To the Editor:
As a senior member of the Israeli team negotiating with Syria for the first five rounds of the peace process that started in Madrid, and as a close observer of the five additional rounds of talks that have been held since the change of government in Israel, I would like to add a few pertinent facts about that area of the peace process to the debate over Norman Podhoretz’s two Statements on the Peace Process [April and June 1993].
Syria refuses to sign a bilateral peace treaty with Israel. Nor is Syria ready for peace in the true sense. As defined by then-President Bush, true peace means the normalization of relations between the two countries, including the exchange of ambassadors, tourism, commerce, etc. Syria rejects this. It contends that the aim of the negotiations is the implementation of Security Council Resolution 242, which Syria interprets as commanding Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied in the Six-Day War of 1967 (though, of course, Resolution 242 does not use the word “all”), in exchange for nothing more than an end to the state of belligerency (though, of course, Resolution 242 calls for the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries”).
The Syrian position has not changed since day one. Even a major Israeli concession—the agreement by the Labor government to a withdrawal from the Golan Heights (the degree of which to be determined by the degree of peace to which Syria will agree)—has failed to produce any reciprocal Syrian move. “Peace is not a treaty,” the chief Syrian negotiator, Ambassador Muwaffaq al-Allaf, insists in repeatedly avoiding a contractual bilateral commitment, “peace is a state of mind.”
Ambassador Allaf has made the Syrian position clear not only behind closed doors but also in public. Thus, on September 20, 1992, in an interview with Radio Monte Carlo, he stated that “even after Israel’s withdrawal from all the occupied territories, the peace treaty will be left for the time being. . . .”
Indeed, when Syrian spokesmen, on all levels, speak about a “full,” “comprehensive,” or “total” peace, they never include the essential element of peace in its true sense: a bilateral treaty with Israel involving normalization of relations in (to use President Bush’s words) “all its aspects.”
President Clinton also used these words in a letter sent to Hafez al-Assad between the ninth and tenth rounds. In that letter Clinton strongly implied that if Syria would agree to such a peace, the United States would put pressure on Israel to make additional concessions. But Assad never replied, except indirectly through the press, where he once again made clear his refusal to conclude a contractual peace in all its aspects with Israel, and urged the U.S. to pressure Israel in order to advance the negotiations.
This refusal is what blocked any progress in the talks at the time of the Likud government, and it is precisely what blocks them now.
A document reiterating the Syrian position was officially submitted to the Israeli negotiating team in the second part of the sixth round (after the Israeli concession over the Golan!). Syria was willing to make the document public but Israel requested that it be kept secret.
Syria also rejects the following:
- An interim settlement.
- A “security settlement” in Lebanon to be concluded by Syria and Israel, as a first step. Both Israel and the U.S. proposed this but were turned down. (Syria has also prevented Lebanese authorities from disarming Hezbollah, which thus remains the only armed militia continuously causing crises on the Israeli-Lebanese front—the most serious of which, of course, erupted in the last week of July.)
- Confidence-building measures.
- Incremental agreements, such as one to refrain from hostile propaganda (in which Israel is not engaged anyway).
- A summit meeting between President Assad and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin or between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and his counterpart Farouk al-Sharaa, who called this Israeli suggestion “a silly idea.”
None of this necessarily means that the Syrian position is written in stone and will never change. Conceivably Assad might some day follow Sadat’s historic example and opt for real peace. But he has not done so yet.
I am not against concessions in principle. On the contrary, I consider them essential to any peace process, and I personally support a willingness on the part of Israel to make concessions. What I do not support—and what I consider insupportable—are unilateral concessions by Israel. Such concessions are, in fact, a form of appeasement that should be judged—given the implications for Israel’s security and survival—first and foremost on a moral basis. Not to mention that appeasement never works.
To the Editor:
As a former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, I would like to respond to Norman Podhoretz’s criticism of the Rabin government’s peacemaking policy. Mr. Podhoretz categorically rejects the peace process. He argues that:
- The Middle East is still not ripe for peace.
