If it does not contend successfully with these two imperatives it will become untenable geographically or demographically, or both. In facing these two imperatives it comes up against two mortal challenges. One is the two state solution which in no way contends effectively with the geographic challenge, and the other one is the demographic. It is very easy to show that if Israel were to relinquish sufficient territory for any vaguely tenable Palestinian entity, it will not be able to defend its borders, the 1967 borders that Abba Eban rightly referred to as the Auschwitz borders. The two state solution will simply make Israel untenable geographically to any hostile force on the highlands overlooking the costal plane, which will mean that they could disrupt the socio-economic routine at their pleasure. Just consider what has been happening in Gaza recently with incendiary balloons and kites and think about this kind of situation in relation to the heavily populated coastal plane which includes, Tel Aviv, Natanya, Haifa, etc. But also the geographic imperative is doomed to failure as it won’t be able to create a cohesive, coherent structure. The Israeli society would degenerate into a Lebanese scenario which would be torn apart by ethnic strife. It is almost impossible to imagine how you could manage a country where 40% of the population not only do not accept the Jewish nature of the country, but rejects it violently. So, if you agree that Israel must be viable geographically and viable demographically, this scenario will dramatically reduce the Jewish nature of the country together with a progressive reduction of Jewish immigration. Eventually this will bring to a slight Jewish majority been eroded away and eventually been replaced by a Muslim majority and this will mean the end of the Jewish state. The only way to really contend with these two imperatives is to hold the territory and reduce the Arab presence. This means to induce its transfer through positive incentives to leave and negative incentives to stay. I think that Israel must put on the table very generous relocations that will induce non belligerent Arabs to move to a more prosperous future in other countries. The negative incentives will mean instead for Israel to reduce direct services as water, electricity fuel, etc. to the enemy population in order to create pressure to leave and accept a generous relocation. See what happens in Gaza today. There is a widespread desire to leave.

Recently I wrote an article portraying Turkey as the new promised land for the Palestinians. Many residents from the enclave will be more than happy to relocate in Turkey. Also Al Jezeera has been talking about this a couple of years ago.  This would entail a substantial  political effort and a public diplomacy one. On the moral level, just compare the two paradigms. The two state solution calls for the coming into being of yet another misogynist, homophobic Muslim majority entity which will become a bastion for jihadi terror. On the other hand what I am offering is the opportunity for non belligerent Palestinians to extricate themselves from the clutches of those cliques that for decades had a hold on them and to find a more secure and more prosperous life elsewhere. If you were to compare the moral merits of these two paradigms, I think that the moral choice would be self evident. Why should anyone, particularly a liberal prefer the establishment of a Muslim intolerant tyrannical entity to offering an opportunity to non belligerent Palestinians to find for themselves a better life elsewhere? There is not really much of a choice here. The two state solution that the left has been sustainig for a quarter of a century is totally unworkable, but all the same, some of the proposals of the right which will bring forward the Balkanization or Lebanisation of the Israeli society are unworkable. The only way to preserve Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people is to recognize that on the collective, Palestinians are our enemies and must be treated as such and set up a system of positive incentives for leaving for the non belligerent individuals. I don’t see any other solution in the long run. With my solution you don’t need the agreement, the ongoing consent of an Arab collective. What you need are the cumulated decisions of individuals who want to change their lives.

According to Professor Efraim Karsh, the Oslo peace process “has led to the establishment of an ineradicable terror entity on Israel’s doorstep, deepened Israel’s internal cleavages, destabilized its political system, and weakened its international standing.” Do you agree with his conclusion?

The short answer is yes, absolutely. The tragic thing about it is not only the situation that Karsh describes correctly but that it was completely predictable. The Oslo process was a predicted failure. Anyone who had a minimum knowledge of basic elements of political science or related disciplines like international relations or theory of the nation state, knew that it would never work. In the Nineties you could go to jail for suggesting a political solution along the Oslo line, it was considered treason. What they were able to do was to take a position which was not only marginalized but which was also illegal and turn it into the mainstream political paradigm not only in the international arena but here in Israel. So I must agree with Karsh that Oslo is a disaster. I can only hope that he is wrong when he says that it is ineradicable, in other words irrevocable. I hope that with political willingness and enough resources we can change the situation and this is the reason why I am promoting the humanitarian paradigm. As a matter of fact, when we talked about the humanitarian paradigm before I didn’t mention two other elements I would like to emphasize.


