Commentary Magazine


Middle East Peace

To the Editor:

In “Israel’s Moment of Truth” [February], Daniel Pipes misinterprets the peace process, seeing it as the headlong drive of defeatist, war-weary Israelis rather than as the hard-nosed pursuit of national interest that it really is. He might have paid greater attention to those Israelis, like myself, who are skeptical of Prime Minister Barak’s haste on the Syrian track and would prefer instead an early agreement with the Palestinians.

The demographic time bomb on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (leaving aside fertility rates among Arabs within Israel) has already detonated. To rule the Palestinians indefinitely would constitute an insurmountable strategic liability. Quite apart from the qualms of bleeding-heart democrats over the apartheid-like political arrangements required by a policy of “Greater Israel,” the country is simply incapable of providing the minimum level of social services, economic development, and municipal infrastructure needed by the burgeoning Palestinian population. Thus, while a Palestinian state would indeed raise long-term security concerns, holding on to “Greater Israel” would bring down the entire social and economic system like a house of cards, and is a dangerous fantasy.

This, finally, is the strategic ground on which the Oslo accords stand. Dreams of Jewish-Arab brotherhood, important as they may be, are mere ideological superstructure. Having set the process in motion, we Israelis ultimately must either carry it through to an agreed-upon settlement or reimpose our rule on the alleyways of Khan Yunis and the kasbah of Shechem.

Finally, with regard to Israel’s “post-Zionist” malaise, much of the blame lies with 33 years of occupation, a mistake that has brought Israelis face-to-face with the darker side of the Zionist legacy. As one who “plays soldier” on reserve duty 30 days a year, I must confess that dragging Palestinian civilians out of their homes in the middle of the night in order to ensure a sense of normalcy in misplaced West Bank housing developments does nothing to promote the spirit of pioneering and self-sacrifice that inspired an older generation of Israelis.

Sam Shube
Jerusalem, Israel

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To the Editor:

Any friend of Israel must be depressed by the gloomy picture that Daniel Pipes paints. But is the situation entirely bleak? Take, for instance, the immigration to Israel of over 800,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union. This influx has not only enriched Israel’s scientific, intellectual, and musical life, but has also helped to correct the imbalance in population growth caused by the higher birthrate of Israeli Arabs, about which Mr. Pipes is rightly concerned.

Samuel L. Tennenbaum
Miami Beach, Florida

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To the Editor:

Daniel Pipes’s presentation of Israel’s “moment of truth” is superb and wholly realistic. I agree with everything he says, except for the single egregious paragraph exculpating the American government for “the weakness of current Israeli policy.” On the contrary, that weakness is a direct result of longstanding pressure from Washington.

Immediately after the Six-Day war of 1967, an American spokesman stated that the U.S. did not recognize Israel’s right to the newly liberated territories, including east Jerusalem. Washington instead supported the United Nations’ platitude concerning the “inadmissibility of territorial expansion through war,” a resolution aimed at Israel but at no other victorious country. Long before the current manifestations of Israel’s infirmity, Washington had pushed it out of Sinai, out of Egypt proper, out of Sharm-el-Sheikh, Taba, Kuneitra (in the northern Golan), Hebron, and much of Samaria (the West Bank). What is certain is that it will now push Israel out of east Jerusalem, much of Judea, and all of Samaria, the Gaza region, and the Golan.

Despite its economic and military assistance to Israel, the U.S. has been totally, predictably, and implacably committed to the Arab side when it comes to claims to disputed territories.

Schneir Levin
Johannesburg, South Africa

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To the Editor:

Daniel Pipes’s views are always refreshing, and his article on Israel’s “moment of truth” is no exception. He failed, however, to explain the curious phenomenon of “fatigue” not within Israeli society at large but among the country’s political leaders, past and present.

After all, it was the right-wing Menachem Begin who, having visited Washington, returned the entire Sinai peninsula and recognized a Palestinian entity. And it was the even more right-wing Yitzhak Shamir who went along with Secretary of State James Baker’s “peace process” and started the negotiations that will result ultimately in a Palestinian state and Israel’s return to its 1949 borders.

I can see only one explanation for this behavior: Israel’s lack of genuine political sovereignty and its total dependence on the United States.

Arnon Rieger
East Falmouth, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

What is notably absent from Daniel Pipes’s intelligent analysis of Israel’s “fatigue” and declining morale is the potentially catastrophic effect this development could have on the United States and other Western nations.

