Left-wing critics attacked him for his refusal to budge on the issue of “the
whole Israel” and even members of his own Likud Party viewed him as lacking the
pragmatic flexibility needed to succeed as a mainstream politician. But even his
most bitter detractors admit that Yitzhak Shamir was a man of unshakable
integrity, rare modesty and unparalleled courage who was motivated by what he
believed to be the cardinal interests of Israel and the Jewish
Perhaps due to his selfless focus on doing what is right for his
people, Shamir’s principled positions have stood the test of time.
example was his opposition to the Camp David Accord with Egypt. Shamir was not
against negotiating a peace deal with Egypt. He understood the strategic
importance of quiet on the southern border that even a cold peace with Cairo
could bring. However, Shamir, like others on the Right at the time, felt the
price Israel was paying for such a peace was too high.
In light of
Israel’s powerlessness to combat the anarchy that has taken hold in Sinai in the
past year or so, one cannot help acknowledge Shamir’s well-founded worries
regarding a complete Israeli pullout and wonder whether Menachem Begin could
have reached a peace agreement with Egypt without compromising so much, thus
placing Israel in a better strategic position to combat lawlessness in the
It would be unfair and mistaken to portray Shamir as an
uncompromising ideologue out of touch with reality.
Like other proteges
of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Shamir originally adopted the Revisionist ideology that
viewed “both Banks of the Jordan” as integral parts of the Land of Israel. But
like other followers of the Revisionist movement, which later became the Herut
Party, Shamir later modified his view of what constituted “the whole Land of
Israel,” recognizing the Jordan River as its eastern border.
refused to compromise further, rejecting as impractical attempts to create two
states – one Jewish and one Arab – between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.
Indeed, the obstacles preventing such a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict seem no less insurmountable today than they did when Shamir was prime
Unfortunately, many on the Left, apparently unable to reconcile
themselves to the reality of an extremist, intransigent Palestinian leadership,
prefer to unfairly blame Shamir for supposedly missing opportunities for peace.
According to this narrative, which places the blame for the ongoing conflict
exclusively on Israel, it was no other than Shamir who ruined chances for
implementing the “Jordanian option.”
In the months that led up to the
first intifada, which broke out in December 1987, then-foreign minister Shimon
Peres, who had formed a Likud-Labor national unity government with then-prime
minister Shamir, secretly met with King Hussein of Jordan at the residence of
Lord Mishcon in London.
The Left blames Shamir for torpedoing what became
known as the “London Agreement,” claiming he ruined the last chance to get
Jordan to take over responsibility for the West Bank. But in hindsight it is
difficult to see how such a Jordanian option would have answered Palestinians’
demand for national self-determination. If implemented, the most likely outcome
would have been a complete loss of Israeli control over final-status
arrangements. And many of the principles first laid down in the London Agreement
– the formation of an international peace conference, the acceptance of UN
Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, a Palestinian renunciation of violence
and terrorism – were unsuccessfully implemented first at the 1991 Madrid
Conference and later in the Oslo Accords.
But the Madrid Conference and
the Oslo Accords did not fail solely or principally because of a lack of
willingness on Israel’s part. Rather, as Shamir feared, peace has been elusive
primarily because Palestinians have consistently opted to turn to terrorism and
to cling to extremist, Islamist ideology. The 2006 Palestinian election, won by
Hamas, was the culmination of this process.
Shamir might be perceived as
uncompromising. And to a large extent he was. But because his motivations were
sincere and selfless they have survived the test of time. May his memory be for