Commentary Magazine


Israel Against Itself

A few days after the recent death at the age of ninety-one of Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, biochemist, theologian, and indefatigable public gadfly, I spied the following notice on the Jerusalem street where he lived:

            Blessed Be the True Judge

With Much Sorrow We Announce the Death
Of the Great Thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz
Who Was Among the Regular Worshipers
In the Central Yeshurun Synagogue
Of Jerusalem.

In the outpouring of encomia that followed Leibowitz’s death, such praise for him was not at all extravagant. There was perhaps one odd thing about it—namely, that most members of the Yeshurun synagogue belong to what is known as “the national religious camp,” a sector of Israeli society for which Leibowitz had considerable contempt.

But since Leibowitz had considerable contempt for most of Israeli society, this was part of a larger question. And that was: how could a man who was an interesting polemicist but an undistinguished scientist and far from a “great thinker”—who indeed exhibited little intellectual subtlety to speak of—have grown so esteemed by a country denounced by him for decades? Indeed, Israel’s media heaped upon his grave such epitaphs as “prophet,” “intellectual giant,” “revered spiritual shepherd,” “great giver of answers,” and “the most luminous intelligence of his times,” while no less a personage than the president of the state of Israel proclaimed him “One of the major figures in the life of the Jewish people in recent generations.”

The death notice on Ussishkin Street notwithstanding, it is a fact that Leibowitz, most of whose writings were concerned with religious issues, was largely ignored in his lifetime by Israel’s religious community, while becoming a guru for part of its secular Left. One reason for this, I have always suspected, was that, as a hyper-rationalist who aimed many of his sharpest barbs at the neo-Hasidism associated with Martin Buber and his followers, Leibowitz made Judaism seem so drudgingly joyless an affair that his nonobservant readers could happily congratulate themselves on their wisdom in having avoided it. Jewish ritual and belief, as described by Leibowitz, are an unrewarded exercise in unquestioning obedience to the incomprehensible commandments of an unfathomable God, a formula that undoubtedly salved more than one secular conscience for knowing and caring nothing more about them.

But it was Leibowitz’s politics rather than his theology that made him a nationally known figure. A critic of Israeli “militarism” even before the Six-Day War of 1967, he was one of the first to declare almost immediately after victory that the war had been a “national catastrophe,” and his opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to the “fascistic” settlers who built their lives there, grew more extreme with time. Unlike many critics of Israeli rule over the Palestinians, Leibowitz strongly backed the refusal of soldiers to do army service in the occupied territories, and accused those who failed to join him of political and moral cowardice. More than anything, it was his untiring support of the small group of conscientious objectors sent to Israeli military jails from the early 1980′s on that won him an admiring following among the hard-core Left.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc: now that the belief that Israel must return all the territory acquired by it in the 1967 war, until recently an act held to be unthinkable by a great majority of the country’s population, has become the guiding policy of the Rabin-Peres government, it should perhaps surprise no one that Leibowitz, long treated as a marginal crank by the political and cultural establishment which he called “Judeo-Nazi” during the years of the intifada, has been buried by it with full honors. (Actually, the process of rehabilitation started two years ago, when he was offered—and, after a national brouhaha, declined to accept—the prestigious Israel Prize for intellectual and cultural achievement.)

_____________

 

Nonetheless, although he was an early and vociferous critic of Israel’s occupation of the territories, Leibowitz was by no means the only one, even in 1967, and there were others who argued later for conscientious objection. Whence, then, the virtual beatification of him? When the saints go marching in, it is true, someone must stride at their head; but why Leibowitz?

As a theologian, Leibowitz’s lifelong mentor was the 12th-century Maimonides, whose insistence on the unknowability of God, and the absurdity of seeking traces of the Divine in the phenomenal world, he shared. Not only was Jewish mysticism, as found in the Kabbalah and in Hasidism, anathema to him; he adamantly rejected as “idolatrous” the inclination to treat anything material, let alone such aggregate bodies as the people or the land of Israel, as a numinous reification of spirituality.

In a 1975 essay, “The Uniqueness of the Jewish People,” Leibowitz spoke of “two traditions of interpretation” in Judaism, a true one descending “from Moses via Maimonides” and a false one of “racist-nationalist chauvinism” identified by him with figures like the 12th-century poet-philosopher Yehuda Halevi and the 16th-century Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague. “Ultimately,” Leibowitz wrote in a typical passage there,

nothing is holy in the world . . . [except] sanctity [that] stems from [obeying] a commandment of the Creator. [The belief in numinousness] is what distinguishes pagan religiosity from true religiosity. For pagan religiosity [alone] land itself may be holy.

