Onward To Chaos: Palestinians as a Disruptive Entity

I believe that political entities can roughly be classed either as a disruption favoring entity or a status quo favoring entity. A sports metaphor is probably the best vehicle to explain this. Let’s say that you are watching the most lopsided NFL game ever created- the 2008 Detroit Lions (famous for never winning a regular season game- which is actually a pretty difficult thing to do) against the 2004 New England Patriots, (one of the greatest NFL teams ever assembled). If you want the New England Patriots to win this game, what you want is an outcome with the least amount of randomly applied exogenous variables possible, and if you want the Lions to win than you want as many crazy out-of-the-blue things to happen as you can.

The reason for this is simple, the 2004 New England Patriots are an amazingly talented, disciplined and well-coached team and the Lions suck. The more the game is about whether or not Tom Brady is a better quarterback than J.T. O’Sullivan than the better it is for Patriots fans. But, if during the course of a game, in a freak accident, a beer bottle flies out of the hands of a fan and hits one of the head coaches in the noggin, putting them in a coma for the rest of the game, then that would, on balance, be favorable for the Lions. Who cares if it there is a 50% chance of that beer bottle hitting Rod Maranelli in the head, that’ll just make the Lions lose by 27 points as opposed to 18. But, if it hits Bellicheck in the head, then suddenly fate’s fickle finger is playing a tune that the Lions could dance to.

In the above example the New England Patriots can be categorized as a status quo favoring entity and the Detroit Lions can, correspondingly, be considered as a disruption favoring entity. Using these categorizations on international relations and power politics isn’t perfectly clean, but it does give some insight into how nations probably SHOULD make choices with regards to dealing with their current outlooks and assets. The United States, for instance, is clearly a status quo favoring entity. It firmly dominates two continents, it benefits tremendously from international trade, it has strong alliances with many regional hegemons and it is has overwhelming military superiority. So, if you want the United States to continue its dominance apace, you want as few disruptive elements as possible, even if there’s a chance that these disruptive elements could help the United States. Iran or North Korea, on the other hand, are disruption favoring entities to a large extent, for reasons I don’t think I need to explain.

I think its fair to say that the Palestinians, if they can be thought of as a cohesive political cohort, SHOULD be considered a disruption favoring entity. The current position of the Palestinian people at this point in time is pretty terrible. Several forces seem to be coming together at once to frustrate their collective hopes of self-determination, economic development and international political power. They face, all at once, the most unsupportive and pro-Israel Sunni Arab alliance ever assembled, a U.S. President whose appointments and personal views seem dictated from a Zionist Organization of America pamphlet, a debilitating blockade of the Gaza Strip, the semi-permanent rule of the Israeli right and an ongoing civil war between Hamas and Fatah.

Israel, on the other hand, is a status quo favoring entity. They have a booming economy, a world class military, growing tacit alliances with former enemies in the region and their foot on the throat of the Palestinian people in almost every way that counts.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. This isn’t a value judgment. I don’t think fairness is an inherent virtue of international power politics. We shouldn’t want the United States to become less powerful and the Democratic Republic of the Congo more powerful because that seems more equitable. But, to the extent that this article has ANY perspective, it is the perspective of someone exploring ways the Palestinians can make their international positioning better relative to where it is currently.

But, a problem with this way of categorizing international political entities is that you might put too much value on the relative position of power of a political entity rather than its ultimate position. To go back to the football example, if you are a Lions fan you don’t care if your team loses by 27 or 19, but if you are a Palestinian you probably feel like you are better off if you are just occupied by the Israeli authorities as opposed to firebombed and ethnically cleansed by them wholesale. So, in posing possible strategies for Palestinians based on their categorization as a disruption favoring entity, one must keep in mind this key difference between the theoretical and the actual, the relative versus the ultimate, and perhaps find the actions that can invite the most random exogenous factors possible while providing a baseline of ultimate suffering that is acceptable if these exogenous factors break against the Palestinians.

So, given these disclaimers and a general categorization of the Palestinian political entity as one favoring disruption, what does this imply for Palestinian behavior going forward? For one thing, it means that instability and randomness should be the name of the game. As many ways as daily life of both Israelis and Palestinians can become less boring the better it will be for Palestinian national aspirations. Actions that would provoke chaos in the international political order would also be a generally good strategy.

What could some of these disruptive moves look like? Provoking large scale Israeli military action is one. Creating disruptions in the economies of both Israel and Palestinian territories is another. Inviting dangerous jihadist elements to stage insurrections on both territories would work. In fact, you can make an argument that dissolving the Palestinian government and creating a complete state of anarchy in the Palestinian territories would more likely better the Palestinian position than hurt it. Mass marches onto Israeli territory and West bank settlements, a la the Gaza border protests, could also incite some wild reactions and chaos.

Could many of these moves backfire to an intolerable extent? Of course. Inviting takeovers by Islamic State sympathizers could sway international consensus away from Palestinians and create political space for Israel to undertake a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Disruptions in the economic life of Palestinians and full-scale anarchy could also lead to a large loss of power and influence and could put Israel in a position to feel justified in annexing the West Bank, with considerable international support.

But, there are drawbacks of stasis too. Allowing Israeli power to grow, allowing stability to reign, not allowing disruptive and chaotic conditions to present will ultimately lead to the erosion of Palestinian national aspirations. So, those whose foremost goal is to push the Palestinians to a greater position of power vis a vis Israel should look skeptically at arguments for peace, and quiet, for economic development instead of insurrection and for political stability in place of anarchy. The right disruptive and chaotic moves are the only thing that can radically change the current game for the Palestinians, and therefore the supporters of their national aspirations should look for such low cost opportunities to sow chaos everywhere they can.


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