One is the necessity of the political leverage on the Arab nations to stop the political opposition against the Palestinian diaspora in the Arab countries. As is well known, the Arab league refuses to allow Palestinians to acquire the citizenship of their countries of residence in the Arab world. Once the spokesman of the Arab league said, “If we grant them citizenship they would have no reason to go to Palestine”. Precisely the point. The second is the dissolution of UNRWA. In 2008 I gave a presentation in the Knesset in which I strongly suggested Israel to work for the dissolution of UNRWA because it perpetrates the myth of Palestinian refugee status which creates a lot of pressure on Israel to recognize a Palestinian state. You can imagine if a Palestinian state was established, what would happen if the Palestinian diaspora were threw into the state or by free will or by forced expulsion from Arab states. This will be completely unmanageable on the infrastructure level by Israel. A massive amount of destitute Palestinians separated from prosperous Israel by a fence or a ten centimeters wide wall. It would be a total disaster.

Speaking about the Oslo Accords, according to you, who bears the greatest responsibility for the Oslo Accords, Shimon Peres, Isaac Rabin, or Yossi Beilin?

Rabin was the most responsible, because he had grave, grave misgivings about it and he didn’t want to stand up against his political rivals inside the party and sadly he went against his own conscience to keep his position. If he would have gone against the Oslo proposal he would have lost his position inside the party. While Peres and Beilin bear a huge guilt for their initiative, Rabin bears an even greater responsibility for not resisting that initiative.

Donald Trump has changed drastically the attitude of the United States towards Israel after the very problematic years of the Obama Administration. He has brought forward major changes as that of declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, of moving the American embassy, of cutting funds both to UNRWA and to the Palestinian Authority. John Bolton, who has always been a staunch critic of the two state paradigm is now the new National Security Advisor. Isn’t this the best historical moment for Israel to ask for a new start, a complete change of scenario?

Again the short answer is, absolutely yes. The sad thing about Israel’s great improvement in its strategic situation is that this improvement came about by two developments neither of which was due to Israeli policy, or its prudence or farsightedness. The one is the unexpected election of Donald Trump and the other is the coming to power of Al Sisi in Egypt. Because if things had gone as expected, with Hillary Clinton as President, I think we would be in a very very difficult situation and the same would have been if the Muslim Brothers were still in power in Egypt. So I certainly think this is a very opportune moment for Israel which should be seized but I don’t think that the Israeli government is doing this. This is certainly a good time to nail things down irrevocably. I would agree with you that somehow Israel has been very reticent in exploiting this huge opportunity that has been created, given also the fact that in the United States the Democratic party is giving way to radicals that are turning it into something resembling a Socialist party and that Israel has still a huge public opinion support.

In 2010, Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician and founder of the Freedom Party, in a speech here in Israel stated that a Palestinian state already exist and it is Jordan. More recently in an article on the Jerusalem Post, former Israel Minister Gideon Saar emphasized that until 1988 Palestinians living in the West Bank all had Jordanian passports. Do you believe it to be a realistic option that the fragile Hashemite kingdom would be willing to absorb those Palestinians living in Areas A and B of the West Bank?

I think that people are right when they say that historically, geographically and demographically Jordan is Palestine. Jordan made the greater portion of Palestine which was ripped away from the Mandate and Gideon Saar is certainly right when he says that up until to 1988 the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria had a Jordanian passport of which they were illegally stripped by the king of Jordan. The fact that the Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria are stateless has nothing to do with Israel but has to do with the illegal action of the Jordanian king. Certainly Jordan is one of the option states where the Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria could reset. The working assumption of the Israeli government should be that the Hashemite dynasty has a very short time life. It is very difficult to see for how long this regime can persist. On the other hand it has endured much longer than predicted. I think that at least, the prudent assumption should be that it has a limited time life and Israel should think about the day after, and if a regime change is going to occur in Jordan it makes perfect sense to call it a Palestinian state given that it has already a Palestinian majority. In many ways the Palestinian population to Jordan gives an example of a possible output of the Humanitarian Paradigm. I have not stipulated in which country the Palestinians should reset and there is nothing that precludes Jordan being one of these countries or even the major country. If the reset was to be accompanied by a massive financial aid perhaps it could be Jordan. Some people, like my friend Ted Belman, see a very benign regime taking over. I hope he is right, I am not sure it will be so, that a future regime would be better disposed toward Israel. The main difference between the Jordan-Palestine paradigm and the Humanitarian Paradigm is that in the first case you will need a future regime to agree, with my solution I don’t need an agreement with an Arab collective, what I need is enough financial aid in order for them to qualify to be residents in other countries.