And just to make sure that no one missed the reference to Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, he added: “I am aware that this paganism is spreading like wildfire today, affecting even many who, subjectively, are believing Jews.”

Although the thrust of this argument has much in common with the anti-Zionism of ultra-Orthodoxy, Leibowitz always insisted that he was a Zionist. The paradox of his position lay in Zionism’s being for him a strictly secular proposition—a mere “expression,” as he wrote elsewhere, “of our being fed up with being ruled by goyim.” Casting off the yoke of the “goyim” justified, in his opinion, the struggle for Jewish political independence; but any attribution of religious significance to such independence, or to the Jewish state embodying it, was again “idolatry.”

In developing this argument, Leibowitz had in mind another Jewish theologian who, like Buber, is constantly targeted in his writings even when not mentioned there by name: Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, chief rabbi of Palestine from 1921 to 1935. Kook’s mystical speculations about the divine purposes unwittingly served by secular Zionism became the ideological cornerstone of “national religious” thought in general and of the post-1967 religious settlement movement in particular.

Here lies the real significance of Leibowitz for the constellation in Israeli life that is now ready to relinquish in advance any Jewish claims to the territories taken in 1967, and to exchange them in their entirety for peace treaties with the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors. The anti-Zionism of the ultra-Orthodox has always viewed all Jewish territorial demands in Palestine as illegitimate, but it has played no role in Israeli public discourse. Much of the Zionist Left has also objected consistently to basing such territorial demands on Jewish history or tradition, but its militant secularism has limited the audience for its argument. Leibowitz alone worked out a position that was both religious and ostensibly Zionist while denying any claim to the land of Israel based on the belief system of Judaism. “The attempt to justify such a right on historic grounds,” he wrote, “has neither legal nor moral validity.”

It was the perceived weight of Leibowitz’s religious authority that could allow a politician like Shulamit Aloni, Minister of Culture in the Rabin government and titular head of the left-wing Meretz party, to risk quoting approvingly his disdainful reference to Jericho in the Jordan Valley, an area rich with Jewish historical memories and one that all previous Israeli governments had proclaimed their intention of retaining for reasons of security, as “the city of Rahab the [Canaanite] harlot,” to which no sane Israeli could feel a connection. And it was this same authority that made Labor Knesset member Avraham Burg—himself both an observant Jew from a “national religious” background and a territorial dove whose politics would be intellectually incoherent without the writings of Leibowitz—call the latter “a moral compass.” The installation of this compass on the bridge of the Jewish ship of state is, one might say, the implicit goal of the campaign of adulation that followed Leibowitz’s death.

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2.

In terms of the immanent logic of Orthodoxy, Leibowitz proposed nothing outrageous. It was reasoning similar to his, after all, that led many in the Orthodox religious community in Europe and Palestine to fight Zionism tooth-and-nail right up to the Holocaust, while scornfully rejecting the synthesizing dialectic of Rabbi Kook. Conversely, a large part of Zionism’s conscious revolt against Orthodoxy was precisely its battle to wrest traditional Jewish concepts and symbols from religion’s grip and appropriate them for itself.

“The Land of Israel,” “the Exile,” “the return to Zion,” “the ingathering of the exiles”—it was by recontextualizing the mythopoetics of Jewish tradition, and placing them at the service of a secular nationalism, that the Zionist movement was able to harness the dreams and energies of Diaspora Jews. From the point of view of the fiercer guardians of tradition, this may have been an impious hoax; but it was one without which there would today be no state of Israel and no common future for that great majority of the Jewish people which does not accept tradition’s behests.

All societies—and none so much as modern ones like our own that are consciously engaged in redefining their relationship to the past—live by collective myths that legitimate group norms precisely to the extent that they are perceived not as myths but as self-evident truths. Thus, when one speaks today of Israel’s entering a “post-Zionist age,” one is speaking of the fact that the central myths of Zionism, which for four or five generations successfully linked Jewish settlement in Palestine, and the existence of the state of Israel, to 3,000 years of Jewish history, no longer speak to much of Israeli society and its current political leadership.

Granted, intellectual propositions rarely determine the practical calculations of politicians. But when one considers the astonishing retreat made by the Labor government in the past two years from a seemingly solid national consensus against returning to the 1967 borders, as well as the rapidity with which this national consensus itself has crumbled, it seems evident that so hurried a turnabout could never have occurred had not the intellectual ground for it been well prepared in advance.

