The Peace Process
To the Editor:
There is no reason to fault Norman Podhoretz [“A Statement on the Peace Process,” April] for taking a position on a matter affecting the security of Israel different from that of Israel’s government. Not being an Israeli does not disqualify Mr. Podhoretz from stating his views, even though, as he admits, he saw matters differently when others criticized the past Likud government. Moreover, no one can question Mr. Podhoretz’s deep commitment to the well-being of Israel and the Jewish people.
The real issue in “A Statement on the Peace Process” is not Mr. Podhoretz’s right to voice alarm as to where the peace process is headed now that Yitzhak Rabin, not Yitzhak Shamir, is Israel’s Prime Minister, but whether Mr. Podhoretz offers an alternative to the present peace process that is more likely to ensure the long-term security of Israel. Regrettably, Mr. Podhoretz does not offer any alternatives, leaving the reader to conclude that the only alternative is to do nothing or, as Mr. Podhoretz hints in his article, go through the charade of engaging in a peace process in order to keep America off Israel’s back. This is all right, Mr. Podhoretz would have us believe, so long as the Israeli negotiators do not forget that the real objective is to give up time, not territory—in other words, maintain the status quo. This approach was flatly rejected in the spring of 1989 by none other than Prime Minister Shamir who stated in a speech to Washington’s elite that Israel’s governance over the daily lives of 1.5 million Arab inhabitants in the territories and Gaza District was unacceptable to Israel. In announcing what became known as the Shamir/Rabin plan, Shamir set the course that has led to the present negotiations. If the peace process itself, inaugurated by the former Likud government, is not the problem, what Mr. Podhoretz is saying is that he has no confidence in the peace process now that Rabin, not Shamir, is at the helm. Surely, this is a choice for the Israelis to make, not those living 6,000 miles away.
Unless one argues for a “greater Israel” based on religious grounds or Revisionist ideology, and this does not include Mr. Podhoretz, the question of territorial compromise is a security issue, nothing more. The peace process, if successful, would in the first instance lead to an interim self-governing authority for the Palestinians in the territories and an agreement on a staged Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in return for “full peace” with Syria. Mr. Podhoretz may be right that the interim self-governing authority will some day lead to a Palestinian state, aligned or nonaligned with Jordan, in part or all of the territories. Once again, this is an issue for the Israelis to decide when and if the choice must be made, but it is not in itself justification for not pursuing the peace process inaugurated in November 1991 in Madrid on terms largely dictated by Israel and applauded by every country in the world that counts for anything.
The alternatives to the present peace process are bleak. Israel can neither absorb nor disgorge the 1.5 million Palestinians in the territories and Gaza. The former would undermine the democratic Jewish state and the latter is both morally objectionable and politically suicidal from the standpoint of Israel’s relationship with the United States and much of the rest of the world. Most Israelis recognize that the Palestinians are a political problem, not a fundamental security threat. Terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians are designed to affect the internal politics of Israel as well as the pace and direction of the peace talks, but they do not mount a threat to Israel’s security. The same thing is true of whatever form of Palestinian entity eventually emerges. Absent missiles, airplanes, nonconventional weapons, and the like, which Israel will retain the ability to ban, the Palestinians will not pose a military threat to Israel.
Mr. Podhoretz’s wait-and-see policy has merit only if one believes that absent the current peace process, conditions in the Arab world will improve from Israel’s standpoint, making it advantageous for Israel to wait until more moderate, if not wholly democratic, regimes emerge along the lines of Egypt. Even an inveterate optimist would pause before believing this will occur anytime soon. The Middle East is the one area in the world where, except for Israel, democracy is unable to penetrate. The more likely scenario is not that democracy will gain but that Islamic fundamentalists will triumph and succeed in overthrowing existing regimes in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and perhaps elsewhere. Progress in the peace process bolsters moderate forces; lack of progress favors the fundamentalists. This is why Hamas and its Islamic-extremist counterparts elsewhere are intent on sabotaging the peace talks.