Last year, here in Israel, Daniel Pipes told me during an interview, that there is no question about the fact that the Palestinians have lost and that they live, as he said, in a “fantasy world”. Do you agree?

I warmly commend Daniel Pipes, Israel Victory Project because it takes a lot of intellectual courage for this kind of initiative and I do agree with him that victory considered by the Palestinians, who have to admit defeat, is a precondition for any lasting solution. I agree with him about what needs to happen, I agree less about what has happened because the Palestinians have good reasons not to feel defeated. If you look to what has happened since 1967 after the sweeping victory of the IDF when no one seriously considered the Palestinian state to be a viable option and you look to what they have achieved today, Israel full retreat diplomatically across the world, and the Palestinian state becoming the dominant political paradigm for decades, I feel that the Palestinians have good reasons not to feel defeated. I would agree that their economic condition is very dire but that is not really an important paradigm for their leadership. Look at the Russians against the Germans in Stalingrad in dire straits and came back from near starvation.  This being said, I am a strong supporter of the Israel Victory Project but I think it needs to be just a bit more focused and not to expect the Palestinians suddenly to walk into something they have not been in a hundred years and declare that they are defeated. They won’t do that. I am not sure that they live in a fantasy world because every time Israel produces a solution against them they find a countermeasure. When Israel put up a fence against suicide bombers, they started sending rockets, and after Iron Dome intercepted rockets, they started building tunnels and so Israel started building a billion dollar underground barrier in order to start stop them. Imagine if you need to do that in Judea and Samaria, not on a 50 km front but on a 500 km front. All of a sudden we have this super expensive underground barrier and they started sending this ridiculously cheap incendiary kites and balloons which have burned hundred of acres of agriculture.

My big fear is that one day they will be able to send a swarm of drones possibly holding non conventional loads to explode over Israeli communities. I think we have forced Palestinians to rearm, reinvent, redeploy without breaking their will to fight. By now they should have come to their senses but they have not. If you compare where they come from and where they are today the situation improved beyond recognition. They took over from king Hussein the claim on Judea and Samaria. The only way to inflict defeat on the Palestinians is to stop treating them as a perspective peace partner and consider them for what they are, irreconcilable enemies and derive your policy from that. The example of victory and defeat from the Second World War are misleading because Germany was not surrounded by a Teutonic world and Japan was non part of a large Nipponic world who could send insurgent or incitement against any agreement reached. This is the miscalculation that Americans made in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was easy for them to deploy the incumbent regimes, very easy but around 90% of the expenditure of war in Iran and in Afghanistan was used after Saddam Hussein was deployed and after the Taliban were dislodged, 95% of that money was utilized to stabilize the situation. Germany and Japan, as I said before could not count on resources coming in from people of the same ethnic affinity.

I can accept Daniel’s division of labor. In America he says that the task of the Victory Project is that of convincing the American administration that Israel needs to achieve victory and is for the Israeli to decide what victory is. I agree with this. But victory cannot be all thing to everybody. You need to decide what you need to you have to inflict on the Palestinians for them to admit defeat and achieve a clear victory. In the War of Independence Israel had 6000 people killed, 1% of the population. Depending on how many Palestinians you think they are 2 millions or 3 millions, you need to inflict 20,000, or 30,000 fatalities or kill even more in order to accept Israel as a state alongside to which to live in peace. I think this is a very difficult objective to achieve. What I think is much easier to achieve is to incentivize immigration to other countries instead of killing ten of thousands of Palestinians.