This “ground-clearing” was the subject of a recent article in the liberal newspaper Ha’aretz. There the Israeli author Aharon Megged, long a supporter of the Labor party, observed that since the Six-Day War, not only Leibowitz but “hundreds of [Israel's] leading writers, intellectuals, academics, authors, and journalists . . . have been unceasingly and diligently preaching that [Israel's] case is not just,” while participating in an “assault on Zionist legitimacy [by] the denial of the historic link of our people with the land of our forefathers.” And yet “without this link,” Megged continued,

We would not have come here and would have nothing to do here. . . . Our right to the land does not give us leave to rule people who have dwelt in it for many generations, or to deprive them of their rights. It is understandable that there has been moral outrage in large segments of the Israeli public against acts of oppression and injustice inflicted on residents of the territories we occupied in a war forced upon us. But since the Six-Day War, and at an increasing pace, we have witnessed . . . a [growing tendency on the part of Israeli intellectuals to] regard religious, cultural, and emotional affinity to the land—the most important rationale for our existence here—with sheer contempt. They see it as contaminated by nationalism, fundamentalism, fetishism, and even fascism.

For an American reader to appreciate the essential accuracy of Megged’s remarks, it is not necessary to review hundreds of unknown names. Suffice it to sample this past year’s Hebrew bestseller list, which was topped by the four Israeli authors who are also those most frequently read in translation abroad.

Of these four, three—Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and David Grossman—have been active for years on the extreme “dovish” Left and have published books and articles attacking the very principle, to say nothing of the reality, of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. The fourth, Meir Shalev, writes a weekly newspaper column that has been even more caustic on the subject of the settlers. Indeed, Shalev’s well-written and highly successful novel, The Blue Mountain, which has quickly become a standard literary text in Israeli schools, deals with an earlier generation of settlers, that of the Jewish farmers in the Valley of Jezreel in the 1910′s and 20′s, and is a parodic send-up of the “myth” of Jewish agricultural pioneering in Palestine, long pointed to with pride as one of Zionism’s most impressive achievements.

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Although Megged too is a novelist, his article in Ha’aretz deals primarily with the writing of history, and specifically with the group that has come to be known in recent years as the “new Israeli historians.” Clustered in this category are a number of investigators, some coming from universities and others from the world of journalism. With the aid of newly-opened Israeli government and Zionist archives, such figures have taken to reexamining standard Israeli accounts of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors, etc., in much the same spirit as revisionist historians in the United States attacked accepted American versions of the cold war a decade earlier. While not all belong to a specific school of thought, all have questioned conventional Zionist interpretations of the past in the name of newly-gained historical knowledge and have reached, according to Megged, a “conclusion [that] is almost uniform: that in practice Zionism amounts to an evil, colonialist conspiracy to exploit the people dwelling in Palestine, enslave them, and steal their land.”

In this, it must be said, Megged is not entirely fair. Whatever their politics, at least some of the authors he accuses are serious scholars. If anything, the dismayed responses evoked by their work lead one to reflect that Zionism may have sinned less by certain things that it did than by its embarrassment over having done them, which led to the manufacture of piously propagandistic legends that could only breed disillusionment in the end.

Of course—as official Israel denied and as a “new historian” like Benny Morris documents in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem—Arabs were deliberately expelled from certain Jewish areas in 1948-49. Though “ethnic cleansing” deservedly has a bad name, a good case can be made that without a limited amount of it, the new Jewish state would have have found itself in 1948 with all the problems of 1967, including an intifada that would have begun in the 1950′s.

Similarly, there is much to be said for the policy of David Ben-Gurion, described at length by a “new historian” like Avi Shlaim in The Politics of Partition, of seeking to negotiate a division of Palestine with King Abdullah of Transjordan behind the world’s and the Palestinians’ backs. As the Hebrew University political scientist Meron Benvenisti, an observer far from unsympathetic to the Palestinian cause, has written:

Paradoxically, the “new historians” retroactively strengthen the case for [the more forthright approach of Zionists like Ze'ev] Jabotinsky and his followers, who were never in need of prophylactic myths and explanations to soften a harsh reality. If [Ben-Gurion and other leaders] had spoken more honestly at the time, there would be less sanctimonious head-shaking today over what happened.

