Editor's Notes: Israel can survive

The best defense against unfriendly governments is for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, say Hirsh Goodman in new book.

Mitchell Netanyahu 311 (photo credit: GPO)
Mitchell Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: GPO)
‘Can Israel survive?” Hirsh Goodman asks in the prologue to his brand-new book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival (Public Affairs, New York).
“The question used to infuriate me,” he admits. “It has taken me years to understand there is much merit to the question, for both Israel and its enemies.”
He begins his answer by sounding an alarm.
“Now, with over one hundred countries demanding that a Palestinian state be established within the 1967 borders, even unilaterally, and the Middle East exploding around it unpredictably, the pressures on Israel seem greater than before. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.”
Goodman gave the Post the first copy of his book hot off the press for an exclusive, sneak preview. The publication date is September 6. He does not hide his particular perspective: He is a sharp, secular, liberal lover of Israel, which is why his point of view is so interesting.
In the relatively short book (its hardcover edition is just 253 pages), he relates to the major historic events that shaped modern Israel, focusing on the country’s strategic situation with an eye to the future.
“My goal was to write a readable book on a complicated subject without taking sides, but explaining Israel’s overall situation as it is,” he tells me. “Being very comfortable as an Israeli, and extremely in awe of the country’s achievements, we could lose it all if we don’t keep our eye on the ball, if we become distracted and lose our focus about what is important.”
Ultimately, Israel will survive, Goodman argues, and he attempts to show how.
“Can Israel survive? Of course it can,” he writes. “The question is what kind of Israel it will be and what kind of neighbors it might enjoy.”
The best defense against unfriendly governments, he reasons, is for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians.
“With Israel and the Palestinians at peace,” he says, “no Arab country will have moral justification for going to war with Israel in the future. Instead of isolation, Israel will enjoy the support of the rational world. With the Israel-Palestinian question out of the way, the Middle East could focus its wealth and energy on development.”
Israel, he suggests, should invest its energies in making peace with its potential partner in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, and not with Hamas controlled Gaza.
“Peace is possible and developments on the Palestinian side are encouraging, but the risks are tremendous and it is going to take extraordinary leadership on the Israeli side to surmount them, convince the Israeli public that the price of peace is worth the risks and actually carry through on whatever movement of Israeli population on the West Bank needs to be done,” he writes. “At some stage, someone in Israeli politics is going to have to bite the bullet if the Palestinians on the West Bank continue to develop into a stable democracy.”
Goodman is a good storyteller, and intersperses his narrative with anecdotes to illustrate his thesis. He recalls, for example, that entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson once told Israeli television that he loved Israel but would not invest in the country until there was peace.
In classic Goodman fashion, the writer adds sardonically, “One could argue, however, that if he really supported peace he would invest in both Israel and the Palestinians.”
Key to Israel’s survival, Goodman says, is its relationship with the US.
“America is critical to Israel’s deterrence and Israel’s military would not be the fighting force it is if it were not for American arms sales, financial support and technology sharing,” he writes. “The United States is Israel’s guardian angel. It stands up for Israel at the UN and other hostile international platforms, has a strong influence over Europe’s attitude toward Israel, and has shielded Israel from boycotts, embargoes and other hurtful actions.”
He says The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, which took him four years to write, “is an optimistic book at a time of pessimism.”
“I think that the book looks honestly at problems, but provides workable solutions. It is not a screed or a moan,” he tells me. “It explains where we come from, and where we are headed to, unless we take the bull by the horns and do what we have to do. The book is very critical of the leadership and ideological vacuum in Israel at this time, but very hopeful about the future generation, the Sabra generation, and the country’s ability to adapt to new situations.”
The message is clear: If Israel wants to survive, it must put its own house in order.
“Israel cannot afford to be arrogant. It has to remain smart,” Goodman says. “The country is now at the tilting point. There are things we cannot afford to throw away or jeopardize and things we cannot afford to keep. The ultimate conclusion of the book, I suppose, is that Israel can defend itself against its enemies but, and this is the central question, can it survive itself?”
The South African-born Goodman, 65, lives in Jerusalem and works as a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, where he directs the Bronfman Program on Information Strategy.
After making aliya in 1965 and serving in the IDF, he worked as a military reporter at The Jerusalem Post, where he later served as vice president before joining the INS.
He founded The Jerusalem Report in 1990, and was its editor-in-chief for eight years. In September, he is embarking on “a heavy-duty book tour” of the US, he says.
Goodman is the father of four children, and this is his fourth book. An easy read (I finished it in a night), it should be of interest to anyone who cares about Israel’s future.