Let us talk about the situation in Gaza. It seems clear that Israel doesn’t really want the toppling of Hamas as this would havoc chaos and a far worst situation than the actual one. At the same time, notwithstanding riots, missile launching, arson attacks through kites and balloons, also Hamas isn’t looking for another conflict with Israel as it would probably be the last one for the terror group. What is your view about the situation in the Strip, what do you advocate?

In 1992 I wrote an article about what would have happened if Israel was to leave Gaza. Anyone knowledgeable about political science could easily have predicted what would have been the outcome. As soon as Israel was to pull out Gaza, as it did in 2005, in a setting where there was no ongoing traditional political heritage, it was quite clear that the party that would have taken power would have been the most violent and extreme, ready to do things that the most moderate were unable or willing to do. With reference to the actual situation in Gaza, it is already a security nightmare for Israel. Life has become completely unlivable for Jews living around the Gaza area and it is just a matter of time before the Palestinians will be able to extend their reach. We have seen this happening already. Each time Israel finds a way to stop one of the modes of aggression of Hamas, Hamas finds a way to circumvent it. The only way to deal with this situation is to change your approach to it.There is no other way. We need to see the Palestinians not as a perspective peace partner but as an implacable enemy and at the same time we cannot consider the collective in Gaza as the victims of Hamas but as the crucible from which this leadership emerged. This approach makes you see that the solution is not the reconstruction of Gaza but its deconstruction, or you are going to keep repeating  endlessly circles of violence. Try to imagine for a moment what would happen in central Israel if instead of having a 50 km border to control, it would have a heavily populated  500 km area from which not rockets but incendiary kites or balloons were sent into towards Kfar Saba or Ra’anana or highway 6. The only way you can ensure who rules Gaza is by ruling it yourself and the only way to rule Gaza without ruling another people is to remove the people from your rule. It is simple mathematical logic and it is also a very easy situation to justify morally. If your point of departure is that the Jews are entitled to their own Jewish state then it must be given the condition to exist. So you cannot have a concentration of population who is committed on its destruction.

Let us talk about the Temple Mount. Right now there is an intra-Muslim battle about the Temple Mount between Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in order to gain hold of the place, a game of thrones that Israel is watching. What is your view about the issue?

I must admit that as someone  who is strictly secular, non observant, I have really never placed great importance on the Temple Mount but I think I was wrong and I think that Israel should reaffirm its sovereignty over it. This is because each time Israel has made benign concessions to the other side it has proven wrong as with the Temple Mount where Arab radicals have taken the upper hand. It would be very dangerous if Turkey was to take it over as this is part of the ambitious megalomaniac attitude of Erdogan, but I am also very skeptical of Jordan as well as about any other Muslim custodian and think that Israel should gradually begin to reassert its control over the site. I say this not from a religious but from a nationalistic point of view.

It seems quite clear that the Trump Administration is seeking a regime change in Iran by strongly weakening its already fragile economy. Iran is perceived as the biggest threat to Israel survival. For this reason there is now a strategic convergence between Sunni states, headed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel. As an acute observer of the Middle East what do you make of this strategic convergence and what are your hopes and fears for the future?

I certainly agree that the only solution for Iran is a regime change. I think that the situation now has improved dramatically but I am very skeptical about the durability of our alliance with the Sunnis. Once the Iranian threat is going to be over you might find the Sunni animosity reasserting itself. So it would be a grave mistake to make any irrevocable concessions on any front to the Sunni coalition. They need us, we don’t need to make any concession. Let me say that what goes on now in Iran exposes the dishonesty and duplicity of the Obama Administration which asserted, its either war or our JCPOA. The very fragile socio-economic situation in Iran just clearly demonstrates  how deceitful it was to present it that way and that if Obama would have gone forward with the sanctions we would probably have been much nearer to a regime change now. Instead he entrenched the regime. The very difficult thing about the Obama policy is that when you see these appalling results you never really know if they were intentional or not, if they were part of a design or just pure error. This being said we certainly need to have an opportunity now. Iran is going through a very difficult time, its currency has been dramatically devalued, it is suffering from a very severe drought and there have been signs of multiple unrest. So, yes, I see that the prospect  of an actual regime change is more tangible now than it has been in the past.




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