- The Arabs have not indicated serious intent to make peace.
- The rise of radical Islamic fundamentalism further decreases prospects for peace.
Mr. Podhoretz could be right or wrong. There is no way to find out short of holding negotiations to assess the other side’s readiness for concessions. That is exactly what Menachem Begin did with Egypt from 1977 to 1979. And that is what Israel is trying to do today.
In my opinion, we may have a chance to reach an acceptable solution. And if we miss this opportunity we will not only lose time but will pay with blood and a growing socioeconomic burden. In several years we could end up back at the negotiating table under considerably worse conditions.
Every negotiation entails risks, but I fail to see where Mr. Podhoretz gets the impression that Israel, led by Yitzhak Rabin, will ever accept agreements that could jeopardize its security.
Let me now discuss first Syria and then the Palestinians.
1. Syria. Syria has no reason to believe that it can get all or most of the Golan Heights back without making full peace with Israel. Of course, Assad would prefer to avoid paying this price. Like Sadat, he would no doubt have been glad to see Israel disappear altogether.
The Syrians will accept a peace treaty with Israel only because of:
- A deep conviction that the Arabs are incapable of militarily destroying Israel.
- A psycho-political need to regain the Golan Heights.
- Increasing pressure within Syria, fueled by war fatigue, to change the national order of priorities.
When Syria offers us “Total Peace for Total Withdrawal,” we do not know what it means by “Total Peace.” But it certainly sounds like more than mere “nonbelligerence.”
Mr. Podhoretz asks, appropriately: even if we sign a treaty, how can we be assured that Assad’s heir will honor it? We cannot, and yet my answer is: Assad’s successor will likely be guided by the same considerations of Syrian interests that guide Assad today, as happened in Egypt; it is one thing to oppose a policy prior to implementation, and another to reverse a political reality after a treaty has been signed and implemented; and if the treaty includes reliable security arrangements (and Israel will never agree to anything less), then even a change in the Syrian regime is manageable. Security arrangements will be a major deterrent to renewed aggression.
Mr. Podhoretz sees no signs that Syria has changed its position regarding peace. . . . Yet if he read the Syrian media, he would see that since the beginning of the peace process, and especially in the last six months, Assad has been preparing Syrian public opinion for peace with Israel. A June 27 New York Times article, in which Syrian officials and ordinary people openly discussed peace with Israel, reinforces this assessment.
What does the Syrian citizen read in his own official press? Assad has become the “hero of war and peace.” The media again and again explain the importance of peace for Syrian welfare, prosperity, and economic development. They write, “Syria is heading for peace” and “Peace is a central Syrian interest,” while Israel is portrayed as resisting the peace process.
2. The Palestinians. Mr. Podhoretz asks whether Israel could prevent the transformation of Palestinian “autonomy” into an independent state.
This is the wrong question. The real question is whether an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel could pose a threat to Israel’s existence. For decades we held as sacred the idea that raising a Palestinian flag in a sovereign state would be tantamount to a death sentence for Israel. The time has come to reexamine this assumption.
A Palestinian state might or might not pose a serious security threat, depending on the outcome of the negotiations. Clearly, we cannot depend on Palestinian good will. I personally know many Palestinians whose intentions I fully trust, but they may not prevail. Moreover, a Palestinian state could someday be overtaken by radical Islamic fundamentalism, which rejects Israel’s very existence.
Also, we cannot trust international political and military guarantees. In the end, we can count only on the Israeli army’s ability to defend Israel under all contingencies.
A peace treaty must contain the following elements:
- The treaty must be comprehensive, including agreements on all disputed issues. With the Palestinians this means ending violent struggle, and agreeing on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, and the Israeli settlements in the territories. From talks that I have held with Palestinians, I believe that an understanding on these questions is feasible.
- The timetable for implementation must link progress in resolving the above issues to the transfer of authority and Israeli withdrawal.
