Shamir's legacy

Even his most bitter detractors admit that Yitzhak Shamir was a man of unshakable integrity, rare modesty and unparalleled courage.

Yitzhak Shamir smile 370 (photo credit: Jim Hollander / Reuters)
Yitzhak Shamir smile 370
(photo credit: Jim Hollander / Reuters)
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 people.
Perhaps due to his selfless focus on doing what is right for his people, Shamir’s principled positions have stood the test of time.
One 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 peninsula.
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.
But Shamir 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 minister.
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 a blessing.