History is made of biographies of men and women who failed to forecast the future. – Shimon Peres, Amman, May 26, 2013
My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British prime minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. – Neville Chamberlain, September 30, 1938
The Arab Peace Initiative is a meaningful change and a strategic opportunity. It replaces the strategies of war with the wisdom of peace....History will judge us not by the process of negotiations, but by its outcome. – Shimon Peres – Amman, May 26, 2013
To: Shimon Peres, President of Israel
I confess I was appalled by your speech at the World Economic Forum in Amman earlier this week. There were many elements in it I found disconcerting, but what I found particularly disturbing was your approving embrace of the so-called “Arab Peace Initiative” (API).
Devious, deceptive, disastrous
There are of course, numerous reasons why Israel should firmly reject the API as a devious, deceptive and disastrous blueprint for its demise. But this in itself is not why I find your endorsement of it so galling.
Rather it is because no one other than yourself has, in the past, better elucidated why this is so.
Indeed, you can hardly be unaware of the fact that the adoption of the API entails Israel undertaking measures that are the diametric opposite of those you once prescribed.
After all, no one other than yourself has set out a more compelling rationale why implementing the measures it calls for would provide the Arabs an opportunity to emaciate Israel, compress it back into indefensible borders and make its survival dependent solely on their discretion – creating, in your own words, “compulsive temptation to attack Israel from all directions.”
I trust, therefore, that you will fully understand why it is so perturbing to encounter the staggering dichotomy between the views you once expounded and those you propound today, particularly as the experience of recent decades appears to corroborate the sober realism of your former positions rather than the flighty optimism of your current ones.
Elements of the API
In broad brushstrokes, the API comprises Israeli agreement to: full withdrawal from all “occupied Arab territories,” i.e. from all of Judea-Samaria and the Golan Heights, and a return to the pre-1967 frontiers, aptly designated by the late Labor Party dove Abba Eban as “Auschwitz borders”; recognition of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital; the “right of return” for millions of so-called “refugees” to Israel (sometimes euphemistically phrased as a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugees problem.
I am sure that you will agree that in the not-too-distant past, acceptance of these would have been considered tantamount to treason by all elements of the mainstream Zionist political establishment – yourself included.
Indeed, on the basis of his last address to the Knesset (October 5, 1995), seeking ratification of the Oslo II Accords, we must assume your colleague and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, Yitzhak Rabin, would have rebuffed them contemptuously.
After all, in that address, he rejected every one of the above elements of the API in the permanent resolution of the conflict he envisioned – from the recognition of full Palestinian statehood, through the division of Jerusalem, to the withdrawal to the pre- 1967 lines.
Ill-advised and illusionary
Recently, the API sponsors, currently headed by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, have “magnanimously” agreed to the “possibility” of infinitesimal modifications to the pre-1967 lines by means of “mutually agreed, minor comparable land exchanges.”
One could devote an entire essay to explaining why such “mutually agreed, minor comparable land exchanges” are nothing but ill-advised illusion, whose pursuit would be futile and foolhardy. However, suffice it to say, that if such exchanges were “minor” they would have no significant strategic value, and if they were to have such value, they would not be “mutually agreed,” nor would there be any realistic chance of them being “comparable” – whatever that might mean.
So in exchange for consenting (read “capitulating”) to this manifestly suicidal (a term I feel you too would have endorsed until recently) list of concessions, the Arab League will deign to “establish normal relations with Israel.”
Gee, what a bargain! All those concessions for a promise of “normal relations” with a list of nations that includes Somalia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and perhaps Syria.
And then of course there is Islamist Egypt, publicly mulling revoking the peace accord, Hezbollah dominated-Lebanon; imploding Yemen; unstable Libya; Tunisia, slipping ever-closer to a Shari’a-compliant society; Algeria increasingly menaced by al-Qaida affiliates in the south...
What possible significance – or durability – could “normal relations” have with a group of such inherently inimical nations?
But I do not want to get bogged down in a discussion of the demonstrably deadly defects of the API. What I would like to focus on is how to comprehend your public support for it in light of your clearly stated repudiation of its core elements in the past – and the emerging realities that appear only to reinforce the validity of that repudiation.
Not a slip of the tongue
At the outset, I must point out that none of the following citations can be dismissed as a mere slip of the tongue, misrepresenting the views that you once held. For they all come from books written by you and in which you clearly invested considerable thought in formulating.
The one is a volume, available only in Hebrew, titled Tomorrow is Now (K’Et Machar) written in 1978, long before “the extremist settler movement” had acquired much prominence in Israeli society. The book is based on an interview with a preeminent journalist of the time, the late Haggai Eshed, and sets out your vision for the future of the nation and the programmatic prescriptions by which this was to be attained.
The other is the much-publicized The New Middle East, which was published in 1993, the very year the Oslo Accords were concluded, and in which you once again lay out your vision – this time for the region.
