Now that the Middle East Peace Process is back "on track," it is important to understand the continuing impact of irredentist and Jihadist roots of Palestinian nationalism. Armed with such an understanding, a two state solution in the region would appear substantially less attractive to both Israel and the United States. This is because a "successful" outcome of the current Obama/Kerry effort would be a greater Israeli vulnerability to aggressive war and terror.
In time, "Palestine," in carefully crafted strategic increments, would attempt to occupy whatever remained of Israel proper. For the most part, these expansionist policies would not represent the more usual kinds of national geostrategic thinking in world politics. Rather, they would reflect a longstanding Palestinian grounding in ideologies of religious sacrifice.
Historically, this sort of grounding would have ample precedent, and not just in the Arab Middle East. For example, in the ancient Greek world, Plutarch's "Sayings of Spartan Mothers" plainly identified the exemplary female parent as one who had devotedly raised her sons for civic sacrifice. However counterintuitive, this Spartan mother was "normally" relieved to learn that a son had died in a manner worthy of his self, his country and his ancestors. Indeed, those sons who had somehow failed to live up to this singularly bold standard of sacrifice were conspicuously reviled.
One woman, records Plutarch, whose son had been the sole survivor of a disastrous military engagement, killed him enthusiastically, with a tile. Culturally, it was the only correct punishment for his apparent cowardice. Later, the 18th-century Swiss (Genevan) philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, citing to Plutarch, described another citizen-mother’s tale:
"A Spartan woman had five sons in the army and was awaiting news of the battle. A Helot (slave) arrives trembling; she asks him for the news. 'Your five sons were killed.' 'Base slave, did I ask you that?' The slave responds: 'We won the victory.' The mother runs to the temple and gives thanks to the gods."
Always, it is useful to understand history. Now, President Obama should be especially attentive. Oddly, perhaps, the narratives of Plutarch may have a decisively important bearing upon current "road map" negotiations for a Palestinian state.
The basic roots of Palestinian jihadist terror, Obama should recall, originate from cultures that embrace certain similar views of sacrifice. In these contemporary cultures, the key rationale of sacrifice goes far beyond any ancient Greek expectations of civic necessity. Here, sacrificial practice is undertaken as a distinctly sacred and incontestable expression of religion, one wherein corollary violence ultimately derives from a yearned-for conquest of personal death. In other words, with such primal practice, the jihadist terrorist now promoting "Palestine" hopes to realize an otherwise unattainable immortality.
This is a uniquely important and widely disregarded realization, one that is central to understanding the Palestinian position in President Obama's newly-resurrected Middle East peace process. Even now, the Palestinian jihadist claims to "love death," but this is still a lie. In fact, he (or she) kills himself (or herself), and utterly innocent others, only to ensure a personal life everlasting. The so-called "death" this "martyr" expects to suffer, therefore, is merely a transient inconvenience.
President Obama's "road map" to Palestinian statehood continues a path already begun by the U.N. General Assembly's resolution of November 29, 2012. This resolution, although not a legal substitute for authoritative expectations of the governing treaty on statehood – the 1934 Convention on the Rights and Duties of States – elevated the Palestinian Authority to the enhanced U.N. status of a nonmbember observer state. During the coming months, this elevated status will make it harder to see impending Palestinian statehood for what it really is. For well-intentioned supporters of the peace process, it will become increasingly difficult to discern the uninterrupted Palestinian attraction to terrorism, a commitment stemming from an enduring commitment to religious sacrifice.
There is another nuance of deception that must be addressed. Aware that the dangers of violence from a widely-legitimized Palestinian state could be substantial, or even existential, Prime Minister Netanyahu has made his own acceptance of such a state contingent upon Palestinian demilitarization. Although this condition might at first appear prudent, it ignores a very important norm of international law. This is that every state maintains a fundamental and irreducible right of "self-defense," a prerogative so basic that it can't even be given away by the pertinent negotiating Palestinian Authority in its pre-independence form. This means that the Palestinian Authority could cheerfully agree to abide by any demilitarization provisions in a pre-state agreement with Israel, and later, after independence has been formally achieved, lawfullyreject this negotiated limitation.
In the end, the precise shape of any Palestinian state would be determined, at least in part, by the non-negotiable culture of jihad. Notwithstanding American and Israeli commitments to the now re-started peace process, their Palestinian terrorist "partners" have different orientations to national "self-determination." This stark asymmetry puts Israel and the United States at a tangible disadvantage. While Palestinian "freedom fighters" will continue to express their expectations for immortality, both individual and collective, via ritualistic slaughter of "enemies," the administrations in Washington and Jerusalem will remain largely unmindful of these fighters’ core hierarchy of values and preferences.
In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu, now more-or-less falsely-comforted by "road map" expectations of Palestinian demilitarization, confronts an expanding threat of unconventional war and unconventional terrorism. Still faced with unreconstructed Palestinian adversaries who are not only willing to die, but who may actually seek their own "deaths," Netanyahu should finally understand the intolerable security harms that could be expected from the ongoing juridical creation of "Palestine." In this connection, it is also useful to point out that (1) Palestinian fedayeen or self-sacrificers were first operationalized in 1948, long before there were any "Israel occupied territories;" and (2) all Palestinian Authority and Hamas maps still unambiguously identify all of Israel as "Occupied Palestine."
The practice of terrorism as religious sacrifice will not disappear with the creation of a Palestinian state. On the contrary, following Israel's recently-announced planned release of over 100 Palestinian terrorists as a "good will gesture," the new state's orientation to "martyrdom" will likely remain enthusiastic and energized. Even more ironic, the grievously violent consequences of this release will be injurious to Israel whether or not it "succeeds" as a Peace-Process gesture. This is because the freed Palestinian insurgents, still animated by a longstanding cultural adoration of terrorism as religious sacrifice, will just as readily target Israeli noncombatants from their newly legitimized state of "Palestine," as from the so-called "Occupied Palestinian Territories."
Louis Rene Beres is a professor of International Law at Purdue University. Born in Zurich, Switzerland at the end of World War II, he is the author of many major books and articles dealing with world politics, law, literature, and philosophy.