Presenting, A Strategic-Based Policy Interview With Dr. Martin Sherman, Founder of the Israel Institute For Strategic Studies (IISS) By Adina Kutnicki

In celebration of this blog’s six month anniversary, as well as having surpassed a significant milestone – well over hundreds of thousands of readers – it is more than appropriate to mark the occasion.

This dedicated blogger can think of no better way to honor such a critical juncture than through staying true to the Mission Statement, thus, highlighting an embodiment of Zionist and Constitutional-based Conservative ethos. Thereby, verily pleased to present a featured strategic policy interview with the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS –, Dr. Martin Sherman.

IISS is dedicated to the preservation and the propagation of joint values shared by the USA, as embodied in the US Constitution, and the Zionist movement, as reflected in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

According to its Mission Statement, IISS’s underlying rationale is aptly conveyed in the words of Justice Louis Brandeis:

“Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. A man is a better citizen of the United States for being a loyal citizen of his state, and of his city; or for being loyal to his college…

Every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement… , will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so.

There is no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry”.

The IISS is endorsed by numerous public figures both in Israel and abroad, who include senior members of the Israeli government and the security establishment, the British House of Lords, European parliaments and renowned thinkers and intellectuals.

It can best be characterized as a “policy entrepreneur” whose efforts are all devoted to two mutually complementary goals:

         *To confront, contain and counteract the “intellectual surrender” to the dictates of post-Zionist political correctness often reflected in the conduct of official Israeli policy-makers and in the content of official Israeli policy-making.

          *To lay the foundations of a new assertive Zionist-complaint paradigm for the conduct of the affairs of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

AK: Dr. Sherman, welcome to Adina Kutnicki/A Zionist & Conservative Blog Interview.

Dr. Sherman: Pleased to be here.

AK: Dr. Sherman, firstly, thank you for your service to Israel, the one and only (thousands year old) homeland of the Jewish people. Your efforts are applauded within Israel, as well as outside its borders. They embody a western imperative. 

Dr. Sherman: Yes, Israel’s fate is a western imperative.

AK: What would you say are the principal problems and major challenges facing Israel today?

Dr. Sherman: The major problems/challenges facing Israel today should be characterized more as an interfacing and interacting complex construct, rather than an “itemized” list of discrete and disconnected topics.

As such, the intensity of one problem impacts the severity of the other. Thus, in very significant ways, one problem is a component of, or an input for, another.

Thereby, the inability to devise a rational approach towards the Palestinian issue fuels the problem of de-legitimization of Israel, which in turn weighs on the ability to rally international support with regard to halting the Iranian nuclear program.

Likewise, it is the dysfunctional, detrimental–and regrettably, at times—disloyal role played by major sections of Israel’s civil society elites that thwarts any sustainable Zionist-compliant approach to the Palestinian issue and therefore feeds into the exacerbation of the other above-mentioned problems, and undermines the ability to contend with them effectively.

Accordingly, it would be an error to attempt to address these issues separately without an awareness of the mutual interactions between them. Indeed, without an understanding of the interconnectedness to the challenges and threats facing it, endeavors to redress them will, at best, achieve temporary success. 

In other words, Israel’s strategic agenda should be formulated to address a comprehensive syndrome as a systemic whole, rather than a pursuit of specific remedies for individual ailments, however severe they may be.

AK: So what should be the major components to the complex interacting challenges and threats facing the country?

Dr. Sherman: Well, without wishing to suggest that this is an exhaustive catalog, I would include the following as the nation’s major policy imperatives, not necessarily in order of importance since most of them are in one way or another intertwined with each other:

  The need to formulate and promote a Zionist-compliant paradigm that would (a) discredit, disprove and hence delegitimize the Palestinian narrative; and thereby (b) remove the issue of Palestinian statehood from the international agenda.