In any event, Israel has for many years now been in the throes of a concerted enterprise of “demythologization” that has left few Zionist legends intact, from the heroic sagas of the first waves of immigration at the turn of the century to the Israeli army’s laureled rescue mission to Entebbe in 1976. Nor is this in itself necessarily a bad thing. Praiseworthy is the people that wants to know and be told the truth about its past, and no cause that cannot withstand the impact of the truth is ultimately worth fighting for.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that the “new history” has often been written with ulterior aims. As was admitted by Tom Segev, himself a “new historian” whose The Seventh Million accuses Zionist and Israeli leaders of unscrupulously exploiting and distorting the history of the Holocaust for political ends, the real quarrel between the “old” and “new” historians is less over what actually happened in the past than it is

a political argument in the narrow Israeli sense of the word . . . a struggle between different positions toward the Israel-Arab conflict. The first stage of this debate began [as a result of the expansion of Jewish settlement in the territories] during the Begin period; the present stage has erupted against the background of the decisions that must be taken within the framework of the peace process. It is thus a highly concrete argument, dealing with the roots of the war for Palestine, which has not yet been brought to its conclusion; those participating in it are ostensibly arguing over the past, but they are really talking about the present and the future. . . . There is nothing surprising, therefore, in the fact that a [large] part of the new historians can be easily identified with the Left of the political map, while their opponents are identified with the Right.

The problem, unfortunately, is that superimposed upon this metaphorical map is a real one, the lines of which represent such things as actual rivers, mountain chains, and valleys. Once they are determined by the negotiations currently in process and the resolve of the parties involved, the Jews of Israel will have to live within those lines, and possibly to defend themselves, for a very long time to come.

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3.

To an observer, the most puzzling feature of the Rabin government’s apparent willingness to pull back to Israel’s old borders and see the settlements beyond them dismantled has been the question of the Golan Heights.

In the case of the West Bank, a strong argument can be presented on both military and historical grounds for retaining at least some of the area and insisting on the right of Jews to live securely in all of it. But there are also strong countervailing arguments: the difficulty of democratically absorbing large numbers of hostile Palestinians; the problematics of depriving a tiny Palestinian state of a good part of what little territory stands to be allotted to it; the naiveté of assuming that Jews can exist safely under Arab rule anywhere; the international pressure on Israel to meet Palestinian demands deemed just by the world; etc. The Rabin-Arafat pact, the logic of which points to an eventual surrender of the entire West Bank, and ultimately of Arab Jerusalem too, may yet prove to have been a grave mistake—but it is at least an understandable one.

Not so the Golan. Here there is no Arab population except for a few thousand not particularly unhappy Druze who were granted full Israeli citizenship when the region was annexed by a vote of the Knesset in 1981. There is no moral reason to restore a region of great strategic value, and one that has been economically developed by Israeli settlers, to a Syrian government that used it solely as a military springboard against Israel and to a Syrian people for whom it represents less than half of 1 percent of the total land area of their country. And there is no serious international pressure on Israel to capitulate to a dictatorial regime that has been heavily involved in international terror.

Yet, in violation of their 1992 campaign promises, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres decided to jettison the Golan, and to let the Syrians know even before serious negotations began that this was their intention; and they did so entirely, it would seem, on their own inspiration.

Obviously, a peace treaty with Syria at the present juncture is impossible without giving up the Golan, but less obvious is what the urgency is for such a treaty when both the Jordanians and the Palestinians have made it clear to President Assad of Syria that they do not intend to wait for him in dealing with Israel. Surely there is no pressing need for Israelis to tour Damascus or for an insignificant amount of trade to cross the Israeli-Syrian border as it has been crossing the Israeli-Egyptian border since 1982. Nor can the calculation be that, by returning the Golan, Israel will avoid risking military defeat in a war begun by Syria. Every military analyst knows that, as long as the Golan remains in Israeli hands, a Syria fighting by itself has little chance of overcoming Israel or of permanently winning back lost territory.

Prime Minister Rabin, it is said by those close to him, is afraid of an “eastern alliance,” a Syrian-Iraqi-Iranian gang-up on Israel under the banner of Muslim fundamentalism, and wishes to forestall such a development by luring Syria into the Western camp with the Golan as his bait. An intriguing theory—but, if true, a foolish one.