For the foreseeable future, the real threat to Israel’s security lies in the proliferation of nonconventional weapons in such unfriendly hands as Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Israel’s concern during the Gulf war was that Iraq would unleash Scud missiles tipped with chemical warheads. Although it now appears that Iraq did not have the capability to send such weapons, it is only a matter of time before countries in the Middle East unfriendly to Israel obtain or develop the necessary technology. To counter this, Israel is dependent upon the United States for the technical and financial support needed to develop counter-weapons such as the Arrow missile that will intercept incoming missiles before they begin their descent, and booster-phase intercept missiles. If Israel is seen to be dragging its feet in the peace process or withdrawing altogether, as Mr. Podhoretz advocates, it is bound to face a slowdown and eventual pause in U.S. support. This is a greater threat to the security of Israel than anything the Palestinians can mount.
Alfred H. Moses
American Jewish Committee
New York City
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s article is very logical in its analysis of the situation in Israel. He argues eloquently against the present peace process because it will bring about the establishment of an independent Palestinian state which in turn will endanger Israel’s existence. Unfortunately, he does not offer any alternative either to the present talks or to the major problem facing Israel.
Being an Israeli citizen, I will not enter the debate on whether or not American Jews should criticize Israeli policy. But I would like to hear from Mr. Podhoretz how Israel is to deal with more than a million hostile Arabs who clearly do not want to live under Israeli rule. Likud and the Gush Emunim movement, which are vehemently opposed to any territorial compromise, offer two main reasons to support their opposition. One is the “historic-rights” argument and the other is the security argument.
The first of these arguments is never stressed when Israelis speak to foreign audiences. . . . In Israel it is used more often, but even there it takes second place to the security argument. Israel Eldad, one of the leaders of the extremist Stern group, which operated prior to the existence of the Jewish state, and a staunch nationalist who opposes any Israeli withdrawal, said in 1968 that if the Arabs were willing to give up the West Bank he would be willing to give up any claims to the East Bank. Now if a man like Eldad . . . is willing to give up part of Eretz Israel, why could not Rabin give up part of the West Bank?
I grew up in the right-wing Jabotinsky movement and I still think that Israel has historic rights on both sides of the Jordan River. But it is clear that this is an impossible dream and nobody considers it seriously. The security argument is therefore the most important. In this connection let us consider what would have happened if Israel had continued Likud’s policy. The Arab population would have become more and more belligerent and, as we recently witnessed, would have moved from stones to guns. How would Israel respond?
We have always been unable to muster the necessary means to subdue terrorism because we are not like our neighboring countries. We cannot follow the Hamas model or the example of Saddam Hussein, for we are not built to be torturers and oppressors. We had the most benign and humane occupation in history. We introduced better health care, allowed five universities to open and function freely, built new roads, and introduced modern agricultural methods. We even tried to build new housing in Gaza. But it was all in vain. These people did not want any of it. What they wanted was to be independent.
There is a grave danger that continuous and endless escalation of violence may even bring the Israeli Arabs into the struggle. I want to point out that up until now the Israeli Arabs have shown remarkable loyalty to Israel. Between 1948 and 1967 there was not a single act of sabotage against the state. . . . During the 1967 and 1973 wars many Arab villagers helped their Jewish neighbors with agricultural work because most of the Jewish farmers were in the army. Last year for the first time three Israeli Arabs who had become Muslim fundamentalists attacked an army outpost and murdered three soldiers. They were caught and most of the Arabs denounced the deed. But can you imagine the enormity of the problem if more and more of the 800,000 Israeli Arabs were to join in terrorist acts? Do you think that frequent knifings in broad daylight in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are conducive to a normal life and a feeling of security? I do not think so.
Norman Podhoretz has close family in Jerusalem. Is he able to take a stroll in the Old City in the evening with his four grandchildren? He is not. As a medical student in Jerusalem from 1953 to 1959, I would frequently come home after midnight, walking all the way from the university to Derech Beit Lechem, which was only a few yards from the border. Not once did I even give a thought to a possible terrorist attack. Israel knows how to guard borders. It is a fact that before the Six-Day War there was not a single act of terrorism in Israeli cities. The terrorist infiltration was limited to the border moshavim and kibbutzim. Between the wars, Israeli civilians were able to live a remarkably normal life. They were able to absorb more than a million immigrants and to develop a remarkable scientific and industrial base. All this was made possible because the army could prevent terror in the major population centers. Today that is impossible. It was a more than bitter irony some weeks ago when on the same day that the Israeli army announced the successful launching of a sophisticated rocket, a terrorist entered a school in Jerusalem and stabbed several children and their principal.