If Israel continues to take security risks because of its weariness with the implacable hatred of its neighbors and the opprobrium of the rest of world, the Arabs may be tempted to mount an all-out strike, threatening the nation’s very existence. Should this happen, it is not hard to imagine a frantic Israel turning as a last resort to its nuclear, biological, and chemical arsenal, and taking aim at the people, infrastructure, and (of course) oil resources of the Arab states. Even if only for reasons of economic self-interest, the United States and NATO would have to become deeply involved.

Stanley P. Kessel
Hollywood, Florida

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To the Editor:

Daniel Pipes’s assessment of Israel’s future may be too optimistic. After 50 years of unending conflict, most Israeli Jews seem to have concluded that the burden of maintaining their nation is just too difficult to bear. The country’s secular leftist elites—who control education, culture, the news media, and the government—blame the Jews for the Arabs’ desire to destroy Israel, and the majority seems to be afflicted with the “Stockholm syndrome”: though the victims of Arab hate, they identify with their oppressors.

As for the government, Prime Minister Barak seeks to make his tiny nation still smaller by giving away historically Jewish territory in exchange for worthless guarantees of peace. To him and Israel’s other recent prime ministers, “negotiations” mean haggling over the size and timing of the next Israeli land giveaway, accepted by the Arabs with increasing contempt for a people who must appear to them to be without honor, self-respect, or national and religious pride.

George E. Rubin
New York City

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To the Editor:

Daniel Pipes is most insightful about the fatigue and self-doubt that have overtaken the average Israeli’s view of Arab intolerance, terrorism, and war. In a recent interview in the Jerusalem Post, Ruth Wisse (another regular contributor to COMMENTARY) assessed this phenomenon against the backdrop of the “political strategies” that Jews for centuries had “honed as resident aliens in the Christian and Muslim worlds: try to accommodate your adversaries, and if they still don’t like you, seek the fault in yourself.” This “was a brilliant strategy,” Wisse continued, “almost as startling in its originality as the concept of monotheism. There is only one problem with it; it doesn’t work.”

Hans Fisher
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey

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To the Editor:

Having lived in Israel for four years now, I must agree, unfortunately, with nearly everything Daniel Pipes says in his article. I would add, however, that Israelis are not the only ones whose views court danger. In the West generally, there is a great lack of understanding of how other peoples think and behave, and this is especially true with regard to militant Islam.

Mladen Andrijasevic
Beer Sheva, Israel

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To the Editor:

For Israelis concerned about our country’s ability to cope with the challenges it faces, Daniel Pipes’s article is profoundly disturbing—and not only because of his cogent and illuminating analysis. The very fact that we can no longer expect such an article to be written in Hebrew by an Israeli academic or intellectual is yet another indication of the extent to which the country’s moral strength has been sapped. We must turn to American friends for arguments of this kind and quality.

Hillay Zmora
Herzliya, Israel

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Daniel Pipes writes:

Sam Shube confirms my point about the weakness of Israelis when, in the course of arguing for “an early agreement with the Palestinians,” he refers only to the needs of Israelis but says nothing about Palestinian readiness to end the conflict. I do not doubt that decades of military occupation have had a deleterious effect on Israel; my point, however, is that the critical factor in the decision to withdraw should not be Israel’s longing to leave but Palestinian readiness to live in peace.

Samuel L. Tennenbaum counters my point about declining Jewish demographics by noting the influx of 800,000 Russians to Israel in recent years. Without even taking up the issue of how Jewish many of the immigrants are, that influx is probably a one-time episode, and it can do very little in the long term to counter the much higher Muslim birthrate.

I appreciate the kind words of Schneir Levin and Arnon Rieger, but I stick by my argument that the problem of Israel’s weak policies lies in its body politic and not (as the former would have it) in the United States or (as the latter contends) in Israel’s politicians. These are consoling views but not accurate ones.

To blame the United States, Israel’s one stalwart and powerful friend, for Israeli weakness is a bit of a stretch. American officials make the case—one I agree with—that when they get involved in negotiations, they are doing what the Israeli government wants. Blaming Israeli politicians likewise misses the point, for they are basically executing a popular mandate. Put it this way: had the Israeli public a year ago warmed to the hardline candidacy of Benny Begin and elected him prime minister in May 1999, what the State Department or what Barak, Netanyahu, and others want would have had little import. In fact, Begin bowed out of the race with some 3 percent of the vote going his way. The people spoke.

Stanley P. Kessel, George E. Rubin, and Hans Fisher largely agree with me, if in even stronger language than I employed, and I thank them for their comments. I certainly concur, too, with Mladen Andrijasevic’s point that Europeans and Americans, no less than Israelis, have an imperfect understanding of Islam. Finally, Hillay Zmora’s note I find sad and affecting. Has it, indeed, come to this?

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