Robert Pape depresses me

So I finished Robert Pape’s book, ‘Dying to Win’. Remember how I said the implications of his argument were decent and humane? I fear I may have been a bit off. It might still be true on a relative scale. But anyone who offers Israel as a model doesn’t deserve the moniker decent or humane. On pg. 240:


So I finished Robert Pape’s book, ‘Dying to Win’. Remember how I said the implications of his argument were decent and humane? I fear I may have been a bit off. It might still be true on a relative scale. But anyone who offers Israel as a model doesn’t deserve the moniker decent or humane. On pg. 240:

“Ethnic civil wars can often be stopped by demographic separation because this reduces both means and incentives for the sides to attack each other… In August 2003, Israel completed the first major section of a dense ‘security fence’ – three barriers with other defensive measures – along its border with the West Bank. Palestinian terrorist groups had carried out an average of more than twenty successful suicide attacks over the previous three years, but only six in the following year. The fence probably accounts for much of this decline, since it appears that no suicide attackers got through the barrier, only through still unfinished sections. Hence, Israel now has an optimum strategy combining concessions with defense: abandoning much of the territory it occupies in the West Bank and Gaza, along with erecting physical barriers that prevent access to areas Israel is determined to retain.”

This shows the limits of dropping any ethical implications and identifying completely with the stronger party in a conflict. ‘Ethnic separation’ reduces conflict because it actually represents total victory for the stronger side. Another word for ‘ethnic separation’ is ‘ethnic cleansing’.

What Pape says about Israel’s use of concessions is not consistent with his earlier discussion of concessions, where he argues that concessions should not be made piecemeal and dishonestly, but that they should be real and rapid if they are to undercut resistance. Even by Pape’s criteria, Israel’s ‘concessions’ fail.

But Pape is right in a narrow sense as well. The Wall is a victory for Israel. It has consolidated the areas of Palestinian population into walled-in prisons with dead economies and little hope. It has put the Israelis with their settlers into a sealed off canton of their own, ‘safe’ on their stolen land, ‘safe’ from the outside world. While for maximalist Israel, a state with no declared borders, to build a wall seems almost a psychological change (if the goal is expansion without limit, why build a wall? The Americans never built a wall during their westward genocidal march). But the settler strategy is flexible and one tenet of it is that nothing is final. This is a period of consolidation. The Palestinians are trapped. Israel can consolidate its gains and wait for a moment when further ethnic cleansing will be possible.

Pape is, however, quite wrong. This is no optimal strategy for the long term, unless the long term goal is armageddon (I shouldn’t say that so flippantly, having written about Pat Robertson already today). They are still, as Isaac Deutscher said (I read it in the Appendix to Tariq Ali’s ‘Clash of Fundamentalisms’) ‘triumphing themselves to death’.

Two more interesting pieces on Israel/Palestine and Gaza: one by Mohammad Abed and the other by Nasser Abufarha. Both argue that the best way to fight the occupation turns out to be to fight for more than just an end to occupation… long, interesting arguments. Definitely worth reading.

Author: Justin Podur

Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

4 thoughts on “Robert Pape depresses me”

  1. Man that is depressing. I
    Man that is depressing. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve heard interviews with Pape from Australia. In those interviews he doesn’t fundamentally challenge America’s global hegemony. His arguments are based on Empire management rather than dissolution. So I suppose his use of Israel as a model isn’t all that surprising.

  2. Pape: “…along its border
    Pape: “…along its border with the West Bank…”

    Yeah, I guess he hasn’t looked at a map to say that the wall is along Israel’s border… but then again, Israel doesn’t have a border…

    Anyways, check out “Beyond Chutzpah”. As much as I get tired of Finkelstein’s theatrics, I must say that’s a helluva book.

    Although, I must say, I think Dershowitz will “win”. When I was at the book store, there was 3 copies of “Beyond Chutzpah”, and about a dozen “The Case for Israel”, and about a dozen of Dersh’s new book “The Case for Peace”.

  3. I had Pape two times in
    I had Pape two times in college at Dartmouth. While he is a pompus man, he is pretty brilliant even if I often didn’t agree with a lot of his conclusions. I was looking to see what he had written lately when I found your blog. I will take the book out for a spin and see what I find.

  4. I just came back from a
    I just came back from a lecture by Pape at UW-Seattle.

    I agree with you’re general assesment. Though, you should keep in mind that he works within a “realist” framework. American security, or his perception of what that implies, trumps all else in his mind.

Comments are closed.