  The need for Israel to undertake a radical restructuring and revamping of its diplomatic strategy, infrastructure and doctrine and to prepare a massive public diplomacy assault on world opinion, without which Israel will not be able to generate the freedom of action to pursue policies compatible with its vital national interests.

  The need to restructure the “social topography” by challenging the hegemony of the incumbent civil society elites – through the promotion, emplacement and empowerment of alternative elites, among other things, by the establishment of institutions capable of competing with the existing establishment for “mainstream” status.

  The need to formulate and propagate a refurbished rationale for Jewish national self-determination and continued maintenance of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, that can override the rapidly widening fissures in the social fabric of the country, and rejuvenate a sense of social cohesion that is crucial for the country’s ability to contend with the emerging threats to its existence both from the Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab Spring.

AK: Some might find your “diagnosis” overly abstract and theoretical. What would you say to that?  

Dr. Sherman: It was Kurt Lewin, recognized by many as  the “founder of social psychology” who remarked that “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.

Unless policies emanate from a sound conceptual foundation, they have scant ability of achieving their desired objectives. Indeed, it is the intellectual components comprising the “conceptual envelope” which encompasses the analytical perspectives that determine the bounds of the politically acceptable and the ideologically imperative. These  in turn will determine not only what the national objectives are, but the nature of the operational measures deemed appropriate to achieve them.

Thus, a divergent “conceptual envelope” will generate different parameters for determining both one’s objectives and the means to achieve them.

Accordingly, a clear grasp of the conceptual foundations underlying the choice of policy goal and policy instruments is essential for producing the necessary resolve and confidence to adhere to them in times of challenges and criticism –something at which Israel’s “right-wing” is abysmally remiss.

Indeed, without such understanding—and the strength of spirit engendered by it—the vacillation and erosion of principle that has been so characteristic of Israeli policy over the last two decades is unavoidable. After all, Israel is engaged in a war of ideas which in many respects threatens it more fundamentally than the dangers its faces from physical combat in the battlefield.

AK: So what would the policy objectives and instruments that would flow from your preferred “conceptual envelope” be for Israel’s national strategy?

Dr. Sherman: Let’s begin with the Palestinian issue.

In one respect the radical left is right (i.e. correct) – albeit not necessarily for the right (i.e. correct) reasons. For it is indeed true as they claim that, in Israel today, there is an ongoing process of “Palestinianization” of the entire edifice of social, economic and political activity in the country that overshadows and permeates all walks of life – distorting the decision-making criteria and judgment of policy makers charged with charting the course of the nation’s future.

The most crucial element any prospective leader of the country must grasp is that the Palestinian issue is in fact the most significant and severe obstacle to the proper administration of the nation’s affairs.

In fact, without adequately addressing this matter it will not be possible to arrive at a rational paradigm for the allocation and activation of the nation’s resources in order to meet the daunting array of existing threats and emerging challenges that it faces today. As long as the establishment of a Palestinian state (or any other autonomous Palestinian collective entity) within the territory between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea remains the cornerstone of the Israeli approach to the Palestinian question, we will continue to be drawn into futile attempts to resolve it, which are doomed to disastrous failure – such as the Oslo process and its subsequent failed derivatives, the abortive “disengagement” and the aborted “convergence”. Even the exorbitant “security barrier” and “Iron Dome”, all off-shoots of the Palestinian threat, will soon be shown to be partial stop-gap measures.

The primary – and the most pressing – strategic challenge is therefore the removal of the topic of Palestinian self-determination, as a practical option, from the national and the international agenda.

Note that the intention here is not to remove the topic of the Palestinians’ fate from the public debate.

Quite the opposite. The intention is to formulate, present and promote the implementation of a policy proposal that would allow Israel to contend with – or rather avoid – the dual perils that all proposals raised hitherto create for it.

AK: What would such a policy entail?

