Reality Check – Jewish Press

Reality Check

The ritual is as familiar as preparing your taxes, and about as tedious. An American president leaves office and Israel is asked to make territorial concessions in one  “final” attempt to make peace; a new American president takes office and Israel is asked to make territorial concessions in order to jump-start his peace efforts; Israel prevails militarily in a conflict and is asked to make territorial concessions as a “good-will gesture” to the vanquished; a new Israeli government comes to power is asked to make territorial concessions to show its good faith.

“Land for peace” and its corollary, the creation of an independent Palestinian state, remain the rage in diplomatic salons across the globe, and among the media elites. Newsweek (January 12) proclaims that “there are no other options than a comprehensive agreement that creates two sovereign states, Israel and Palestine” and that land for peace is “the only option.”

Muammar Khaddafi, on temporary furlough from the clinic and therefore given access to The New York Times Op-Ed page (January 22), helpfully suggests a “One-State Solution” to the Middle East conflict – the creation of an “Israstine” that would enable Jews and Arabs to live in peace for all eternity.

Not to be outdone, Times columnist Thomas Friedman, whose consistent wrong-headedness on Mideast policy is as ignored as his own genius is self-celebrated, proposed a “Five State Solution” (January 27), most likely because his prior advocacy of the two-state solution predictably led to the devastation of Israeli security and the horrific loss of Israeli life.

The peace-processors are at it again, seemingly oblivious to Einstein’s famous definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Land for peace has never worked, and there is not a shred of credible evidence that it will work this time or in this generation.

The much-heralded example – the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty – actually proves the inefficacy of the arrangement. It created an “absence of war” that is arguably tenuous, and that allows Egypt to join the Hamas proxy war against Israel while trumpeting both its treaty and its “dismay” at the smuggling of arms and weapons to which it turns a blind eye. The 1979 agreement was less “land for peace” than it was the “return to the enemy of the bases from which they launched their aggression in exchange for their promise not to do it again” – admittedly a less catchy title than “land for peace” but certainly more accurate.

So why do ostensibly intelligent people keep repeating the same mantra? “Like a dog that returns to its vomit, so is the fool who returns to his foolishness” (Proverbs 26:11). Land for peace, a policy designed just for the Middle East, has left Israel with a porous southern border, a volatile northern border, and the creation of an irredentist terrorist apparatus in its heartland. And it is bitterly ironic that on Israeli’s quietest border – with Syria, where land for peace has not been practiced – there the peace-processors are pushing a territorial surrender that will leave the Galilee vulnerable as it has not been for more than 40 years. So why continue down this treacherous road, that, sad to say, a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu seems destined to traverse? Why are the world’s diplomats wedded to this scheme?

There is certainly a dearth of innovative thinking, but, more important, there is an absolute rejection of any alternative – a rejection fueled by an utter denial of reality. Even a cursory review of the events of the past 20 years (even more so, the last ten) reveals that Palestinians would rather kill Jewish children than allow theirs to live; Palestinians would rather disrupt Israeli society (and many others around the world) than establish a healthy one of their own; Palestinians would rather increase the number of Jewish wounded than heal their own infirm and destroy Jewish homes rather than build their own; and Palestinians would rather rocket Israeli farms than plant their own fields.

This is reality, and we continue to ignore it at our peril. But is there an Israeli politician with the courage to concede publicly that the Arabs have not abandoned their dream of destroying Israel? Is there an Arab leader who speaks openly and unabashedly about peace and co-existence with a Jewish state, as a desideratum and not as a painful concession?

No, and the common excuse is that no Arab politician could say that and live, as the “Arab street” would not accept it. But if that is the case, then why the pretense of land for peace? Why embark on or persist in a process destined to fail because one side has failed to prepare its people for peace, or because, better said, most Arabs still perceive a Jewish state as a bone in the throat of Islamic hegemony across the Middle East? Peace is not possible if the “Arab street” is intolerant of a Jewish nation in the land of Israel.

But the very notion of deferring to the Arab street is both self-serving and comical. The Arab states are composed of dictatorships and autocracies. It strains credulity that the so-called Arab street is anything but a tool used by Arab governments to avoid difficult decisions that would foster coexistence with Israel. It is a myth behind which those feudal leaders hide in order to mask their ongoing opposition to Israel’s existence and their contempt for the very notion of Jewish statehood.

It is a charade too many Israeli leaders have tolerated for too long – one that has enabled a Hosni Mubarak to refuse to ever visit Israel for talks (all Israelis must traipse to Egypt like mendicants to gain an audience with him), that condones the refusal of Saudi leaders to shake hands or talk to an Israeli Jew, and that perceives civil and cordial contact as a major concession on their part.

We are “fools returning to our folly” if we encourage diplomacy based on placating the “Arab street” and mollifying the Islamic haters of Israel, because such is impossible in the current environment.

It should be clear to even a casual observer that Jewish and Arab nationalisms in the land of Israel cannot be reconciled, and Israel’s attempt to follow the advice of Tom Friedman and his fellow travelers has caused indescribable harm to its strategic position and self-confidence. It has left Israel without a major political party that opposes a Palestinian state (something that would have been anathema as recently as fifteen years ago), land for peace, substantive concessions in exchange for words, and territorial surrender.

The major parties differ on the quantity of territory each will surrender, the timing and pace of such surrenders, and whether they will demand reciprocity (i.e., Palestinians’ compliance with their commitments) or ignore violations of signed agreements in order to avoid making waves.

The desire for peace burns so deeply within the Israeli psyche (and properly so) that it causes Israelis to tolerate the intolerable, accept the unacceptable, and eschew the pursuit of a reasonable statecraft that can secure long-term Israeli interests in favor of the indulgence of fantasies and wishful thinking.

