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The Structure of a Diplomatic Revolution

As Israeli politics has shifted rightward, assumptions that underpinned a half-century of Middle East policy have been invalidated. It is time for a paradigm shift in how we think about the Middle East, not because a better diplomatic model has presented itself (it has not), but because the current paradigm is increasingly at odds with reality.

NEW YORK – It has been nearly 60 years since the philosopher and historian Thomas Kuhn wrote his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn’s thesis was simple but heretical: breakthroughs in science occur not through the gradual accumulation of small changes to existing thinking, but rather from the sudden emergence of radical ideas that cause existing models to be replaced with something fundamentally different. As was the case when astronomers determined that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa, these “paradigm shifts” usher in an entirely new model that becomes the basis for “normal” scientific study and experimentation until it, too, is replaced.

I mention Kuhn because his idea is as relevant for social science as it is for natural science. The example I have in mind is the contemporary Middle East, where the current paradigm between Israel and its neighbors has prevailed for more than a half-century.

Nearly everything said and written about the issue reflects the outcome of the June 1967 Six-Day War, which left Israel in control of territories that had previously belonged to Jordan (East Jerusalem and the West Bank), Egypt (the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza) and Syria (the Golan Heights). Since then, the “normal” diplomatic model (enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 242 and subsequent resolutions) has assumed that Israel would trade this territory in exchange for security and peace.

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