“Until 1967, Israel did not hold an inch of the Sinai Peninsula, West Bank, Gaza Strip or Golan Heights...Year after year Israel called for …peace. The answer was a blank refusal and more war”-Yitzhak Rabin, 1976
The most righteous of men cannot live in peace if his evil neighbor will not let him be– from Wilhelm Tell Act IV, scene III, by Friedrich von Schiller, 1804.
It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion. – R. Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1915.
He who comes to kill you, rise up early and kill him first – The Talmud
The Oslo process that resulted in the signature of the “Declaration of Principles” on the White House Lawns on September 13, 1993, was in many ways a point of singularity in the history of Zionism, after which everything was qualitatively different from that which it was before. It was a point of inflection in the time-line of the evolution of Jewish political independence, at which what were once vaunted values became vilified vices.
Metamorphosis: From deterrence to appeasement?
Thus, almost at a stroke, Jewish settlement and attachment to land, once the essence of the Zionist ethos, were branded as the epitome of egregious extremism. Jewish military might, once exalted as a symbol of national resurgence and self-reliance, was excoriated as the instrument of repression and subjugation.
This metamorphosis is decidedly perplexing. After all, even by the early1990s, Zionism had proved to be one of the most successful—arguably, the most successful—movement of national liberation that arose from the dissolution of the great Empires—providing political independence, economic prosperity and personal liberties to a degree unrivalled by other such movements.
Moreover, despite the manifest justice on which it was founded, Zionism was always territorial and only prevailed, progressed and prospered because it was reinforced by force of arms. Without either of these two components—the land and the sword—it would be no more than an historical footnote today.
The staggering metamorphosis that took place in the Israeli leadership’s approach was aptly described by Daniel Pipes, who—almost two decades ago—wrote:
“the policy of deterrence dominated Israeli thinking during the country's first 45 years, 1948-93, and it worked well…. Eventually, Israelis became impatient for a quicker and more active approach…That impatience brought on the Oslo accords in 1993, in which Israelis initiated more creative and active steps to end the conflict. So totally did deterrence disappear from the Israeli vocabulary, it is today not even considered when policy options are discussed.”
“…Historians will be baffled…”
Presciently, he summed up the consequences of this ill-advised change:
“In retrospect, the 1990s will be seen as Israel's lost decade, the time when the fruits of earlier years were squandered, when the country's security regressed. The history books will portray Israel at this time, like Britain and France in the 1930s, as a place under the sway of illusion, where dreams of avoiding war in fact sowed the seeds of the next conflict.”
His dour prediction was starkly borne out.
Indeed, since then Israel has been compelled to wage four major military campaigns to quell Palestinian-Arab carnage against its citizens and its cities—one in Judea-Samaria, Operation Defensive Shield (2002); Operations Cast Lead (2008-9), Pillar of Defense (2012) and Protective Edge (2014) in Gaza—with a fourth round of fighting in Gaza widely considered only a matter of time.
Pipes’s caveat is eerily reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s stern address to the House of Commons barely a year before the outbreak of World War II:
“…historians a thousand years hence will still be baffled by the mystery of our affairs. They will never understand how it was that a victorious nation, with everything in hand, suffered themselves to be brought low, and to cast away all that they had gained by measureless sacrifice and absolute victory….”
It is difficult not to see much of the same pattern reflected in Israel’s behavior after its sweeping victory in the 1967 Six Day War. For it has frittered away nearly all the fruits of that great triumph.
How terrorist nuisances evolved into strategic threats
It relinquished the vast expanses of the Sinai Peninsula for a grudging peace agreement with Egypt—which resembles an uneasy state of non-belligerence far more than harmonious set of relationships between the two signatories. The one major achievement of the agreement—the demilitarization of Sinai—is being eroded away, even without Israeli consent, as Cairo bolsters its military presence on the peninsula in a (less than successful) effort to deal with sustained and stubborn Jihadi insurgency.
Concern over this is two-fold. Firstly, this could permanently undermine the demilitarization of the Sinai—especially if a more inimical regime than the present Sisi one is (re)installed in Cairo. Secondly, it is an open question whether the Egyptian military will have the resolve and the resources in the long run to impose law and order in Sinai, and much of its weaponry will fall into the hands of the Jihadi militants it is meant to subdue—as has happened in the past on a thankfully small scale.
In Gaza, the dovish doctrine of political appeasement and territorial withdrawal lead to the razing of Jewish communities, the uninterment of Jewish graves and the desecration and destruction of Jewish places of worship. With the IDF gone, the extremist Hamas ejected the somewhat less extreme Fatah and exploited the freedom of action the evacuation provided it to transform itself from being a terrorist nuisance into a quasi-strategic threat.
On Israel’s northern front, territorial retreat (or rather flight) from South Lebanon and the dishonorable desertion of local allies there, abandoned the area to the Islamist Hezbollah, who amassed a formidable arsenal, bristling with rockets and missiles, trained on Israel’s population centers and strategic installations. Here again, the concept of concessions allowed—indeed, induced—a terrorist nuisance to evolve into a genuine strategic threat.
