The last two months have witnessed a fresh outbreak of violence in Israel and the death toll keeps rising every day. The “peace process,” which started with great fanfare when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands in front of a beaming Bill Clinton and happy shutterbugs, has unraveled amidst a bloodbath. It is clear that something has gone terribly awry, but nobody can put his finger on it.
In fact, this rampant violence is the logical culmination of the trend Israeli policy has been following for at least the last decade, which has been in sharp contrast to its single-minded focus on security and defense for the first forty years of its existence.
From its founding in 1948 till the late 1980s Israel’s military and foreign policy were centered on the fundamental need of its survival in a hostile Arab world. During that period Israel demonstrated an exemplary commitment to security, without which it would have perished. Its key to survival was a strong defense and the determination to use military force against its foes. The six-day war of 1967, the Yom Kippur war of 1973, the bombing of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in 1981, and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 were brilliant successes of the Israeli military.
The peace with Egypt following the Camp David accord between Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian leader Anwar Saddat in 1978 was also an instance of Israel’s pursuit of its survival. Saddat had explicitly renounced the anti-Israel stance of his predecessor, the pro-Soviet dictator Nasser, and unequivocally acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. Saddat’s overall policies were pro-Western and he meticulously refrained from actions inimical to Israel’s security, such as sponsorship of terrorism. This is in direct contrast to Israel’s current negotiations with a known terrorist turned dictator like Arafat.
Following America’s lead in appeasing its enemies, Israel made an abrupt turn in the 90s and started dealing with its declared foes, pursuing peace at any price instead of survival and security. To quote a historical analogy, it was as if after adhering to Winston Churchill’s uncompromising toughness for forty years, Israel shifted gears to Neville Chamberlain’s policy of accommodating its enemies.
An obvious instance of this policy shift occurred during the Gulf War of 1991, when Israel did not retaliate against Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked scud missile attacks against Israeli civilians. The Israeli government’s lame rationalization was that it did not want to disrupt the coalition of Arab states that were fighting on the side of the US against Iraq in the Gulf War. Clearly, Israel was operating on the premise of appeasement and as a result not only did it fail to defend itself against Saddam’s attacks, but the Arab states it sought to accommodate included Syria, an openly anti-Israel and pro-terrorist state, and Saudi Arabia, PLO’s biggest financier. Placating such self-avowed foes could never have been in Israel’s interests.
The most flagrant manifestation of this sharp policy change has been Israel’s recognition of and dealings with the PLO. The Oslo and Camp David agreements in the mid 90s granted legitimacy to Arafat, one of the bloodiest terrorists in world history, by making him head of the Palestinian authority, which is supposed to evolve into a full-fledged independent state. But statehood presupposes the acceptance of basic individual rights and the rule of law. People intent on ruling by brute force, which is true of most Palestinians, are a direct threat to the civilized world [and their own citizens!].
A huge share of the blame for these developments falls squarely on the shoulders of the United States. While posing as Israel’s foremost ally, America bears fundamental responsibility for the erosion of Israel’s commitment to its survival. Both in the philosophical and the political realm, the US has had a pernicious impact on Israel.
Philosophically, the culture of present-day America is thoroughly dominated by pragmatism, a philosophy that considers ideas to be irrelevant to human life and therefore holds that man ought to choose his actions by range-of-the-moment expediency rather than timeless principles. See this tenet in action in the sharp contrast between Netanyahu’s strong condemnation of terrorism in his book “Fighting Terrorism” and his appeasement of Arafat as prime minister.
Israel can learn a lot from the United States, but it must seek such lessons in the principles of the Founding Fathers rather than the corrupt ideas prevailing in today’s America.
Politically, an event that set the stage for the reversal of Israeli foreign policy was the de facto recognition of the PLO in 1988 following the alleged renunciation of terrorism by Arafat. Since then the US has constantly put pressure on Israel to accommodate Arafat, promoted the “peace process,” and treated Israel and the PLO as moral equivalents, where in reality one is a sovereign and comparatively free country and the other is a bunch of terrorists turned into respectable thugs by the approval of a pragmatic world.
Israel is America’s strongest bulwark against terrorism in an overwhelmingly hostile Arab region and yet the Camp David talks and the recent “peace summit” hosted by Clinton in response to Middle East violence are clear instances of America’s betrayal of its staunchest ally.
While Israel today stands alone after being thrown to the wolves by the US, it can still reverse its suicidal course and salvage its national security. But political change alone cannot bring about a fundamental shift in Israeli military and foreign policy. The force of the prevailing idea of appeasement is so great that once a politician is elected he cannot take a stand against it and yet keep his office.
Only a profound change in the ideas underlying Israeli policy will produce the effect of restoring Israel’s commitment to its survival and security. Israel needs to reject the philosophy of pragmatism it has imported from American universities and Washington, DC, and revive its traditional black-and-white firmness of recognizing its friends and foes and treating them accordingly. No individual or nation can make a deal with the devil and hope to survive.
[Publisher’s Note: Capitalism Magazine holds that the only proper basis for a Palestinian state is to create a state whose purpose is to protect the inalienable rights of all its citizens.]