Amid reports that US Secretary of State John Kerry is applying mounting pressure
on Israel to make significant concessions to the Palestinians, there is an
increasingly common refrain that has seeped into our political dialogue which
needs to be exposed for the fallacy that it is.
Israel, we are told by
various pundits and politicians, has no choice but to go along with American
After all, our relationship with Washington is our greatest
strategic asset and we cannot allow anything to get in its way. Hence, whatever
America wants, the Jewish state must more or less accept.
say, such an approach is not only short-sighted and misguided – it is oblivious
to history and perilous to our destiny. And the sooner we expose it for the
misleading oversimplification that it is, the better off we will all
To begin with, Israel is not a vassal state, an American overseas
territory or a serf that must cower before his feudal overlord.
We are a
sovereign independent nation with our own national and security interests, and
while we must surely take into account what our friends and allies have to say,
we cannot and must not lose sight of our right and obligation to determine our
And regardless of how short our memories might be, the fact is
that on numerous occasions Israel has defied and resisted, flouted and even
disregarded American demands when it came to matters that went to the core of
our very existence.
Take, for example, the Reagan plan.
September 1, 1982, US President Ronald Reagan delivered a nationally-televised
address in which he called for a “fresh start” in the Middle East peace process.
He laid out a series of proposals which included a construction freeze on Jewish
communities in Judea and Samaria and a transition period leading to
“self-government by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in association
Astonishingly, the plan was drawn up in consultation with
various Arab leaders, while Israel was kept in the dark until right before
But Jerusalem reacted quickly and with
On September 2, then-prime minister Menachem Begin interrupted a
vacation in Nahariya, returned to Jerusalem and convened a special cabinet
meeting, which lasted for three hours.
Afterwards, the government issued
a communique that was striking in its audacity. It contained a point-by-point
rebuttal of Reagan’s speech, stating that, “The positions conveyed to the Prime
Minister of Israel on behalf of the President of the United States consist of
partial quotations from the Camp David Agreement or are nowhere mentioned in the
agreement or contradict it entirely.”
It went on to state that, “the
positions of the Government of the United States seriously deviate from the Camp
David agreement, contradict it and could create a serious danger to Israel, its
security and its future.”
And guess what? The sky did not fall in, the
sun still rose the next morning, and Israel and the United States continued to
be friends, even if there was tension in the relationship.
later, Begin went even further, sending a personal letter to Reagan which should
be required reading for every Israeli diplomat and statesman lacking a
With a mixture of grace and determination, Begin made clear to
the leader of the Free World that as much as he valued the ties between Israel
and the US, he would not compromise his core principles or Israel’s national
“Dear Ron,” wrote Begin, “What some call the ‘West Bank,’ Mr.
President, is Judea and Samaria; and this simple historic truth will never
change. There are cynics who deride history. They may continue their derision as
they wish, but I will stand by the truth,” he said.
“And the truth,”
insisted Begin, “is that millennia ago there was a Jewish kingdom of Judea and
Samaria where our kings knelt to God, where our prophets brought forth the
vision of eternal peace, where we developed a rather rich civilization which we
took with us, in our hearts and in our minds, on our long global trek for over
18 centuries; and, with it, we came back home.”
After spelling out his
objections to Reagan’s peace plan, Begin concluded with a paragraph as piercing
as it was heartfelt. “Mr. President,” he stated, “you and I chose for the last
two years to call our countries ‘friends and allies.’ Such being the case, a
friend does not weaken his friend, an ally does not put his ally in jeopardy.
This would be the inevitable consequence,” Begin asserted, if the president’s
proposals were to become reality.
“I believe they won’t,” the prime
minister concluded, before quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “For Zion’s sake
will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not
Other Israeli leaders, both before and since, have stood up to
American pressure and had the courage of their convictions, just as Begin did.
Confident in the justness of Israel’s cause, Begin, Golda, Ben-Gurion and others
were willing to buck Washington for the sake of Israel’s future.
ask you, can Israel afford to say “no” to Kerry’s proposals? Of course! Or, to
borrow a phrase from President Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign: “Yes we
can!” Sure, there will be consequences, and strains in our bilateral
relationship. But Israel has said “no” before and should not be afraid of doing
so again. We cannot put our security at risk and forgo parts of our ancestral
homeland, simply to win favor with the powers that be in the White
Israel must stand firm and reject any further withdrawals or
retreats, regardless of what Mr. Kerry has to say. We cannot return to the 1967
borders or allow a hostile Palestinian entity to arise next door.
it or not, there are some things that are more important even than American
Survival, I dare say, is one of them.