- A Palestinian state must accept indefinite demilitarization of its entire territory.
- Some Israeli security forces must remain stationed within the territories—by mutual consent—for as long as is deemed necessary.
Will the Palestinians accept such stringent conditions? Perhaps not. However, we cannot know until we negotiate fully.
The choice is not between a risk-free solution versus a dangerous adventure. The real choice is between two difficult and risky options. Eventually both sides will have to compromise and choose the lesser of two evils: a political settlement, offering the Palestinians a far-reaching and generous proposal that in no way compromises Israel’s ability to defend itself against any military threat.
If Norman Podhoretz is indeed right and the Arabs are not ready for such a solution, Israel is smart and strong enough to resist a disadvantageous deal. However, it would be foolish of us to quit the negotiations without fully exploring the chances for a real agreement.
I fail to see why, as Mr. Podhoretz suggests, we should forgo this opportunity to put the Arab side to the test.
Tel Aviv, Israel
To the Editor:
. . . Israel’s strategic situation has changed fundamentally in the last five to ten years, and the time factor is beginning to work against and not for us. As a matter of historical record, during the Yom Kippur war our first worry was to bring the Golan settlers and their families into safety in Israel, before even thinking of fighting the Syrians. An empty Golan may eventually be a fortress against an attacking army, but this is obviously not true of a populated one; instead of the Golan Heights protecting us, thanks to the settlers, we have to protect them! . . .
The Gulf war brought the fundamental change in the overall strategic situation to everyone’s attention. The advent of medium and long-range missiles in the Middle East has changed the rules of war for us and has brought the war to the main population centers of Israel. Norman Podhoretz rightly points out that Assad is arming himself with missiles; we are doing the same and for the same reasons, but with one small difference: we are producing them, while Assad has to buy them. However, the point of the matter is that our pain threshold is very low indeed. The few Iraqi handmade low-grade Scud missiles, which just made it and hit Tel Aviv, brought home to us that a demilitarized Golan Heights may perhaps be a better deal than having Tel Aviv destroyed and/or gassed by Syrian or perhaps Iranian missiles. While conventional missiles will not decide the outcome of the war, gas or nuclear ones may wipe out our population. . . .
Mr. Podhoretz says he does not believe Assad, Faisal Husseini, and Arafat, but what is the alternative? He quotes Kissinger saying that most wars have broken out between nations previously at peace; but then the opposite is also true: every peace begins by talking to your enemy. . . .
The danger for us lies not in any parallel with the destruction of the First Temple and Jeremiah’s prophecy, but rather with the destruction of the Second Temple and the role played in it by the Zealots, Bar Kochba, and their fundamentalist followers. . . . Some 600,000 Jews lost their lives to the Roman soldiers and Dio Cassius commented laconically, “all of Judea became almost a desert.” Today we have a lot of Rabbi Akibas, Bar Kochbas, and, especially, a lot of zealots.
Yes, Mr. Podhoretz should meddle in Israeli affairs, but he should choose the side of reason and democracy and not that of messianic nationalistic zealotry.
To the Editor:
As someone who fully shares Norman Podhoretz’s concern for Israel’s security and his skepticism regarding the Rabin government’s approach to current negotiations, I take every opportunity to listen to representatives of the governing parties in Israel, hoping, like Mr. Podhoretz, to have my concerns dispelled. But every such encounter only intensifies my misgivings.
A recent talk given in the Boston area by Knesset member and Meretz leader Ran Cohen is a case in point. I had anticipated that Cohen, a respected reserve officer whose military expertise must surely have included a capacity for clear-eyed assessment of challenging situations, would offer carefully thought-out arguments. Instead, he uttered the same nebulous and untenable analyses one hears from other coalition representatives.
To be sure, Cohen opened by asserting that he is determined Israel will remain capable of defending itself. But he also made clear his conviction that Israel ought to cede virtually all the territory captured in 1967, including the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley, and retain only Jerusalem. He said nothing of how Israel’s security might be maintained after such withdrawals.