Like the red line of Kinneret water levels that is simply lowered as the drought continues, Israel’s strategic red lines are not deal-breakers but more akin to negotiating points that are abandoned the moment they encounter any resistance.

No Egyptian troops in Sinai, no surrender to terror, no negotiations with the PLO, no Palestinian state, no retreat from the Golan Heights, no division of Yerushalayim – all these positions were (or are being) abandoned, with no foreseeable means of stopping this runaway train. Arab expectations of future surrenders are so enormous that meaningful negotiations – a give and take between equals – are not feasible.

What should Israel’s government do? Likud leader Netanyahu has the right idea in his desire to concentrate on building a Palestinian infrastructure for peace – what he calls an “economic peace” – before beginning negotiations on territory. But it does not go far enough.

A new government has the unique opportunity to establish a new paradigm for Israeli diplomacy, including, but not limited to, the following: a statement that peace is not attainable under current circumstances and is not the anticipated outcome of any negotiations; the unacceptability of an Arab sovereign entity between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River; the renunciation of land for peace as an acceptable framework for a final status (this is obviously an admission that United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338 have run their course, which is quite right in any event, as neither even intimated the creation of a Palestinian state); the renunciation by the Arabs of the “right-of-return” as a prerequisite for any future negotiations; the utter rejection of the Arab use of terror to achieve any political goal; and a forceful Israel response to any attack sufficient to cause the decent Arab residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza to seek their life’s fortunes elsewhere – accompanied by economic measures that will hasten the same goal, if they deem life in a Jewish state objectionable.

And the carrot? If terror ebbs and evaporates, then Arabs residing in the land of Israel should have autonomy – the right to govern their own affairs, elect their own leaders, with guaranteed freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, the press, and culture; in other words, not independence or sovereignty, but greater personal rights and freedoms than exist in any of the 23 sovereign Arab countries from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans (except, perhaps today, Iraq).

Some – Israel haters, inveterate peace processors, or those accustomed to unilateral demands on Israel and unilateral concessions by Israel – will undoubtedly point to the international condemnation that will come Israel’s way, to the worldwide rejection of Israel this will surely engender, to the demographic threat that Arabs will soon overwhelm Jews and thereby eliminate the Jewish state, to the potential cessation of trade and cultural exchanges, to the antagonism it will generate even from Israel’s “friends” in the liberal media, who have always had Israel’s best interests at heart and have often tried to save Israel from itself.

It is therefore worthwhile to remind those naysayers that any Israeli show of strength, any demarcation of Israeli red lines – indeed, anything less than a full surrender to the 1967 borders, the division of Yerushalayim, the establishment of a Palestinian state, and then the implementation of the so-called right of return to pre-1967 Israel (that will effectively destroy the Jewish state) will as assuredly engender the same condemnation, the same rejection, the same threat of sanctions, and the same media antagonism.

And, as Yoram Ettinger has assiduously pointed out, the so-called demographic threat is based on flawed data – and can itself be vitiated by policies that encourage Arab emigration especially when their lives can be more secure, prosperous and enjoyable living elsewhere in the Arab world or across the globe – and not in the land promised by God to the Jewish people.

Israeli diplomacy has been reactive for too long, without a clear elucidation of Israeli interests; hence, despite the unilateral concessions, the territorial surrenders and the plans for more, Israel is still widely perceived as obstructionist, colonialist, racist, imperialist, and uninterested in peace.

Each concession is met with an insatiable lust for more, and rightly so: it betrays to the enemy, and to the world, that Israel does not truly believe in its right to possess the land of Israel, or in the justice of its struggle, or in the historical narrative that sees the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

That tide can still be reversed. Netanyahu’s shameful treatment of Moshe Feiglin – rigging the electoral system to deny his voters their rightful choice and keeping Feiglin’s voice and values out of the Likud’s Knesset representation – certainly does not bode well for Netanyahu’s intentions. His quest for a national unity government that gives Israel’s leftists a strong voice in policy-making – essentially the same faces with the same failed policies just sitting in different chairs – likewise undermines the people’s confidence that Israel’s government can secure their long-term interests and present a vision of the future that is realistic, inspiring, and proudly Jewish.

It is yet another attempt to kick the can down the road, a road that is ever shrinking and approaching the point of no return. It also underscores the intellectual bankruptcy of Israel’s secular-right politicians, whose pursuit of power seems less ideological than personal and who say, in effect, “elect me, because the others are worse, even though I have nothing new or original to contribute.”

Surely, Israel and the Jewish people deserve better than that.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of the world’s landmarks, is a testament to man’s obstinacy, foolishness and self-absorption. The Church began building it as a bell tower next to the Cathedral of Pisa in 1174 – and it started to lean after only three stories were built. Most of the construction took place after the tower was already leaning. Why continue to build a tower that already leans? Because change is hard, and admitting error is even harder. But when the foundation is crooked, nothing straight can ever expect to rise. A national unity government has value only if it unites the government around policies that make sense and further the interests of the nation.

New beginnings – in the United States and in Israel – carry the harbinger of new paradigms that can replace the treadmill to nowhere that is the land for peace formula and the creation of yet another Arab state. All it requires is the honest reckoning with reality as it is and not as we wish it to be, and the recognition that if land for peace is the “only option,” then there are no options.

Sane statecraft, the clear enunciation of guidelines and red lines, the protection of Jewish life without apology, the pursuit of Jewish destiny, the forceful articulation to the world of the moral basis and benefit of Jewish statehood – these are the alternatives to the current morass and downward spiral.

There are no others.


Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Geffen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009).


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