In them, you articulate your positions on a range of topics very relevant for the API, and your reasons for these positions – which I should now like to present to you.
Dangers of Palestinian state
In Tomorrow is Now you warned sternly – and as it turns out, accurately – of the realities liable to emerge should Israel accept the idea of a Palestinian state: “The establishment of such state means the inflow of combat- ready Palestinian forces (more than 25,000 men under arms) into Judea and Samaria; this force, together with the local youth, will double itself in a short time.
“It will not be short of weapons... and in a short space of time, an infrastructure for waging war will be set up in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Israel will have problems in preserving day-to-day security, which may drive the country into war, or undermine the morale of its citizens.In time of war, the frontiers of the Palestinian state will constitute an excellent staging point for mobile forces to mount attacks on infrastructure installations vital for Israel’s existence, impede the freedom of action of the Israeli air force, and cause bloodshed among the population... adjacent to the frontier line.” p. 232
You cautioned: “If a Palestinian state is established, it will be armed to the teeth.Within it there will be bases of the most extreme terrorist forces, equipped with antitank and anti-aircraft shoulder-launched rockets, endangering not only random passersby, but also every airplane and helicopter taking off in the skies of Israel and every vehicle traveling along the major traffic routes in the Coastal Plain”. p.255
Given the precedents of previous withdrawals, can you honestly say that in today’s realities, if the IDF were to evacuate Judea-Samaria and abandon the Golan – as the API dictates – these dangers would be in any way been significantly reduced?
Strategic importance of territory
You astutely refuted the two-state-compliant myth that modern weaponry has reduced the strategic importance of territory, arguing that in fact enhanced firepower, mobility and range increase this importance: “In 1948, it may have been possible to defend the ‘thin waist’ of Israel’s most densely populated area, when the most formidable weapon used by both sides was the cannon of limited mobility and limited firepower...[However], with the development of the rapid mobility of armies, the defensive importance of territorial expanse has increased... Without a border which affords security, a country is doomed to destruction... ” pp. 235, 254
You cautioned soberly: “It is of course doubtful whether territorial expanse can provide absolute deterrence. However, the lack of minimal territorial expanse places a country in a position of an absolute lack of deterrence. This in itself constitutes almost compulsive temptation to attack Israel from all directions... ” p. 255
The value of demilitarization agreements
You somewhat denigratingly dismissed placing any store on agreements with the Arabs or on demilitarization arrangements with them, remarking: “The major issue is not [attaining] an agreement, but ensuring the actual implementation of the agreement in practice. The number of agreements which the Arabs have violated is no less than number which they have kept.” p. 255
The same skepticism as to the value of any accords on demilitarization is reflected, a decade and a half later, in your "The New Middle East" where you warn: “Even if the Palestinians agree that their state have no army or weapons, who can guarantee that a Palestinian army would not be mustered later to encamp at the gates of Jerusalem and the approaches to the lowlands? And if the Palestinian state would be unarmed, how would it block terrorist acts perpetrated by extremists, fundamentalists or irredentists?” p. 169
Strategic importance of settlements
But perhaps the most astounding of all is your stance on the issue of “settlements” and the imperative you saw for their development.
You urged Israel “to create a continuous stretch of new settlements; to bolster Jerusalem and the surrounding hills, from the north, from the east, and from the south and from the west, by means of the establishment of townships, suburbs and villages – Ma’aleh Adumin, Ofra, Gilo, Beit El, Givon... – to ensure that the capital and its flanks are secured, and underpinned by urban and rural settlements. These settlements will be connected to the Coastal Plain and Jordan Valley by new lateral axis roads; the settlements along the Jordan River are intended to establish the Jordan River as the de facto security border; however it is the settlements on the western slopes of the hills of Samaria and Judea which will deliver us from the curse of Israel’s ‘narrow waist’... the purpose of the settlements in the Golan is to ensure that this territorial platform will no longer constitute a danger, but a barrier against a surprise attack...” p. 48
These are not the exhortations of a wild-eyed, bearded radical rabbi, or scruffy hilltop youth, They are yours. Now, what are those who heeded your call to “deliver us from the curse of Israel’s ‘narrow waist’” to think?
Meaningless, mendacious mantra of “change”
Of course, the breathtaking gap between your previous and present positions cannot be explained by the meaningless, mendacious mantra of “change.”
For while it is certainly true that there have been far-reaching changes in the region over the past three-and-half decades, these changes – especially the more recent ones – serve only to underscore the validity of your former views, and to undermine that of your current ones.
It is precisely because of the changes that have raged across the region that your Amman speech came across as so absurdly Kafkaesque, so detached from reality, so shamelessly cynical.
Surely it is time for Israeli taxpayers (and voters) to demand an end to such capricious conduct of our foreign affairs – or at least, a convincing explanation for it. Other than “change,” of course.
Kindly consider this an urgent request to do so.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.