The conclusion should be obvious. Israel must separate itself from the bulk of the hostile Palestinian population even if this means giving up most of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. I would go further and say that this can be done unilaterally. Israel can delineate its own borders, which must include Jerusalem and Gush Etzion, and then simply withdraw even if the Arabs are not willing to accept that proposal. Israel will then be better able to protect those borders, prevent infiltration, and make the streets of its cities safe once again. Israel is strong enough militarily to prevent any foreign army from crossing the Jordan. Its army can reestablish the superiority that now is somewhat tarnished. As for the Golan Heights, if Assad will not agree to a peace agreement but just to nonbelligerency, then there will be no peace with Syria. Unlike Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights has no hostile population and can be kept in Israeli hands indefinitely or until Syria will agree to a peace agreement which takes into consideration the need for Israeli security. . . .
Little Rock, Arkansas
To the Editor:
So Norman Podhoretz has had a change of heart and now believes that it is OK for American Jews to criticize Israeli policy. How tempting it is to denounce Mr. Podhoretz for being “anti-Israel” and a “self-hating Jew,” the way I and other long-time supporters of the Israeli Left have been vilified so many times by him and his ideological brethren.
Instead, I would like to congratulate him for finally recognizing that residence in Israel is not required in order to have the “moral standing,” as Mr. Podhoretz puts it, to participate in the debate over Israeli policy. But this alleged change of heart seems somewhat suspect to me. Mr. Podhoretz has always permitted himself to participate in this debate. Having a government in Israel of which he approved (first Begin’s, then Shamir’s) allowed him to portray his type of participation as legitimate since it communicated support, not criticism.
But, alas, the Israeli government (not Mr. Podhoretz’s heart) changed, and now that it is his turn to play the part of loyal opposition, he wants to change the rules. It is interesting to witness the contortions Mr. Podhoretz goes through to legitimize his kind of criticism while continuing to vilify those “other” critics. Mr. Podhoretz permits himself to question “the prudential wisdom of [Israel's] policies,” because he does so “when its policies are meeting with general approval.” How courageous he makes this sound!
It cannot be, of course, that Israel’s policies are meeting with approval because they make sense. Mr. Podhoretz actually considers this possibility for a fleeting moment, but then rejects it outright. It is an article of faith among many that the test of any Israeli policy is the reaction it provokes; the more isolated and beleaguered Israel becomes, the better the proof of its rightness. How tragic that Israeli policy was actually formulated on the basis of this self-defeating premise for so many years.
When one cuts through the distortions and invective of the Right, the basic belief of the Israeli Left and its U.S. supporters is this: while Israel and the Jews do in fact have enemies, the whole world is not infected by this enmity, and enemies can become motivated to make peace because it is no longer in their interest to wage war (Sadat and Mubarak have shown us that). But even if this is hard to swallow, it should be possible to accept that those with opposing views might be motivated by the same concern for Israel’s welfare.
When I see that Mr. Podhoretz accepts this premise, I will tell my Israeli friends and family that his love for Israel is what gives him the standing to voice his misguided views, not a cynical determination (“from the safety of America”) to fight to the last Israeli.
To the Editor:
In his April “Statement,” Norman Podhoretz breaks ranks with mainstream Jewish community organizations like ours which, on a moral and strategic basis, have held that decisions on peace and security should be left in the hands of the Israelis, whose lives are on the line and who make those decisions through a democratically elected government.
Mr. Podhoretz criticizes the current Israeli government because, in his view, “the peace process is a trap from which it will be very hard for Israel to escape,” a trap which the Likud entered into to “buy Israel a little more time,” but which Labor has wrongheadedly “enthusiastically embraced.”
For all of his attempts to justify abandoning his earlier position on speaking out in such a manner, we believe that the principle that it is up to the Israelis themselves to establish policy on their own life-and-death issues remains intact. Meanwhile, the polarization of American Jewry, which Mr. Podhoretz’s action accelerates, can only weaken the American Jewish community in fulfilling its role of promoting strong U.S.-Israel relations.
