To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin hits so many nails squarely on the head in “Israel’s New Reality” [October 2006] that I regret to note that he repeats the important mistake he made in writing about Israel’s disengagement from Gaza [“Israel After Disengagement,” October 2005]. That mistake is to believe that a solution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict must be found in the current political environment. This belief leads either to desperate approaches justified on the ground that “if this approach cannot work there is no hope” or to despondency because “no resolution of the conflict is imaginable.”
The alternative to desperation or despondency is patience. Israel needs to recognize and accept that it must wait for changed conditions before it can actively pursue peace and before it can think about what the terms of peace need to be. Of course, even now, Israel, like the Arabs, may need to pretend to be pursuing peace, but it must be careful not to be fooled by its own diplomatic games, and to understand the games that others are playing with the idea of peace.
The Palestinians themselves are divided: some want peace, some want victory—that is, the destruction of Israel. (More than occasionally, those who want victory kill or suppress those who want peace.) But Palestinian “national” action has always depended less on Palestinian opinion than on the actions of Arab states and other outsiders. There is no hope for a Palestinian decision for peace—regardless of what Israel says or does—until the Arab governments (and Iran) decide that peace is in their interest.
There is now an immense struggle going on within the Muslim world and between jihadists and the United States. If America should prevail, it is possible that Arab governments could find it useful to accept Israel’s existence. Or it may be that some further evolution of Arab politics in the direction of decent government will be necessary before Arab governments lose or are able to do without the benefits they obtain by rejecting Israel.
But the fact that we cannot begin to move toward peace until the conditions of the Arab world change is not reason to be despondent. The current turmoil and crisis are shaking the system. Change is closer than it has been for generations—although we must also recognize the danger that things might get worse before they get better.
Sufficient change in the political situation of the Arab world could conceivably happen in as few as five or ten years; more likely it will take a generation or more. Until then, especially in the next few years, Israel faces decisive dangers. The first requirement for getting through this dangerous period is to stop looking for ways to make peace now or soon. Above all, Israel must learn to believe in itself, and to act as if it believes in its right and determination to survive.
Institute for Zionist Strategies
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin offers a lucid exposition of the fissures in Israeli society that the recent war in Lebanon exposed. He rightly supports the journalist Ari Shavit’s contention that Israel’s disappointing performance in the conflict reflected not only a failure of political and military leadership but a more basic failure of the Zionist spirit and its “passing as a motive force in Israeli life” in recent years. But his diagnosis omits a major factor in Zionism’s “demise,” and thus his interesting suggestions for how it might be revived are partial and inadequate.
Mr. Halkin ascribes this demise to, among other things, “the end of collectivist ideologies in Europe and America, the delegitimization of nationalism in the intellectual discourse of the West, the worldwide triumph of the market economy, [and] globalization.” These last two forces were also cited by Shavit. The putative triumph of the market economy or capitalism, they argue, made Israelis selfish individualists, reluctant to make sacrifices on behalf of the nation.
Yet both also note that the war generated an amazing outpouring of volunteerism and identification with national goals. And indeed, alienation is not really the problem of the general Israeli population but of its elites. Israel’s elites have been educated in universities that are far more radically post-Marxist than American universities. They habitually vote for left-wing parties like Meretz and Labor, and they fought viciously against Benjamin Netanyahu’s pro-market reforms. It is sheer fantasy to blame “a capitalist spirit” for their alienation.
What really undermined Zionism was the failure of socialist collectivism, to which it had been betrothed since the 1920’s. Socialism in Israel, as elsewhere, meant big government run by inefficient, wasteful, and corrupt bureaucracies. Eventually, it became so dysfunctional that it could no longer be sustained, and its collapse engendered despair and cynicism in the dominant Labor camp. It was then supplanted by the new dispensation of the post-modern, post-Zionist, neo-Marxist faith.
Israel’s public sector is a holdover from its socialist days, and it still employs every third person in the country. As the war dramatically revealed, the public sector continues to generate problems in every sphere of life: the economy, the health and education systems, welfare, the judiciary, and of course politics and security.
Mr. Halkin concludes that Shavit’s call for a new public discourse to save Israel’s failing spirit is naïve. “National renewals cannot be engineered,” he observes. “‘Ethics,’ ‘truth,’ ‘modesty,’ ‘substance,’ and ‘faith,’ all on Ari Shavit’s shopping list, are not purchasable commodities.” Indeed, the reinstatement of these values—which socialist Zionism vehemently rejected as too bourgeois or religious—will require a long period of education and a revolution in the universities, where postmodern relativism reigns supreme.
Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress
Mevaseret Zion, Israel
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin is mistaken when he writes that within 24 hours after the beginning of the June 1967 Six-Day war, “a joint U.S.-Soviet resolution was unanimously passed by the United Nations Security Council demanding an immediate cease-fire and Israeli withdrawal with no quid pro quo of any kind.” On June 6, the second day of fighting, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 233, which called only for an immediate cease-fire and omitted any call for Israeli withdrawal. The Soviet Union had sought to have the Council condemn Israel as the aggressor and demand its immediate and unconditional withdrawal, but the effort did not succeed.
On June 7, the Soviet Union submitted a draft resolution for a cease-fire that also omitted any call for condemnation of Israel or for Israel’s withdrawal. The Council unanimously adopted the proposal as Resolution 234, and the cease-fire went into effect on the Egyptian and Jordanian fronts on June 8 when those two countries notified the body of their acceptance.
Syria, however, did not accept, and so the fighting continued on the Syrian front. On June 9, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 235, calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Syria, but again without condemnation or any call for withdrawal. This cease-fire went into effect on June 10, and with it the Six-Day war officially ended.
On June 13, the Soviet Union submitted another draft resolution calling for the Security Council to condemn vigorously Israel’s aggressive activities and continued occupation of Arab territory and to demand immediate and unconditional withdrawal. It was rejected in separate votes on each operative paragraph.
Following the defeat in the Council, the Soviet Union submitted an expanded version of the resolution to the General Assembly. Added clauses included a demand for full Israeli compensation of Arab war losses and an appeal to the Security Council to eliminate all the consequences of Israel’s aggression. After a lengthy debate, the General Assembly rejected the proposal on July 4, 1967 in separate votes on the preamble and each of the operative paragraphs, with each item failing to receive not only the required two-thirds majority but even a simple majority.
Jacob L. Mosak
Cedarhurst, New York
Hillel Halkin writes:
Max Singer misreads “Israel’s New Reality” and other articles I have published in Commentary in recent years if he thinks I believe that “a solution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict must be found in the current political environment.” I have in fact repeatedly stated my opinion, entirely in agreement with his, that no solution to the conflict is possible under present circumstances; and that it is at best a waste of time, and at worse opening the door to counterproductive pressure on Israel, to hope for one.
My support for disengagement from Gaza, as well as for a similar withdrawal to the West Bank security fence if an effective way can be found to prevent Palestinian rockets and other ordnance from being fired over it, draws from this conclusion. After all, if there is no prospect of an Israel-Palestinian peace in the foreseeable future, then Israel must act on its own to assert its vital interests.
These interests are, as I see them: (1) improving Israel’s long-term international position; (2) putting an end to what is now 40 years of total or partial Israeli rule over a Palestinian population that has no political rights vis-à-vis its rulers—a situation that should also be considered intolerable from Israel’s point of view; (3) and, above all, squarely confronting Israel’s demographic problem.
I see no way of stressing too strongly that the major threat to Israel’s survival as a Jewish state is not the specter of an Iranian nuclear weapon or eventual Arab military superiority, worrisome as such things may be. It is rather the certainty, due to the huge disparity between Palestinian and Israeli birthrates, of Jews becoming a minority, and before that, the slimmest of majorities, in the entirety of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. If Israel does not withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria while it still can, leaving only Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs in its possession, it will inexorably turn into a binational state, and at a later stage, a predominantly Arab state, regardless of whether Palestinians are immediately granted political equality or not. If I were a Palestinian Arab intent on recovering all of Palestine, this is exactly what, even if it meant prolonging my people’s suffering for another generation, I would wish to see happen. Does Mr. Singer?
Daniel Doron has long played a valiant role in the struggle to free Israel’s economy from the forces of bureaucratic regulation and centralization that have choked its growth, and I salute him for it. Moreover, I agree with him that much of the cynicism of Israelis, which is really no more than their despair over their inability to change a system that is entrenched in all spheres of life, can be attributed to these forces. Strengthening them in the hope of re-collectivizing the Israeli mentality is certainly not the way to achieve the “national renewal” that both he and Ari Shavit hope for. But does the contemporary experience of America and Europe, whose economies are far less centralized than Israel’s, teach us that greater economic freedom and prosperity automatically do lead to “national renewal”? Exactly where does Mr. Doron see such a renewal taking place?
I stand corrected by Jacob L. Mosak. But the point I made in my article, which is that initial international reaction to Israel’s war in Lebanon last summer was more favorable than it was to any of Israel’s previous military campaigns, still holds. Even without calling for an Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory in 1967, a U.S.-backed UN resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire on the second day of fighting, when the Israeli push into Sinai was only just beginning, was less supportive of Israeli military action than the international community’s refusal last summer to demand a ceasefire at all until the fighting was well into its third week.