‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked. ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’ ‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’
– Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland
The annual ritual to commemorate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin that took place last Saturday night in the square in Tel Aviv which now bears his name, was a bizarre affair. It was a shameful – and shameless – endeavor to wring the last few drops of political mileage from the abuse of the fraying fabrication of Rabin’s “legacy.”
Act I: Remembering the Real Rabin
As if in a parallel universe...
The rally, dubbed “Returning to the Square and Bringing Back Hope,” was organized by the Israeli Peace Initiative, a group purportedly promoting regional peace, co-founded by Rabin’s son, Yuval.
Regional peace. Hmmm – doesn’t that sound eerily reminiscent of a previous “vision” – now widely discredited and largely discarded – of the Peresian delusion of a New Middle East? (It has always been a source of puzzlement to me whether these “regionalists” have ever actually looked at a map of the war-torn, blood-drenched region before attempting to resurrect the demonstrably daft delusion of regional peace – but that is a topic for another column.) The rally’s organizers proclaimed that the event was meant to urge the government (the Israeli one of course, not, heaven forfend, the Palestinian one) to promote a “peace initiative.”
It was in this vein that co-founder Rabin Jr. addressed the crowd in a speech so detached from reality it could well have been made in a parallel universe where Islam is really the “religion of peace.” He informed PM Benjamin Netanyahu that he “no longer has the strength to hold his tongue,” and felt morally compelled to demand a “daring diplomatic initiative” that blithely ignored “the Iranian threat at our doorstep and ISIS [Islamic State], Hamas and Hezbollah who threaten to destroy us.”
Depressing display of denial and dishonesty
The unmistakable implication was that, had Rabin Sr. not been assassinated 19 years ago, he would have mustered the necessary “daring” required to conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians. (Strange, isn’t it, that in the political discourse on Israel, “daring” somehow always refers to a willingness to capitulate to enemy demands rather than stand firm on one’s own.) Although I am loath to use harsh language in referring to such a solemn event, there is little other way to describe what was explicitly said, and implicitly insinuated, than as a distressing display of denial and dishonesty that totally distorts Rabin’s views on the issue of a settlement with the Palestinians, which he held right up to the time of his death.
Indeed, were the much-maligned Netanyahu to embrace, verbatim, the parameters of the “permanent solution,” specified by Rabin shortly before his assassination, he would be dismissed today as an unrealistic extremist.
Thus, in his last address to the Knesset, on October 5, 1995, after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and hailed as a “valiant warrior” for peace, he sought parliamentary ratification of the Oslo II Accords. In it, he laid out his vision for the final formula for resolution of the conflict, and his views on Palestinian statehood, the fate of Jerusalem, borders and settlements.
Recalling Rabin’s recipe
What follows are excerpts from his Knesset address, setting out his positions on these issues:
• Palestinian statehood
: Rabin rejected the notion of a Palestinian state, declaring: “...the permanent solution... will include... a Palestinian entity, which will... be an entity that is less than a state...”
• The pre-1967 border
s: “We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines... And these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution...,” which he went on to detail.
• United Jerusalem
: He was unequivocal: “First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev – as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty...”
• Jordan Valley
: Rabin was adamant: “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”
• Existing settlements
: Rabin envisioned changes being made to Israel’s final borders to include existing settlements under permanent Israeli sovereignty. He specified “changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Betar and other communities, most of which are east of what was the Green Line prior to the Six Day War.”
• Construction of new settlements
: Rabin not only advocated redrawing Israel’s frontiers to include existing settlements, he urged construction of new ones, calling for “the establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif.”
Rabin’s real legacy
Rabin’s use of the term “Judea and Samaria” – and not “West Bank – is both significant and instructive. His reference to Gush Katif, the bloc of settlements razed by Sharon in the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, is significant, and poignant.
This then, is Rabin’s real legacy, and no crafty choreography – however cunningly crafted – can obscure that. The disingenuous attempts to reconstruct it as an antithetical negation of itself serve only to make it a surreal and grotesque distortion of what it really was.
Act II: Peres-Past pronouncements, present perfidy?