Cohen went on to declare that war is bad, Israel needs peace, and the current government, unlike its predecessor, is intent on hammering out agreements with Israel’s neighbors. But those skeptical about the current peace process fear that, by its concessions in pursuit of unenforceable agreements, the government will undermine Israel s capacity to defend itself and increase, rather than decrease, the likelihood of war. Mr. Cohen never touched on this possibility.
Similarly, he stressed that Israel must move quickly to secure agreements because conditions for negotiations are more promising now than they might be later. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, for example, may eventually render the Arab parties less amenable to negotiations. But in arguing that negotiating conditions are better now than they may be later, Cohen failed to address a more fundamental point: are these conditions sufficient to attain a genuine, durable peace in return for Israeli concessions?
Cohen assured his audience that Syria is prepared for genuine peace, but referred only to some cryptic public statements by Assad as evidence. Nor did he address the issue of similar, highly ambiguous public statements having been made in the past by many other Arab leaders when they were wooing Western, particularly American, opinion, only to be withdrawn later. Examples include remarks by Saddam Hussein in the late 1980’s, shortly before he shifted to threats to incinerate half of Israel and, subsequently, to missile attacks on Tel Aviv.
Cohen also assured his audience that the future Palestinian state which he advocates would be democratic because, he explained, the Palestinians, having lived under an occupation, have come to appreciate the value of democracy. This novel piece of reasoning would no doubt startle the Palestinians’ Arab brethren, who, in their almost two-dozen countries, have invariably seen the achievement of Arab sovereignty accompanied by the installation of homegrown dictatorships.
Addressing the rising power of Hamas in the Palestinian community, Cohen attributed the influence of the fundamentalists to the absence of progress in the peace talks, decried the “negative” response of the government—the temporary expulsion of 400 Hamas militants—as simply promoting the prestige of the rejectionists, and called for “positive” steps to aid Palestinian moderates.
During a question-and-answer period, I asked why he attributed a rise in fundamentalist fervor among the Palestinian Arabs simply to Israeli policies when that same fervor is sweeping much of the Arab world. Moreover, its key social precipitants, including disgust with a corrupt secular leadership, are to be found among the Palestinian Arab population irrespective of the conflict with Israel.
Cohen’s response was merely to assert that while my comments had some validity, his personal friendships with Palestinians persuaded him that peace could be had. . . .
Other comments by Cohen were at once uglier and more peculiar. He informed his audience that evacuation of the settlers from the territories posed no problem because the settlers’ ultimate concern is money and they can be paid to abandon their homes and return to pre-1967 Israel. He believed that the Palestinians, despite their statements to the contrary, would allow the few Jews who actually might want to remain to do so on condition that Israel would be generous in permitting Palestinians into pre-1967 Israel. Apparently, he saw nothing wrong with Arab insistence on a Judenrein West Bank and Gaza and did not regard the nearly 900,000 Arabs already living as citizens in pre-1967 Israel as precedent enough for Jews being tolerated in potentially Arab-controlled areas. . . .
Missing from Ran Cohen’s talk, as it is from most statements by the current Israeli government, was any serious discussion of how well or ill the government’s negotiating objectives conform to the conditions necessary for a secure and lasting peace.
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz need make no apologies. The substance of his criticism of the Rabin coalition’s headlong pursuit of “peace” is totally consistent with his past positions. . . .
Clearly, any responsible critic of or commentator on the peace process has to treat seriously . . . the reality that—unrelated to the Arab-Israel dispute—the Middle East remains “a conflict-ridden and conflict-generating area.” It is a region dominated by inter-Arab tensions and hostilities; ethnic, tribal, and sectarian divisions; political and religious ferment. These divisive forces threaten every Arab ruling regime, exert decisive influence on Arab attitudes and policies, and thwart development of the basic political stability that is an essential precondition for peace.
Simply and sadly put, force and violence still are the usual means of conflict-resolution within and between Arab states. Respect for human rights and democratic norms is absent; international treaties, agreements, and the rule of law are paid little heed.