Individuals and organizations on the other end of the political spectrum from him may, as Mr. Podhoretz points out, have initiated the practice of criticizing the Israeli government. Those of us who strive to nurture an American Jewish community unified around “bottom-line” issues can only regret the fact that he has chosen to follow suit.
Robert H. Asher
Michael C. Kotzin
Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund
To the Editor:
. . . If only a few years ago Norman Podhoretz was so vigorously opposed to those American Jews who publicly criticized Israel’s security policies—policies, in his own words, “literally involving] the life and death of the state and its people”—why does he now deem it proper to criticize the Rabin government’s approach to the peace process, the outcome of which may very well determine the long-term viability of the state and its people?
Certainly even editors have the right to change their minds; but let me remind Mr. Podhoretz of his earlier advice to American Jews who were critical of the Shamir government, which still makes good sense to me: that any of them wanting to acquire the standing to participate in public debate over Israel’s security policies has only to board a plane for Tel Aviv (where my grandson’s apartment was damaged by Iraqi missiles during the Gulf war) and claim citizenship under the Law of Return. Otherwise, Mr. Podhoretz, please spare us the moralizing peregrinations.
To the Editor:
While the peace process in the Middle East has promise with regard to possible regional cooperation on a number of worthwhile projects—water, economic relations, nuclear proliferation, and so on—as a practical matter nothing can be done on any of these subjects until the future of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip is definitively settled. Given the inflamed state of Arab politics, and the prevalence of assassination, real progress toward peace is unlikely until the Palestinian problem is resolved. On that key issue, Norman Podhoretz’s advice to Israel in the April issue is unanswerably correct. In negotiations which have now dragged on for two years or more, neither the Palestinian Arabs nor Jordan give any indication whatever that they are ready to make peace with Israel in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
The Arab boycott of Israel continues. No Arab state—not even Morocco or Saudi Arabia—has followed the example of China, Russia, India, and the other states which have recently established diplomatic relations with Israel. And all the evidence which has leaked out of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation confirms that the Israelis have offered concession after concession, while the Arabs, backed by the United States, remain exactly where they have been on the main issue, namely, that Israel should withdraw to the Armistice Demarcation Lines of 1949. The inevitable results of their strategy at this stage, the Arabs believe, would in fact be an agreement of nominal peace between Israel and a Palestinian state dominated by the PLO or by Hamas, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
But replacement of the armistice lines between Israel and Jordan with “secure and recognized boundaries” is one of the principal objectives of Resolutions 242 and 338, a “package deal” which authorizes Israel to administer the territories occupied during the Six-Day War until “a just and lasting peace is established in the Middle East.” That peace would prescribe the new boundaries to which Israel would then withdraw. This was the step-by-step procedure which led to peace between Israel and Egypt. The present and prospective policies of Iran, Iraq, and Syria, to say nothing of the intifada, the rise of Hamas, and the current wave of murders in Israel, make it more urgent than ever, from the point of view of Israel’s security and the stability of the region, to stick firmly to the territorial provisions of Resolutions 242 and 338.
Mr. Podhoretz is right. The peace process has become a trap for Israel. The Arab strategy is working. The Arabs remain intransigent, and the United States keeps pressing Israel to walk further and further down the slippery slope.
There is only one way to stop this catastrophe before it is too late. The United States and Israel should be as patient and stubborn as the Arabs in the talks. And the United States should repudiate the disastrous policy outlined in then-Secretary of State James Baker’s speech of May 22, 1989—the Bush administration’s only formal statement of its position on the problem—and return to the policy of Resolution 242, the only policy to which most of the world community is committed. Unless the peace process firmly and visibly returns to the principles of Resolution 242, it is bound to fail. Israel will not in the end commit suicide.
The reason this is true is so obvious it is often ignored. Media stories and political speeches routinely talk of Israeli occupation of “Arab lands” and of “returning” Arab lands to their rightful owners. This usage is mistaken. No Arab country has ever been recognized as sovereign in these territories. The Ottoman empire was their last sovereign ruler. They are parts of the British Mandate which have not yet been allocated either to Israel or to Jordan, the Arab and the Jewish states into which Palestine has been divided.