Shimon Peres, until recently president of the state, and Rabin’s Nobel co-laureate, also addressed the gathering.
Trapped in Oslowian time-warp?
As if trapped in an Oslowian-era time warp, and oblivious of ongoing realities – the slaughter in Syria, the Salafists in Sinai, Islamic State in Iraq, to name but a few – Peres railed on about how Israel must embrace the two-state solution. Apparently unmindful of the thousands of Israelis who, over almost a quarter-century, have paid with life and limb in the perverse pursuit of that fatally failed formula, he fulminated that the only way for Israel to achieve lasting peace, prosperity and social harmony was to agree to bring Ben-Gurion Airport into range of Palestinian mortar fire and the Trans-Israel Highway into reach of their attack tunnels...
As manifestly unfounded and dangerously detached from reality as Peres’s speech was in its own right, when compared to his past pronouncements on the perils of a Palestinian state, the imperative of settlements and territory for the security of Israel, and the worthlessness of agreements with the Arabs, it was breathtakingly surrealistic.
In previous columns I have cited several of Peres’s past positions on these issues. However, given the current political context and against the backdrop of ongoing efforts to warp the past beyond all recognition, I feel there is considerable value in reminding The Jerusalem Post’s readership of the political perceptions that prevailed and the beliefs that the nation’s leaders publicly embraced.
Not off-the-cuff slip-of-tongue
What follows is a catalogue of views expressed by Peres on a range of topics impinging on the feasibility of the two-state principle. In perusing them, readers should bear in mind that these were not off-thecuff remarks or some slips-of-tongue. Quite the contrary, almost all the citations come from a programmatic book written by him in Hebrew and published in 1978, Ca’et Mahar (“Tomorrow is Now) – befitting his obsession of being seen as futuristic. Based on an earlier lengthy interview in the then-influential, now defunct, Labor Party daily Davar, it sets out his ideas of how the affairs of the nation should be conducted.
• Dangers of a Palestinian state I
: Peres cautioned with chilling accuracy: “The establishment of such [a Palestinian] 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 or other [military] equipment, 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 dayto- day security, which may drive the country into war, or undermine the morale of its citizens...” p.232.
• Dangers of a Palestinian state II
: He predicted: “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, who will be equipped with antitank and antiaircraft shoulder-launched rockets, which will endanger 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. 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.
• Dangers of a Palestinian state III
: In his later book The New Middle East
, published the very year the Oslo Accords were signed (1993), he warned with commendable prudence: “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 territory
: He correctly noted that the greater firepower, mobility and range of modern weaponry does not detract, but enhances, the strategic importance of territory: “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 fire-power... In the 20th century, 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 in war.” pp. 235, 254.
• Economic importance of territory
: Peres recognized the economic implications of defensible borders: “The resources available to a country are finite. In the absence of a strategic border, the investment in security that a country requires comes at the expense of other needs. This difference in levels of investment in security creates... a qualitative change in the general level of a nation – in terms of its economy, its society and education...
A country that has the advantage of a strategic frontier can invest less... in fortifications, maintenance of battle-ready armed forces, armaments...” p.235.
• Strategic importance of settlements
: It will surprise many to learn that Peres was the father of the settlement enterprise beyond the pre-1967 lines, and its greatest champion.
He expressed the need “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, Bet-El, Givon... to ensure that the capital and its flanks are secured, and underpinned by urban and rural settlements... the settlements along the Jordan River are intended to establish the Jordan River as [Israel’s] 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.’” p.48.
• Value of agreements with Arabs
: But perhaps the most startling of all is Peres’s assessment of the value (or the lack there of) of any pact with the Arabs: “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 the number which they have kept.” p. 255
Curiouser and curiouser
In light of the dismal experience since then, one can hardly believe that his faith in the value of agreements has been in any way enhanced. So why would the former president be advocating the creation of a situation, which he himself designated as one that “constitutes almost compulsive temptation to attack Israel from all directions...”??? Especially in light of the prescient accuracy of his past predictions...
See what I mean by surreal in the square? Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategicisrael.org)