A man of stony stubbornness

Yitzhak Shamir was derided as "the do-nothing prime minister." But that was his genius.

yitzhak shamir 88 298 (photo credit: GPO)
yitzhak shamir 88 298
(photo credit: GPO)
Recent events in the Middle East have made it painfully obvious that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last year and its dismantling of its communities there was yet another catastrophic mistake. Here we are, not even a year after the abandonment of Gaza, and all hell has broken loose. Israeli troops are making incursions back into Gaza to stop the rain of rockets being fired by terrorists at Israeli cities, and Hizbullah has joined the party with rockets raining down from Lebanon, killing citizens in northern Israel. It does not take a military genius to discern a pattern. Every time Israel makes land concessions Arab groups read it not as a desire to make peace but as weakness and a sign of the impending collapse of the Zionist enterprise, and they dig in for the kill. They say that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. By this standard, a cynic might say that the Israeli political class is stark raving mad. Not that I or anyone else has a right to judge or blame the courageous leaders of the Jewish state, who are so desperate for even a modicum of peace that they will compromise the nation's security in order to achieve it. Indeed, any country that has been subjected to the unmitigated hostility of an inhuman and implacable enemy for six decades would likewise go nuts, and Israel's leaders are merely trying their best to try to solve a problem that, let's face it, is insoluble. THIS IS WHERE Israel has consistently got it wrong. With the exception of Yitzhak Shamir, every Israeli leader since Menachem Begin, who began the wholesale abandonment of strategically valuable territory, has been asking what Israel can do to try and bring peace. If Israel gives away some cities, maybe then there will be peace. If Israel brings Arafat back to Gaza, perhaps then there will be peace. If Israel gives away all of the West Bank, surely there will be peace. Let us therefore state the obvious: The only thing Israel can do to bring peace is cease to exist. But short of folding up the country and moving the Jews back to Europe, as suggested by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there is absolutely nothing Israel can do to bring peace. To make this point emphatically clear, let us reiterate that if there is one lesson that has been learned in five decades of Israeli concessions, it is that there is absolutely nothing that Israel can do to bring peace. Zero. Efes. Gornisht. Israel faces an implacable enemy that seeks not coexistence, but Israel's destruction. And through every Israeli concession, its hostility increases rather than declines. Which leads to the following, self-evident conclusion. The only thing for Israel to do vis-a-vis‚ the Arabs, aside from militarily defending itself, is nothing. Israel must hunker down and stall. It's the Arabs that have to change, not Israel. They have to democratize, fight their terrorists, curb state-sponsored anti-Semitism and cease teaching their children implacable hatred of the Jews. That is the only thing that will bring peace. THE ONLY Israeli prime minister to have understood that Israel's sole strategy was to try and deflect international pressure to commit suicide and grow stronger in the interim was Yitzhak Shamir. I was living in Israel as a yeshiva student during the Shamir years. The economy was lousy, but security was great. Israel was strong and terrorism incomparably low. We never feared walking the streets of Jerusalem or taking a bus in Tel Aviv. Shamir was derided around the world as the do-nothing prime minister. But that was his genius. Give nothing away, make no concessions. Just keep on eating your Wheaties and grow tall and more established. And if the world rewarded Shamir with derision rather than with a Nobel Peace Prize - well, at least Israel's citizens, in his time, were having dinner with their children in the kitchen rather than burying them in the cemetery. And that was reward enough. About a year after he was defeated for the prime ministership by Yitzhak Rabin, I hosted Shamir at Oxford and spent a few days with him. He struck me as a quiet and serious man and I was impressed by his humility and down-to-earthness. He told me that had he remained in office he would not have ceded a single inch of land because it would have weakened Israel, conceding that "my views are not very popular right now." This, of course, was true. Shamir, one of Israel's longest-serving prime ministers, was never really popular because the world loves being electrified by a man of action, and Shamir was a man of stony stubbornness. But an intractable situation calls for an intractable man who can simply stand his ground until such time as the winds of change blow over his enemy. From Shamir Israel must learn that all it can do is lock its door at night because it has some really bad neighbors. I AM A relationships counselor rather than a geopolitical expert. So let me relate this to the story of a battered wife I recently counseled. The wife argued that surely there was something she could do to stop her husband's abuse. "Maybe if I supported him more, he would treat me better. Maybe if I exercised more, I would be more attractive to him and he would love me more." I responded, "You are living with an abusive man. There is nothing you can do to stop his abuse except to show him that you will not tolerate it. The one who has to change is him, not you." Israel is living in an abusive relationship with abusive neighbors whose actions have slowly eroded their own humanity. The only thing it can do is strengthen itself and create in its enemies a sense of its permanence. Sometimes it takes great courage to simply do nothing. The writer, based in the US, is the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's Award for Excellence in Commentary.