“Destroying peace; promoting violence…”
On Israel’s eastern flank, Oslowian concessions allowed armed militia to deploy within mortar range of the nation’s parliament, the Prime Minister’s office and the Supreme Court; and gave the Palestinian-Arab terror groups free access to military grade explosives and automatic weapons that brought tragedy and trauma to Israel’s streets, sidewalks and shopping malls. In trying to coax the Palestinian-Arabs into an agreed resolution of conflict, Israel made perilous, gut-wrenching concessions and in return, received not only waves of gory terror, but a flood of Judeophobic indoctrination and Judeocidal incitement from the official Palestinian Authority (PA) media and education system.
In trying to coax the Palestinian-Arabs into an agreed resolution of conflict, Israel made perilous, gut-wrenching concessions and in return, received not only waves of gory terror, but a flood of Judeophobic indoctrination and Judeocidal incitement from the official Palestinian Authority (PA) media and education system.
Indeed, recently, the PA changed the content of schoolbooks used from “first grade through[out] high school”, in which virtually any reference to peace, the peace process and any agreement concluded with Israel has been erased. Likewise, removed from the new curriculum was any information, previously taught to Palestinian pupils, relating to ancient Jewish history in "Palestine" and the Jewish presence and connection to Jerusalem. Indeed, according to Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se (the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education) that conducted the study of the new Palestinian school books: “The new curriculum destroys any possibility for peace with Israel, enhances and promotes violence and hatred more than ever.”
"I trust Obama to get a good deal."
Further afield, the application of concession rather than coercion continued to bear bitter fruits for Israel. Instead of being brought to its knees by the Obama administration in 2015, the tyrannical theocracy in Tehran was given much needed relief that allowed it to continue its mischief far and wide, sowing murder and mayhem across the Middle East.
By the terms of the scandalous JCPOA signed between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the “Islamic Republic” was given free rein to promote terror and enhance its military power (especially its missile capabilities) with relative impunity and considerably more cash.
True, the decision regarding the Iranian deal was not an Israeli one, but domestic rivals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly criticized his rigorous opposition to the Obama approach to Iran and its nuclear ambitions, and chastised him for publicly clashing with the US president—this despite the fact “...that Netanyahu [had] tried to impact the president’s stance in years of one-on-one conversations and in the endless top-level contacts between his officials and the Obama administration…indicated that private argument and entreaty…failed.”
Indeed, during the high profile 2015 Saban Forum, just months before the conclusion of the Iran nuclear accord, then-head of the opposition, the dovish Isaac Herzog, declared: "I trust the Obama administration to get a good deal." Just how unfounded that trust proved to be is now a matter of historical record.
There, of course, can be little doubt that domestic division in Israel on the Iranian issue, or at least on the approach to it, helped accentuate the bipartisan rift in the US and facilitated the Democratic majority that approved the deal.
Today, almost five years and billions of dollars later, Iran’s recent attack on Saudi oil installations has demonstrated how it has upgraded its prowess, leaving Israel to confront a new and deadly menace, within the appalling parameters of the JCPOA!
Imagine the dread
But not only have continued concessions, withdrawal and retreat precipitated continued conflict and violence, but the converse seems true as well.
Indeed, one can only shudder with dread at the thought of the perilous predicament the country would be facing, had it heeded the call from the allegedly “enlightened and progressive” voices, who – right up until the gory events of the Syrian civil war that erupted in 2011—hailed the British trained doctor, Bashar al-Assad, as a moderate reformer, with whom a durable peace deal could be cut - if only an intransigent Israel would yield the Golan to his regime.
For, as ominous as the current Iranian military deployment in Syria is, it might well have been far more menacing. After all, the fact that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is not perched on the Golan Heights, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is solely because Israel did not fall prey to the seductive temptation of the land-for-peace formula, as urged by many, in both the international community and in its own security establishment—and did not cede the strategic plateau that commands the approaches to the entire north of the country.
The lessons of what transpired when Israel made concessions and when it did not, when it favored diplomacy and when it relied on deterrence, are lessons Israel can ill afford to ignore.
Real reasons & recalcitrant realities
Yet despite decades of proven failure, Israel’s doves still cling doggedly to their fatally flawed dogma, insisting if only Israel would make additional concessions, a new epoch of Judeo-Arab peace and prosperity would dawn.
Thus, impervious to reality and oblivious to reason, they refuse to acknowledge error, no matter how blatant. Undeterred by catastrophe, unmoved by disaster, they persist in urging Israel toward ever greater perils.
Just how different things once were, before the doves began to dominate the discourse, is starkly underscored by an address by Yitzhak Rabin before a joint session of the US Congress (28 January 1976).
In it, he pointed out that, “Until 1967, Israel did not hold an inch of the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or the Golan Heights. Israel held not an acre of what is now considered disputed territory. And yet we enjoyed no peace. Year after year Israel called for - pleaded for - a negotiated peace with the Arab governments. Their answer was a blank refusal and more war.”
He then went on to identify the causes of conflict: “The reason was not a conflict over territorial claims. The reason was, and remains, the fact that a Free Jewish State sits on territory at all.”
Although Rabin later diverged from his diagnosis, the subsequent chain of death and destruction proved its validity. The real reason for the conflict is “the fact that a Free Jewish State sits on [any] territory at all!
The unpalatable, but unavoidable, conclusion, for doves and hawks alike, that arises from this is that:
The maximum Israel can hope for is to be grudgingly accepted. The minimum it must strive for is to greatly be feared. Its very survival depends on it.
Martin Sherman is the founder & executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies