sheetrit smug 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In an interview in last Thursday's Haaretz, Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit provided a textbook example of what is wrong with Israel's foreign policy.
"The prime minister's main job is presenting us with a timetable for achieving peace," Sheetrit declared, referring specifically to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "That is the state's guarantee for future generationsâ€¦ I believe the other side is also tired of wars. There is no such thing as a government without a diplomatic agendaâ€¦ I hope [Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] will work toward achieving a permanent peace. It is our foremost obligation."
There, in a nutshell, are the three deadly fallacies. First, peace is essential to Israel's survival: It is "the state's guarantee for future generations." Second, it must therefore be pursued regardless of the other side's behavior: "The prime minister's main job is presenting us with a timetable [i.e., a fixed schedule] for achieving peace." And third, because it is essential, it must be deemed achievable, even if this requires misreading the enemy's intentions: "I believe the other side is also tired of wars."
TODAY, AFTER the Palestinians responded to Israel's "gesture" of evacuating the Gaza Strip by electing Hamas, which openly aspires to Israel's destruction, the third pillar of this tripod seems particularly far-fetched - especially since repeated polls have refuted the theory that this vote represented a protest against Fatah's corruption rather than support for Hamas's political platform. One poll last month, for instance, found that even after six months of crippling economic sanctions stemming from Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel, 67 percent of Palestinians support this decision, while only 30% think that Hamas should recognize Israel. Another poll last month found that 63% of Palestinians support bombarding Israeli cities with rockets (only 35% disagree); 57% support suicide bombings against Israeli civilians; and 75% favor kidnapping Israeli soldiers.
These are hardly the responses of people who are "tired of wars." And Palestinian actions back this poll data: Since the pullout, southern Israel has suffered daily rocket fire, and a soldier was kidnapped in a cross-border raid. But this willful misreading of reality would be unlikely were it not for the first fallacy, which makes it psychologically necessary: the idea that peace is essential for Israel's survival.
No would argue that peace is not desirable. But Israel's own history ought to suffice to disprove its necessity: Despite being at war since its founding, Israel has not only survived, but thrived. Its population has quintupled, from 1.4 million to 7.1 million, with the Jewish population growing almost sevenfold, from 800,000 to 5.4 million. An economy once so poor that food was rationed now has a Western per capita income. Israel is a world leader in patent grants and hi-tech startups. In short, despite many serious problems, it is a success story.
And if more proof were needed, world history amply provides it. India and Pakistan, for instance, have been at war since their creation in 1947, including three hot wars interspersed with low-intensity terrorist warfare. Yet neither country is in danger of disappearing, and one, India, is a rising economic power.
Or take England and France, which fought each other for centuries - from the Hundred Years War in the Middle Ages through serial conflicts in the 18th century to the 19th century's Napoleonic Wars. Yet both countries are alive and well today. And similar examples abound.
IN FACT, many countries throughout history have survived just fine without peace. However, there is one caveat: This is possible only if the conflict is intelligently managed and contained. And that is why the second fallacy - that the government's "main job" is achieving peace, regardless of its feasibility - is so deadly.
Moves that might be sensible if both sides genuinely want peace are often counterproductive if the other side is bent on war.
The disengagement from Gaza was a perfect example. In the context of a serious peace process, it might have made sense. It demonstrated Israel's willingness to evacuate settlements - something presumably necessary for any agreement - while retaining most of Israel's negotiating assets.
But in reality, the disengagement occurred during a bloody terrorist war that the other side evinced no interest in halting. And the results were predictable: Palestinian support for violence soared. Repeated polls found that most Palestinians - 84%, to cite one - interpreted the pullout as a victory for terrorism. And they therefore unsurprisingly concluded, as demonstrated in the other polls cited above, that more terror would be even better.
The Oslo Accords were another example. Had Yasser Arafat truly wanted to make peace, they might have been constructive. Since he did not, they resulted in increased violence. The years 2000-2004 alone produced more Israeli casualties from terrorism than the entire preceding 53 years.
In short, if the other side is not ready for peace, bold initiatives - "there is no such thing as a government without a diplomatic agenda" - are often more dangerous than simply trying to manage the conflict until conditions do become ripe for real peace. Not only do such initiatives encourage the other side to believe that violence works, they also encourage it to believe that the peace-seeker is so desperate to end the war that maintaining the pressure could produce complete capitulation.
In Israeli-Palestinian terms, such capitulation would mean accepting a "right of return" for some 4 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who could then democratically vote the Jewish state out of existence. In 13 years of negotiations, during which Israel has repeatedly abandoned "red lines" (such as Jerusalem), the Palestinians have yet to budge on this demand. And with good reason: Israel's willingness to abandon successive red lines for "peace" has - rightly or wrongly - convinced them that continued violence will eventually lead Israel to abandon this one as well.
In short, what is truly essential for Israel's survival is not peace, but abandoning the three fallacies espoused by Sheetrit. Ironically, it is only by being prepared to live with war until the other side is ready for peace that genuine peace can ever be achieved.