One of US President Barack Obama’s few admitted regrets is his inability to
conjure up an instant resolution to our vexing dispute. This seems a tad odd
considering that during her recent whirlwind visit to our troublesome midst, his
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had waxed ecstatic about this being a time of
“great change and transformation in the region.” If things are so upbeat, why
are they so intractable? Both Obama and Clinton would be a lot less frustrated
and much wiser had they turned to the late Yitzhak Shamir for clues.
was endlessly mocked by members of our chattering classes when he stated
outright that “the sea is the same sea and the Arabs are the same Arabs.” He
plainly harbored no illusions in a wishy-washy world of wishful-thinking, where
reality often becomes a most unwelcome intruder.
Political vogue decrees
that disagreeable facts shouldn’t inconsiderately interfere with uplifting
fantasy, but Shamir didn’t mind being denigrated as insular, intransigent and
above all terminally uncool.
With both his feet solidly on the ground, he
had no patience for pipe-dreams about a phenomenal sea change in the Arab
mind-set. Continuity appeared more plausible, especially given the depth and
duration of virulent Arab enmity toward the Jewish state. Hardhearted hate is
unlikely to wondrously dissipate overnight.
Shamir sounded this
observation on more than one occasion and in a variety of contexts, most notably
on the eve of the 1991 Madrid Conference to which he went unwillingly and in
which he had no trace of trust.
Yet his reluctant participation in what
he termed as the Madrid charade suffices for many today to misrepresent him as
the trailblazer to what eventually culminated in the Oslo folly.
Shamir took over from Menachem Begin as Israel’s seventh prime minister in 1983,
our ever-presumptuous trendsetters and omniscient opinion-molders disdained him
and scorned what they determined were his unimaginative orientations and
They couldn’t stand him. He was anathema to them
no matter how much they now, after his death, expediently reinvent him, much as
they have been dishonestly skewing Begin’s legacy for decades.
truth is that Shamir was never cool and never aspired to be popular. He aspired
to do the right thing, a fact which in and of itself made him different, an odd
bird in a setting obsessed with the façade but leery of the
And if the right thing meant keeping mum, Shamir didn’t answer
his voluble detractors and didn’t get dragged into verbal bouts.
interview years ago, I asked him whether he didn’t think he was thereby losing
the battle for public opinion by default. He insisted that “most of the time the
least said is best.” It was his “responsibility not to babble needlessly,” even
if that cost him support.
And it doubtlessly did. By no means a
spellbinding orator, he was consciously devoid of charisma and never sought to
correct what was perhaps a fatal flaw for someone who found himself in the
political vortex. Unperturbed by PR, Shamir said things as he saw them, in those
few times when he did tersely comment on anything (always, as befits a former
underground fighter and top Mossad operative, without divulging much of
Referring to political deals, he quipped, “Did I ever
recommend not implementing them? What’s good should be implemented and what’s
bad shouldn’t.” Plain and simple, without embellishments. He was candid enough
to opine that “for the sake of Eretz Yisrael it’s permissible to
With equal forthrightness, he told me on his return from Madrid
that “a vast sea divides Jews from Arabs. For starters, Jews genuinely long for
peace. The Arabs do not want peace. They crave our defeat, which they call
Have all the tumultuous events of the more than two decades that
had elapsed since our conversation proven Shamir wrong? Hardly.
reveal his insight as acute and unerring.
The sea remains the same sea
and the Arabs hadn’t transformed from what they were long before Oslo,
disengagement, a couple of peace contracts, numerous negotiation rounds,
recurring wars or even Israel’s independence.
Unheedful of Shamir’s
cautionary admonitions, we Israelis may have honed our self-delusionary
predilections, but – like it or not – we’re still surrounded by implacable
Egypt is a compelling case in point. Shamir opposed Israel’s
pullout from Sinai. Despite his then-role as Knesset speaker, he significantly
abstained in the vote on the Camp David accords and even more thunderingly on
the subsequent vote to ratify the finalized peace treaty in March
In the short haul, it may then have appeared that he was too
stiff-necked. Perhaps Israel couldn’t be seen, even for its own internal
reasons, as shunning what looked like a miraculous peace. Perhaps there was no
Nevertheless, as Shamir suspected, that epic concession opened
the floodgates to follow-up concessions. He did his darndest to stem the tide.
When he headed the second national unity coalition, Shamir unhesitatingly fired
his coalition partner and foreign minister Shimon Peres. It was three years
pre-Oslo, in 1990.
Peres behaved like a law unto himself and pursued (not
for the first time) covert assignations with Jordan behind Shamir’s back, in
violation of every conceivable democratic principle. Shamir wouldn’t countenance
Peres’s insubordinate freelance negotiations. He courageously risked an attempt
to topple him, which indeed came, but refused to give into Peres’s ultimatum
(hatched with the notorious James Baker).