Which, after all, are the two Arab states most threatened today by fundamentalists? Are they not Algeria and Egypt, the former one of the most Westernized of all Arab countries and the latter an American ally that made peace with Israel in exchange for the return of Sinai? What reason is there to think that Syria with the Golan Heights will be more immune to the threat of a fundamentalist takeover some day than Syria without it? If the military specter of Muslim fundamentalism is so great, the imperative of retaining the Golan as a fortified buffer against it becomes even greater.

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Can the Prime Minister have other reasons for so badly wanting a formal peace with Syria? One assumes that he too reads Ha’aretz, and saw there a front-page advertisement on September 11 paid for by a member of Kibbutz Kinneret, which faces the Golan Heights across the Sea of Galilee. The ad was addressed jointly to him and to Knesset member Eli Goldshmidt, an ex-kibbutznik belonging to a minority faction in the Labor party that opposes the total concessions on the Golan that the Prime Minister seems ready to make. (Goldshmidt subsequently knuckled under to pressure from Rabin and withdrew from active participation in the group.) It said:

            To Yitzhak Rabin

Continue on Your Brave Way.
Continue to Lead the Caravan
And Pay No Heed to the Barking Dogs.

             To Eli Goldshmidt

I Never Thought That You Would Stand
At the Head of the Torpedoers of Peace.
All the Good Things That You Have Done
Are Dwarfed by a Single Drop of Blood
Shed by One Soldier in Lebanon,
Have no Value When Set against One Tear
Of a Mother Worried for Her Son.

Before I am asked what can be the significance of a political ad placed by a single person, let me emphasize that, given the current division of public opinion in Israel, most readers of a paper with the political views of Ha’aretz would have nodded with visceral approval when they read the above words. They would have done so even if too young to remember that the old Russian proverb, “The dogs bark and the caravan passes,” was for years a favorite slogan of Zionist activists and of those elements in the Israeli government that called for tough stands toward the Arabs despite the criticism of the world.

But this irony is hardly the most remarkable thing about the ad. That is the fact that, using the rhetoric of old-fashioned Zionism, it tells us that the retention of a militarily invaluable area like the Golan Heights, dotted with ancient Jewish villages and synagogues, taken with heavy casualties in 1967 and defended with even greater heroism and loss of life in 1973, is not worth the life of a single Israeli soldier killed by Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon—no, not even a scratch on that soldier’s hand! As if the latter were a conscript serving in the army of the czar, his sole responsibility to the Jewish people, it would appear, is to keep out of danger and get home to his anxious mother as quickly as possible.

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It would be hard to imagine a better example of what Daniel Elazar, director of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has called in a recent essay the “new privatism [in Israel] that does not encourage great public purposes or individual sacrifice for public tasks.” “The end of Zionism,” Elazar writes there,

was bound to come, given the trends in the world against the old ideologies . . . the decline of the possibility for religious or national exclusivism in a world increasingly interdependent in everyway, where mass communications and pop culture enter into every corner and drive out local cultures, even those rooted for centuries. But all of these trends have been exacerbated by the non- or anti-Zionists within the Israeli peace camp who see in the goals and values of Zionism, as in those of Judaism much more generally, their bete noire. They have been trying to undermine Zionism for years, painting the Zionist enterprise in the blackest of hues. The peace process has opened the gates for them to express themselves more sharply on behalf of a goal that seems equally popular to much of the Israeli public.

But a “trend exacerbated,” one might say, is precisely what Zionism, too, has always been. For while its own historians have tended to stress its uniqueness, it has been synchronized throughout its history with the broader Zeitgeist that nourished it. In the last decades of the 19th century, this was the spirit of risorgimento and of colonial adventure and conquest; in the first half of this century, of the great collectivist movements of the Left and Right; in the years immediately after World War II, of anti-colonial nationalism and, later on, of the battle of national wills that was the cold war.

In all of these epochs, Zionism appealed to its adherents by making them feel that their lives were in accord with, indeed often in the vanguard of, the most deeply felt truths of their times. But the deepest felt truth of our times, with their post-nationalist economics of consumerism and their technologies of the global village, may be the idea that between the level of the single individual and the level of the entire human race there is nothing to demand our allegiance. If so, then there may also no longer be anything left in the contemporary world to nourish Zionism.

In this sense, the new privatism and the new anti-Zionism are one and the same phenomenon. Half-echoing Leibowitz (who would have scoffed, however, at the second half of the proposition), an author like Amos Oz tells us that “there is no such thing as the holiness of land, there is only the holiness of man.” Beneath the loftiness of his language, though I dare say this was hardly his intention, he is merely authenticating the shift of mythologies that has accompanied the great cultural changes of the age.