Dr. Sherman: It is crucial to understand that in order to ensure its long-term survival as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel has to address two imperatives: The Geographic Imperative and the Demographic Imperative. The first of these imperatives calls for the continued control by Israel of all the territory east of the coastal plain up to the Jordan River in order to prevent unacceptable risks to its physical security; the second imperative calls for reduction of the Arab presence in this territory in order to prevent unacceptable risks to its status as the nation-state of the Jewish people. 

Clearly, to address these two imperatives successfully we need to be mindful not only of the substance of the policy proposal but also its style of delivery. After all, in order to be taken seriously as a pertinent policy alternative in the current realities of international politics, the manner and tone in which such a proposal is formulated and presented cannot reflect a blatant disregard for the principles of liberal democratic political doctrine and conformity with the prevailing “ambiance” of “political correctness”.

This is something that should not be trivialized.  Indeed, without adhering to this caveat, it will not be possible to implement the proposed policy (or even to attempt to do so) without risk of exposing Israel to a huge wave of censure and sanctions that could endanger its very ability to maintain social and economic routine in the country, and paralyze systems vital to its day-to-day functioning and existence. 

This brings to the fore the importance of Israel’s public diplomacy as a strategic consideration and highlights the interconnectivity of the topics I previously mentioned.

AK: Let’s leave the discussion of public diplomacy for later. For the present, what is the substance of your proposal?

Dr. Sherman: I have set out the elements of my tripartite policy proposal, and the mechanisms – and implications– of its implementation, in considerable details in various installments of my Jerusalem Post column and elsewhere. In it, I advocate a comprehensive approach to the Palestinian issue focusing not only on the Palestinian in Judea & Samaria, but on the Palestinian diaspora and refugee question. However, I feel it would not be appropriate to try and elaborate it in full detail in a wide-ranging interview such as this.

That said, in principle, the proposal comprises a prescription for a fundamental change in the nature of the discourse on the Palestinian issue, and in the methodology of implementation—i.e.depoliticizing the context and “atomizing” the application.  It involves diverting the debate from the political to the humanitarian, and addressing the Palestinian Arabs at the individual, rather than at the collective level. Finally, rather than striving to resolve the problem, it endeavors to dissolve (or dissipate) it.

At the root of this approach is a resolute refusal to accept the Palestinians’ (spurious) political demands but a far-reaching willingness to acknowledge – and address – their very real humanitarian predicament, and indeed to help extricate themselves from it.

Its implementation entails providing generous relocation grants directly to individual family units to allow them to emigrate to other countries where they can build a new and better future for themselves, outside the geographical confines of the Land of Israel – something which, according to numerous polls, many Palestinians in fact desire.

In the final analysis, the crucial and undeniable factor that the leadership of Israel must comprehend is that survival of the Zionist enterprise makes it imperative to adopt an unflinching position on the establishment of a Palestinian state that reflects the converse of Herzl’s well-known dictum, i.e. “If you wish it not, it is indeed a fantasy”.

AK: How realistic is the expectation of the Palestinians agreeing to relocate in exchange for material compensation?

Dr. Sherman: Let me say two things on this score:

  First, there is considerable evidence—both statistical and anecdotal—indicating that there is wide-spread desire among the Palestinians to emigrate and seek a better and more secure life elsewhere.  In fact, I commissioned a poll which found that only 15% of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would reject any material incentive to emigrate. Over 70% mention some kind of material inducement that would convince them to leave permanently. Other surveys carried out by Palestinian bodies, such as Bir Zeit University also found considerable willingness, particularly among the youth, to emigrate–if given the opportunity.  All I am proposing is to give them the opportunity they desire.

Now of course this is not unequivocal proof that massive emigration is feasible, but it is significantly more persuasive than some intuitive contention, based on little more than Palestinian rhetoric, that they will never leave.

  Second, the feasibility of a political goal is a function of political will and ideological commitment—which is why the cogency of the “conceptual envelopes” mentioned earlier is so important.   Objectives, which seem hopelessly unattainable under an initial set of circumstances turn out to be  eminently feasible once circumstances change.