However, in the long haul Peres
had his way.
Shamir’s weak successor, Yitzhak Rabin, later fell for
Peres’s unauthorized fait accompli, the Osloite chimera. What began in Camp
David bore bitter fruit.
What have we to show today for all our
sacrifices for an elusive, apparently unattainable peace? If the shaky peace
with Egypt isn’t abrogated soon by its Muslim Brotherhood overlords, it will
only be because the new regime might be too busy confronting the old-guard
military establishment, reconvening the dissolved parliament, solidifying its
hold on power, settling outstanding scores, feeding the teeming masses and
paving the path to Shari’a law.
If and when it suits the religious
radicals who now hold sway in Cairo, they will redirect domestic tensions toward
the universally abhorred Israel. The paper on which the treaty with Egypt was
signed is as durable as the tactics/ whims of the new bosses.
Obama, Clinton et al may kid themselves (and us), post-Arab Spring Egypt is
anti- Western and rabidly Judeophobic. As Shamir always counseled us to note,
nothing changes overwhelmingly overnight. Deeply ingrained extremist dogmas
don’t evaporate into scintillating stardust.
Contrary to Obama’s and
Clinton’s rhetoric, the Muslim Brotherhood hadn’t serendipitously morphed into a
secular democratic force for pragmatism, progress and pluralism.
already had an unappetizing foretaste.
The assault on the Israeli Embassy
in Cairo last September hardly grated against the grain of Egypt’s mainstream
discourse. The taunting yells of Khaybar left no doubt about what motivated the
mobs. As Muslims remember (and Jews forget) Khaybar was one of the Jewish
enclaves which Islam’s progenitor Muhammad attacked in violation of treaty
pledges. Jewish men were beheaded, women abducted and children enslaved. That’s
the ideal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rank and file.
Add to this such
instances of ill-will as the sexual molestation of an American newswoman accused
– falsely as it happens – of the unforgivable crime of being Jewish. Neither
does it bode well that newly elected president Mohamed Mursi agitated in his
victory speech for the release of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman – now
imprisoned in the US for masterminding the first World Trade Center bombing in
February 1993. Clearly in Mursi’s eyes that was no crime but a laudable
All the above contribute to making our neighborhood more
unpredictable and downright scarier than ever before – not that it ever was a
paradigm of prudence. In the best of circumstances Egypt was never as good as
its word, its sincerity or lack thereof notwithstanding.
international opinion, stage-managed by Obama and Co., manages to somehow sashay
past all aforementioned unpleasantness.
The syrupy story about the Arab
multitudes yearning to be free is too sweet to pass up even if it wasn’t quite
true. But at least we here should be clued in enough to pass up on the
saccharine, admit the truth and own up to the fact that Shamir was prescient and
We now face undeniably escalated danger from the
largest Arab state, Egypt. Muslim diehards may soon overrun Syria, with wobbly
Lebanon sure to be the next domino to fall.
There’s no telling what the
future holds for the artificial concoction that is Jordan (established on nearly
80 percent of the original Palestine). But that’s nothing new. Jordan always
teetered unsteadily, a fact which further supports Shamir’s thesis that
fundamentals stay the same.
If anything, whatever was in Shamir’s day is
all the more so now – looming ever-more menacingly. Malice wasn’t banished.
Indeed it was reinforced – just as our last pre-Oslo premier prophetically
warned ahead of the Madrid pageant.
Paradoxically, his pro forma
participation in that event triggered his political defeat. Incredibly, Shamir’s
patriotic credentials couldn’t mitigate the fury of the Tehiya and fellow
right-ofthe- Likud factions. They brought Shamir down.
Then came a tragic
chain of bad luck.
Rabbi Moshe Levinger of Hebron fielded his own ticket,
ironically to protest against National Camp divisiveness. The 3,000 votes he
attracted were too few to get him elected. Aguda’s disgruntled Eliezer Mizrahi
also ran on his own and garnered several hundred votes.
fewer than 400 additional votes to surmount the then-1.5% Knesset entry
All the votes Levinger and almost-as-hawkish Mizrahi flushed down
the drain could have comfortably put Tehiya over the Knesset threshold with two
seats and a surplus to spare.
That would have denied Rabin his initial
blocking majority. His Labor-Meretz coalition would have never been formed. Oslo
wouldn’t have been born. Nearly all the woes that torment us today can be traced
to the proverbial loose horseshoe nail that cost Shamir the 1992
He was followed by a crew that made it its objective to
persuade us that however unchanging the sea may be, the Arabs are not the same
Arabs. We know how that turned out.