A country that regards the life of a single citizen as being worth nothing may not deserve to be defended. But a country that regards the life of a single citizen as being worth everything may end up declining to defend itself. (Curiously enough, though, when the same citizen is killed in his private car on the roads—Israel has one of the world’s worst accident rates—his death is accepted by even the peckiest of doves as a routine cost of modern life.) This, I submit, may be the real apprehension of Israel’s Prime Minister.

To judge by his frequent ominous references to Syrian missiles raining down on Tel Aviv and making Saddam Hussein’s Scuds look like “child’s play,” Yitzhak Rabin has taken what he deems to be the lessons of the Gulf war to heart. For that war against an Arab country, in which Israel took no active part, is ironically the one war in its history that it lost, not only in terms of the damage done to its powers of deterrence by its passivity when attacked, but even more so by the behavior of its once steelier-nerved populace. While suffering scarcely a single missile-caused death, Israelis fled Tel Aviv in droves and dutifully spent much of the war hunkered behind gas masks in airtight rooms against an improbable danger.

A Syrian super-Scud attack on Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Rabin seems to fear, would cause such public panic that his or any other Israeli government would be forced to sue for terms long before the Israeli army could reach Damascus. In that case, it is logical to ask, is it not better to avoid such a debacle and cut the best possible deal now with the Syrians, who do not yet speak the language of the holiness of man, before they realize the full extent of Israel’s vulnerability?

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4.

Indeed, since 1967 Israel has been afflicted by what might be called a worsening condition of national schizophrenia, in which outwardly the country—which went through four wars, the intifada, and innumerable terror attacks in this period—was still living in a Zionist heroic age while inwardly it was more and more conducting its daily business by the cultural codes of the advanced capitalist West.

On one level, this split has expressed itself in the widening gap between an increasingly less nationalistic secular public and an increasingly more nationalistic religious public. Together, these two publics have played out, as it were, two halves of a single historical situation which the country has been unable to integrate. On another level, the split can be perceived in the lives of many members of the secular public itself, who have increasingly found themselves figuratively—and sometimes literally—going back and forth from army camp to shopping mall. Such a growing tension must cause something to snap in the end, as it did when the Labor government embarked on its present course.

Israel needs peace just as the Arab countries do and should make every reasonable effort to achieve it, including painful concessions when these are absolutely necessary and are balanced by similar compromises on the other side. But the three basic rules of the art of negotiation, as anyone who has ever bargained in an Arab souk understands, are: first, always know in advance what your bottom line is, while keeping this knowledge from the other side; second, never appear too eager to buy or to sell what the other side wishes to sell or to buy; and third, be ready to get up and walk away whenever the final price offered is not right.

In its haste to arrive at a comprehensive peace with the Arab world that it apparently believes Israel is too weak to afford to wait for any longer, the Rabin government, first at Oslo and later in its subsequent dealings with the Palestinians and the Syrians, has violated each of these rules repeatedly.

One can only hope that it does not prove necessary to read, in some history book of the future:

As the 20th century neared its end and the Arab world began grudgingly to accept Israel’s existence and to seek to make peace with it, Israel found itself in an internal conflict between its traditional Zionist determination to secure a Jewish state within militarily and historically meaningful borders and its post-Zionist desire for a normalization of life on the American and West European model. Given the steady attrition of the first state of mind and the steady strengthening of the second, the eventual outcome of the conflict was inevitable. But unfortunately for the country, this outcome was unnecessarily accelerated by the beliefs and actions of its leaders, who thus seriously undermined their own bargaining position in the negotiations then in progress with the Arab states.

In consequence, in return for the diplomatic recognition of its neighbors and certain security arrangements on their part, Israel agreed to return to its 1967 borders on all fronts, acquiesce in the establishment of a Palestinian state with the eastern half of Jerusalem as its capital, and remove all Jewish settlers from the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Deprived of the military advantages of the Golan and the Jordan Valley with its controlling hills, and expelled from the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, the country, its overcrowded population concentrated in the narrow coastal strip between the state of Palestine and the sea, experienced not a sense of well-being after peace was concluded but a profound moral and psychological malaise. Thus, it was ill-prepared to resist demands presented to it at a later date that it cede the heavily Arab-populated Galilee to Palestine and the southern Negev to Egypt, in order to create a land bridge between the eastern and western halves of the Arab world. The results can be seen in the maps on the following page. . . .

About the Author

Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.




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