Israel’s legal claim to the Palestine territories it occupied in the course of the Six-Day War—the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip—is therefore far stronger than that of Jordan or any other Arab country. They are territories in which, under the terms of the Mandate, the Jewish people have the indissoluble right to make “close settlements” (Article 6). Acknowledging the historic connection of the Jewish people with the land, the family of nations awarded the whole of Palestine west of the Jordan River to the Jews, on condition that the Jews respect the “civic and religious” rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants. The Jewish right of settlement in Palestine is protected against impairment by Article 80 of the United Nations Charter. And in any event, no authority has tried to terminate it. The International Court of Justice has ruled twice that the resignation or malfeasance of a mandatory power does not terminate a mandate as a trust. Thus, the Jewish right of “close settlement” is intact.
President Clinton should deliver a major address on the subject, making at least the following points:
- It is in the national interest of the United States to help achieve an end of the long Arab war against Israel. No peace in the area would be just and lasting unless it respected the legal rights of the parties.
- Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which together are legally binding under Article 25 of the UN Charter, provide the only possible way forward for such an effort, as the successful Camp David negotiations in 1977 attest.
- Both sides have legal and moral claims to the land in question. Israel’s right to make close settlements in Western Palestine is recognized by the Mandate and its history. That right has never been altered, and under Article 80 of the UN Charter, cannot be altered.
- The Arab inhabitants of the land assert a right of self-determination as a natural right. Such claims must always be considered with respect, but are by no means absolute. In a world of states, treating self-determination as an absolute right would be a formula for chaos, not for peace and justice.
- That is why the Security Council in Resolutions 242 and 338 ruled that the parties should agree on a peaceful compromise.
- Under the Security Council Resolutions, the Israelis can hold and administer the territories until peace is achieved. The Western powers have objected to further Jewish settlement in the West Bank on the ground that such settlements would be an obstacle to peace. It is now clear, however, that the Shamir policy of encouraging new Jewish settlements in the territories helped stir the Arabs to undertake negotiations which they had resisted for many, many years. Obviously, if the Arabs persist in refusing to make peace more than a quarter of a century after the adoption of Resolution 242, there could be no valid objection to further exercise of the right of the Jewish people to make close settlements in the territories.
A statement along these lines should provide the Jordanians and the Palestinian Arabs with an incentive for moving rapidly toward peace.
Eugene V. Rostow
National Defense University
To the Editor:
. . . For quite some time now, conservative American supporters of Israel have been stricken with an apparent paralysis about addressing the policies of the current Israeli government, largely for the legitimate reasons set forth in Norman Podhoretz’s article. . . .
Like Mr. Podhoretz, and for many of the same reasons, I was troubled by . . . criticism of Israeli policy on the part of dovish American Jews when the Likud government was in power. It appears, however, that criticism of the policies of the Labor government has now been given the imprimatur of the Labor government itself, thus resolving this moral issue.
Prime Minister Rabin perforce endorsed not only the substance but the concept of dissent from official Israeli government policy when he excoriated the U.S. pro-Israel lobby—in particular the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—for having, prior to Rabin’s election, supported what were then the official positions of the duly constituted government of Israel. At the same time, he warmly embraced those—such as Americans for Peace Now—who had opposed Israel’s policies.
. . . When the right of American Jews to participate and criticize has been thus endorsed as the implicit official policy of the current Israeli government, by what right may we decline?
Kenneth L. Gartner
Mineola, New York
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s poignant and pointed article voices what many Jews of his generation have been feeling and saying. . . .
What I have never been able to understand is the cry, “land for peace.” . . . Land is a tangible item: it can be farmed, mined, built on, used to house offensive and defensive troops and weapons, and, . . . as has been done throughout history, it can also be used as a buffer between nations. A declaration of nonbelligerency, even a peace treaty, on the other hand, is nothing more than a piece of paper with words on it. The lofty expressions contained thereon can be abrogated at a moment’s notice at the whim of a belligerent nation. . . .
I am certain that within a decade of any signed document, there will be another war. If the UN is failing to act against Christians in Bosnia to help the beleaguered Muslims, does anyone really believe that it will come to the defense of Jews? In the next conflict, I do not believe that the U.S. will come to Israel’s defense. I believe that changing demographics coupled with changing cultural and religious values, along with increasingly adverse economic conditions in the U.S., bode ill for Israel.
