The complex deal that has ended Gilad Schalit’s nightmare raises many difficult questions, not least its strategic wisdom. However, the agreement to bring Schalit home has brought clarity on one topic. It has answered the vehement critics of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who increasingly portray him as an obstacle to peace.
Taking their ideological cue from Britain’s infamous wartime appeaser Neville Chamberlain, they insist that simple Israeli capitulation will deliver peace. In brokering the Schalit deal, Netanyahu has demonstrated the same conviction with which he approaches peacemaking – that an agreement can only be reached when Israel’s security demands are taken seriously. Though this stance may be unpopular, like Chamberlain’s great adversary Winston Churchill, Netanyahu’s unfashionable approach will ultimately prove correct.
Chief among Netanyahu’s critics are the darlings of The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman.
Kristof recently warned that Netanyahu’s attitude toward settlements was leading Israel toward “national suicide.” In similarly simplistic fashion, Friedman suggested that a further settlement freeze would lay the foundations for peace talks. This kind of rabble-rousing satisfies a popular desire for a simple solution to the conflict. Who doesn’t want to believe that there is a quick and easy fix? But, as the Schalit deal has demonstrated, simple solutions are rarely the answer to complex problems.
In reality, even more building restrictions in the West Bank in the
pursuit of peace would be as futile as the paper that Chamberlain
enthusiastically waved to cheering crowds on his triumphant return from
Munich in 1938. As Netanyahu convincingly argues, even the most dramatic
Israeli concessions, when unilateral, are understood as signs of
weakness and have been met with further violence. Hasty withdrawals from
Gaza and southern Lebanon temporarily satisfied the likes of Kristof
and Friedman, but they subjected millions of Israeli citizens in both
the North and South to the terror of rocket attacks – their own version
of London’s wartime “Blitz.”
In reality, reciprocity in response to Israel’s security needs is the
only basis for meaningful negotiations, whether to secure the return of a
kidnapped soldier or to determine the borders of our country. I sat at
the table with Netanyahu in late 2009, when a potential deal for Schalit
was first presented to him. Then, the prime minister established strong
red lines over the release of arch-terrorists and the return of
murderers to the West Bank. These guidelines, supported by the security
establishment, form the basis of the agreement that we see today, where
Hamas has modified its demands. The deal still comes at a questionably
high price, but Netanyahu’s security parameters have remained the
backbone of negotiations.
The same security imperative rightly guides Netanyahu’s peace-making
efforts. As he highlighted at the UN in September, the fundamental block
to progress is Palestinian inflexibility over the most basic Israeli
concerns. Israel’s understandable insistence over security guarantees in
a future Palestinian state are considered “an affront” to Palestinian
sovereignty. Even the most fundamental Israeli demand for mutual
respect, that the Palestinian leadership recognize the legitimacy of a
Jewish state, is constantly sidestepped by Mahmoud Abbas.
Of course, Netanyahu’s detractors prefer to ignore the elephant in the
room – Hamas-controlled Gaza. After all, acknowledging that a large
chunk of any future Palestinian state would be governed by terrorists
hell-bent on Israel’s destruction would rather upset the child-like
depiction of Netanyahu as the major obstacle to peace. This naive
analysis ignores Chamberlain’s unwitting lesson that a piece of paper is
not the same as peace itself.
Churchill famously said, “An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile
hoping it will eat him last.” The never-ending demand for Israeli
concessions only feeds this insatiable appetite. Just as Chamberlain’s
appeasement brought war even closer for Britain, a half-baked peace in
our region based on the capitulation of one side before the other will
inevitably be torn violently apart.
The deal to attain Gilad Schalit’s release is rooted in basic security
parameters, and Israel’s security requirements must also be the
foundation of any future peace negotiations. When Palestinian leaders
calm Israel’s security concerns, recognize Israel as the Jewish state
and acknowledge that the future of their refugees does not lie in
Israel, we will know that the crocodile is no longer hungry.
It is well worth remembering that Chamberlain returned from Munich a
hero of peace. He was greeted by euphoric crowds and treated to a royal
audience. At the time, Churchill was widely regarded as a difficult,
belligerent war-monger, something of an unfashionable outsider. Yet his
unpopular notion that true peace cannot be found in total submission was
proven correct. There is every reason to believe that Netanyahu’s will
The writer served as bureau chief to Prime Minister Netanyahu and is currently a managing partner of Indigo Strategic Capital.