For example, in the grim days of the 1950’s when the country was hanging on by a thread, engulfed by waves of immigration, with its fledgling economy teetering on collapse and surrounded by a sea of Arab aggression, who would have believed that Zionism would outlast Communism; that the nascent nano-state Israel would outlive the mega-Soviet empire; that a struggling agrarian economy would within a few decades become one of the world’s leaders in industry and technology. Conversely, after the 1967 Six Day War, after Israel’s stunning victories, when promoting Palestinian statehood was not only supported by insignificant fringe elements, but contacts with the PLO were punishable—and punished—acts of treason,who would have imagined that this idea would not only become a mainstream position in the Israeli polity but the official policy of a Likud (then-Herut) led party?

So in a large measure feasibility in politics is largely a function of the acumen, commitment, and stamina—and to a large degree resistance to the lure of being “pragmatic” and realistic”.

AK: Many people, even on the Right suggest granting the Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria some form of limited civilian self rule or “autonomy”.  What is your take on that?

Dr. Sherman: My objection is two-fold – both in terms of the general principles of political science, and in terms of the empirical facts on the ground in Judea and Samaria.

With regard to the former: In principle there in nothing essentially flawed in the idea of autonomy, but for it to be a stable political/administrative arrangement, the autonomous entity (which by definition has its authority limited by some sovereign entity) must recognize the legitimacy of the sovereign entity to limit its authority.

However, when the rationale for granting autonomy does not reflect acceptance but rather rejection of the legitimacy of the sovereign (as in the case of the Palestinians and Israel), the entire endeavor is devoid of internal logic and doomed to failure.

Moreover,  in the specific context of Judea and Samaria, when you state that one proposes giving the self-governing Palestinian entity “full autonomy,” what does that include? One would assume it would exclude external defense and foreign policy, but in every other area, potential for confusion, dissension and worse abounds.

Even putting aside difficulties that might arise with regard to law enforcement and what legal system would apply where, particularly given the difficulty in delineating frontiers, there are a plethora of thorny issues in other, more “banal,” civilian spheres that make Israeli intervention in routine daily issues inevitable – hence virtually emptying the notion of Palestinian self-government of any significant substance.

 AK: For example?

Dr. Sherman: For example, would Israel allow the Palestinian autonomous entity to determine the location dangerous polluting industrial activities, such as charcoal production, which emits carcinogenic smoke, induces respiratory diseases and (according to Haaretz) has in some areas reduced life expectancy to 40?

Would Israel intervene to deal with sewage pollution emanating from Palestinian population centers that threaten Israeli water sources? Would it monitor, and enforce limits on, water extraction from the shared Mountain Aquifer?

Would Israel enforce road-worthiness standards for motor vehicles that travel on the envisioned shared highway system to ensure safety? If not, what would the consequences be – both legally and physically? With regard to preventative health measures, would Israel enforce, for example, the inoculations of household pets against rabies?

Clearly, if Israel does not control and ensure the implementation of these (and many other) activities, the ramifications for it citizens might well be severe. If, on the other hand, it does control them there is precious little left for the intended “self-rule.”

AK: I (and my readers) look forward to Part 2 of this very enlightening and illuminating exchange. To be sure, Part 1 is a most auspicious way to mark this blog’s six month anniversary.

You are indeed a gentleman and a scholar!  

Dr. Sherman: It has been my pleasure.

Dr. Martin Sherman acted as a ministerial adviser in the 1991-2 Shamir government. He also served for seven years in various defense related capacities and taught political science at Tel Aviv University. His works have been published in academic journals such as Journal of Strategic StudiesJournal of Theoretical Politics,International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence and Nations and Nationalism. He is the author of two books on international conflicts (Macmillan UK).Dr. Sherman is also a member of the advisory board of the Nativ journal in which he has published frequently.