Sheldon F. Gottlieb
To the Editor:
Congratulations to Norman Podhoretz for speaking out as a Jew and as an American against the course Israel is now taking. . . . that course would leave Israel dependent for its security on promises of “peace” from enemies committed to its extinction, plus guarantees from “friends” who would not be able to rescue it in time if it were unable to defend itself.
In both Israel and the U.S., numbers of people cherish the illusions . . . that (1) peace will come about if Israel cedes control of the Golan, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza in exchange for empty promises and guarantees which have always proved ineffective; (2) the Arabs do not now have a Palestinian state, whereas in fact they have one in Jordan—the three-quarters of Palestine east of the Jordan river, 70 percent of whose population consists of Palestinian Arabs; (3) the PLO is for “moderation” and “peace,” whereas in fact it was and is committed to terrorism and to the extinction of Israel just as much as is the fundamentalist Hamas.
Israel’s and America’s problem is to turn these illusions around before their devastating consequences become—as they appear very clearly now to be in the process of doing—the “political solution.” . . .
Beverly Hills, California
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s concern about the peace process is certainly justified. From the standpoint of Realpolitik, however, Israel’s actions are quite understandable. It is, after all, dealing from a position of weakness.
For Israel, the single most critical issue is the continued support of the United States, without which it cannot survive. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Syria a Russian client-state, the strategic importance of Israel was apparent, but since the end of the Gulf war, its value is less certain. Much depends on whether Muslim fundamentalism can be contained. If the government of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt were to be toppled, even a blind State Department would regain its sight. Mr. Podhoretz would do much better directing his jeremiads toward Washington.
Stuart J. Bachman
To the Editor:
It is to be hoped that Norman Podhoretz’s “Statement” put a good number of readers, Jews and non-Jews alike, back in touch with reality. It was needed. The irreversible fact is that to this date nothing has been publicly broadcast by any Arab Muslim head of state (except Sadat) firmly committing himself to the recognition of legitimate Jewish sovereignty over any part of the state of Israel. The miserable tragedy is that there will be no such pronouncement in unmistakable terms unless it is accompanied by an escape hatch. . . . It has not been politically correct for several decades for a Jewish “spokesman” to say this, but the editor-in-chief of COMMENTARY has rested the case where it belongs. . . .
Myron S. Rudd
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s article, which I read with great interest, left me with the reflection that the Israel-Palestine dispute is not the central issue in the Middle East. . . . The Arab-Islamic world is rent by polarities which will not, I fear, be clarified peacefully. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution for Israel, caught in the midst of all this. It ought to be possible to negotiate a practical compromise to the Israel-Palestine problem (if only the Palestinian Arabs agree to be realistic, which I doubt will happen), but about the larger crisis facing the Arab world, I doubt that there is very much Israel can do.
Howard H. Waldrop
Ann Arbor, Michigan
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s “Statement” was certainly timely and necessary, and I salute COMMENTARY for featuring it so prominently. The reaction to it proved its effectiveness. Through the Israeli embassy in Washington, the Rabin government issued a two-page rejoinder, albeit a rather tame one, to try to blunt Mr. Podhoretz’s criticism. Even more significant was the avalanche of criticism from our so-called “leaders.” The likes of Henry Siegman, Alexander Schindler, and others accused Mr. Podhoretz of inconsistency since, in the past, he had maintained that American Jews should not criticize Israeli security policies. They claimed that this had muzzled them in their criticism of Likud governments. Actually, however, these critics did carry on sustained campaigns to undermine Likud in concert with members of the Israeli opposition such as Shimon Peres, Yossi Sarid, Shulamit Aloni, and others.
Mr. Podhoretz has in fact performed a historic service by calling President Clinton’s attention to the fact that Americans for Peace Now, which recently twisted the arms of our “leadership” to be admitted to the prestigious Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is in no way representative of the 85 percent of the Jewish electorate which helped him win in November. Rank-and-file American Jews want a safe, secure, and strong Israel, not the truncated PLO-dominated state which Clinton’s advisers in the White House seem to espouse. Thus, Mr. Podhoretz has in one stroke of the pen made COMMENTARY the true spokesman of the American Jewish community, for which he should be amply applauded. . . .
