Kant’s first set of conditions was that the two countries making peace were both democracies. Actually, Kant used the term “Republikanisch,” (republican not democratic), to define countries with representative governments. In fact, Kant argued that in order for these countries to be ruled by “popular and responsible government,” the legislature should be separated from the executive.
Kant wrote that if the two countries making peace were both of a “republican” nature and were made up of popular and responsible governments, then peace would almost certainly exist. Why? According to Kant, these types of governments have internal mechanisms – more specifically, internal deterrents – that prevent them from going to war. Citizens rarely vote for a leader or government that will send their children to war. And if war becomes necessary, then, similarly, the people will vote to replace the leader and/or government if the war is unpopular or unwarranted in the eyes of the public.
The second set of conditions Kant laid out, if the first set were not met, was that external deterrents needed to be in place in order for peace to succeed. Kant proposed a “league of nations” almost 150 years before Woodrow Wilson proposed the same idea. Kant’s belief was that the only way an enduring peace could be sustained in such a situation would be if an international organization existed that was strong enough to enforce the peace.
An analysis of the conditions set out by Kant quickly reveals that neither set of conditions necessary to foster a “perpetual peace” inhere in the current Middle East nexus. In terms of the first set of conditions – both countries being republican in nature, and made up of popular and respectful governments – the facts are clear: Israel is a real, thriving democracy, with internal stabilities and mechanisms as described by Kant, and has had them in place since 1948.
Over and over again the Israeli public has voted for governments intent on making peace (Begin with Camp David, Rabin with Oslo, Sharon with the disengagement from Gaza, to name just three examples). Similarly, when its leaders break the public trust, they are voted out of office and replaced with a new government and a new legislature. In addition, wars that became unpopular caused the removal via the democratic process of Israel’s Prime Minister (for example, Begin and the 1982 War in Lebanon).
By contrast, the Palestinian Authority has drifted further and further away from being a popular and responsible government. Recently, President Mahmud Abbas dismissed the popular and reformist minded Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. This seems to have been the last hurdle in constitutional restraint; Abbas clearly feels unbound by such trivialities. What’s more, no elections are planned, and they will only be held at the decision of one man – Abbas himself. Certainly this is not what Kant had in mind when describing a republican style government.
So if the first of Kant’s conditions are not met, we must look to the second set – namely, a strong “league of nations” willing and able to enforce the peace. Even the casual observer can see clearly the complete impotence the UN has had when attempting to monitor and keep the peace in the Middle East.
In Lebanon, the UNFIL (UN Forces in Lebanon), looked the other way as Hezbollah continually rearmed itself along the Israeli border. In fact former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert, someone who went to great strides and made great concessions towards peace said of UNFIL, "We didn’t like very much UNIFIL which was very useless and very helpless...". One cannot forget how in 1967 the UN Forces in the Sinai Peninsula, stationed to keep the peace between Israel and Egypt, fled with “unparalled speed” as Abba Eben put it at the request of the Egyptians as a means of facilitating an Egyptian attack on Israel which led to the Six Day War. In Syria, in yet another example of UN weakness, UN peacekeepers that were there in order to keep the peace actually fled to Israel in March of this year in order to escape the fighting
It appears that as the Obama Administration and the Europeans try to force the Israelis and the Palestinians to the table to negotiate a peace, it’s less the agreement on paper that matters, and more the institutions in place to enforce the agreement. In Kant’s view – and, most likely, Mr. Netanyahu’s view – neither does a popular and respected government exist in the Palestinian Authority, nor does a strong and competent league of nations exist to ensure the peace.
If an enduring peace is to be achieved, it is clear that the onus is not on the one and only “republican” government in the Middle East. The responsibility must fall on either the Palestinians to create and maintain over time a real form of republicanism, or the UN must step up and for once be willing to enforce the peace, no matter the threats or dangers. Sadly, I see neither scenario playing out. And so I fear, as the father of three young children with Israeli citizenship, that when their 18th birthdays arrive, each one will have to do his or her duty, as required of every Israeli citizen, and, rather than enjoy the fruits of peace, serve instead in the Israeli army to help protect republicanism in the Middle East.
Birnbaum is a former Chief of Staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.