Manfred R. Lehmann
Miami Beach, Florida
To the Editor:
As an Israeli and Zionist who has lived in Jerusalem since 1935, with a service record going back to the War of Independence, I am in complete accord with Norman Podhoretz’s “Statement.”
May I be permitted to add a note of personal apprehension about Rabin’s stand on this crucial matter? Rabin won the 1992 national elections, having previously been elected leader of the Labor party; yet Shimon Peres, whom Rabin defeated in that internal power struggle, possesses far more political sagacity and is well known for his skill in maneuvering. . . . Peres will not shrink from pursuing his ploys behind Rabin’s back. . . . Now, should it actually happen that Rabin takes the highly dangerous step of agreeing to withdraw from [part of] the Golan Heights, he will have to face civil strife in Israel that will be ten times as fierce as it was in the case of Yamit in the Sinai, which was returned to Egypt. . . . I shudder to think how my grandsons’ generation, who now have to perform duties as soldier-policemen, will feel torn between their loyalty to the flag and their compassion for the unfortunate settlers whom the Israeli government settled on the Golan.
I also fear that in such a serious crisis, Rabin might succumb to a debilitating passivity, as he did once before, leaving Peres, his successor, with a free hand to lead Israel to the brink of the abyss.
This reads like a grim scenario, yet, believe me, it is not as unrealistic as some complacent liberals in Israel and America vigorously maintain.
To the Editor:
. . . “A Statement on the Peace Process” is an incisive and thought-provoking article concerning a situation which is becoming more frightening every day to those of us who are concerned about the existence of the state of Israel, the intentions of the Arabs, and the apparent inability of the Rabin government to understand where its actions are leading. One of Begin’s mistakes (perhaps his worst) was to think that he could control situations that he initiated (e.g., Camp David, the war in Lebanon). However, the dynamics got out of control. Rabin seems to be under the same delusion. Unfortunately, it can be said of him what was once said of the Bourbons—they learned nothing and forgot nothing.
What Norman Podhoretz has written reflects the thinking of many Israelis, and his sincere reexamination of his position concerning criticism of Israel by American Jews is appreciated.
Ginot Shomron, Israel
To the Editor:
The critics of “A Statement on the Peace Process” accuse Norman Podhoretz of inconsistency. They assert that he who in the past inveighed against those who publicly attacked Israel’s defense policies from the safety of America, has now reversed himself. . . . Is this indeed a case of inconsistency, a reversal of principle? The answer is in the negative.
Though I am not a member of the Labor party or of its partners to the Left, I support Rabin’s peace policy. Rabin has a realistic appreciation of Arab intentions as well as of Israel’s security needs, and can be relied upon to maintain a steady and firm course. Rabin and his supporters fully realize that by withdrawing from the territories, Israel assumes a risk—a lesser risk, however, than is involved in the continuation of the present deadlock.
Yet rereading Mr. Podhoretz’s “Statement” I do not regard it as a critique of Israel’s peace policy, but rather as a cri de coeur, an expression of anguish at the possible perils inherent in withdrawal from the territories. Mr. Podhoretz realizes that the peace process initiated by Shamir is irreversible, that it is “a trap which it will be hard to escape.” Therefore, he does not call for a withdrawal from the peace table. Mr. Podhoretz is wrong in my opinion in his claim that Rabin is prepared to give up the Golan Heights “in exchange for a declaration of nonbelligerence.” Nor can one endorse his extensive use of some of Likud’s clichés. He is right, however, in pointing out that for the sake of peace, Israel is assuming a calculated risk. Mr. Podhoretz’s apprehensions on this score are understandable, and by articulating them he has not reversed his views on noninterference in Israel’s foreign policy.
Those who now inveigh against Mr. Podhoretz can rest assured that no parts of his article will be quoted by the traditional detractors of Israel. By alerting public opinion to the dangers arising out of Israel’s assuming a risk, Mr. Podhoretz has made public opinion in the U.S. aware of Israel’s genuine intent to pursue peace. We can all join him in his prayer that his “apprehensions about the negotiations now going on are ill-founded.”
S. Zalman Abramov
Norman Podhoretz’s response to the above letters is included in “Another Statement on the Peace Process,” beginning on p. 25.