This last point is especially pertinent. The historical record testifies to the fact that treaties, pledges, and agreements among Arab nations are easily discarded when power alignments shift in the Arab world. By what conceivable logic can one argue that treaties and agreements with Israel would be treated differently?
Further, responsibility demands that the seekers of “peace now” directly address the continuing Arab boycott of companies dealing with Israel; the increased sponsorship of terrorism by Syria, Sudan, Iran, and others; the continued flow of anti-Semitic canards in the state-controlled media of Egypt and Saudi Arabia; and the race for long-range missile systems and other sophisticated weaponry that is now taking place throughout the Arab world. . . .
Responsibility also demands that rather than uncritically accepting the double-speak of Yasir Arafat or the whispered blandishments of a few Arab intellectuals, the seekers of “peace now” account for the ongoing spate of official and unofficial statements from PLO and other Arab leaders, prominently played up in the Arab media, which demonstrate their continuing rejection of Israel’s right to exist. . . .
And, of course, one cannot ignore Hamas, widely regarded as the fastest growing influence among the Palestinian Arabs. Hamas . . . simply states, unequivocally, that “Israel will continue to exist until Islam eliminates it, just as Islam eliminated what preceded it.” . . .
Where is convincing evidence that a hostile Arab world has been transformed and is prepared now to accept Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state in the Middle East? As the current peace negotiations themselves attest, such evidence still does not exist. And that is the most fundamental reality the seekers of “peace now” cannot or will not recognize. . . .
The long-term challenges to real Middle East peace and Israel’s survival can be met only if we demand a more sober-minded recognition of the history, culture, and political realities of the Middle East. The surrender of territory, an irrevocable act, in return for a paper peace that is easily repudiated does nothing to address those realities or to ensure Israel’s survival. In time, however, if Israel maintains genuinely defensible borders and an effective military deterrent, the Arab world can be brought to accept the pragmatic reality of Israel.
Only then will the chance for durable peace be real. Only then will we be able to speak responsibly of “peace now.” That, I believe, is the essential substance of Norman Podhoretz’s position, now as in the past.
Arnold M. Soloway
Center for Near East Policy Research
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s Statements offer, for the first time, a realistic approach to a situation which is becoming more and more untenable. We cannot simply be intoxicated by the word “peace.” We should, to begin with, be suspicious that the Arabs refuse to define what kind of peace they want, what form it should take, and whether it means more than the absence of war. . . .
The Arabs have learned that their “no” to every concession the Rabin government makes has produced more concessions. They are well aware of the fact that . . . Rabin’s promise during the election campaign that peace with the Palestinians would be achieved in nine months, and with the Syrians within a year, is coming to haunt him. He is also under pressure from the Americans who are chasing after their illusions and are eager to keep the talks going at any price. It is not a pleasant situation. . . . What the Arabs could not achieve on the battlefield, they want to gain at the peace table.
What kind of peace can we expect? Let us consider the case of Egypt, the only Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel. Egypt has violated the military provisions of the treaty. . . . Trade between the two countries is one-sided: Israel imports Egyptian goods but Egypt buys only a limited amount of Israeli goods. Egyptian companies still participate in the Arab boycott of Israel. Hostile propaganda in the government-controlled press continues unabated. Israeli tourists go to Egypt, but Egyptian tourists do not come to Israel. . . .
Sixty years of preaching hatred, conducting wars, and indulging in every kind of terror have created an Arab attitude of unlimited hostility that cannot be wiped out by a peace conference. Although the Arabs have been deprived of their Soviet protector and ally, they have not grasped the fact that their value to the West is rapidly declining. The price and consumption of oil are going down; disunity among Arab governments is growing; dictators like Assad do not live forever. Future events will change perceptions of power and principles of diplomacy and strategy.
There is an alternative to the peace process, expressed in an editorial in the Jerusalem Post: “The obvious, painful conclusion Israel must draw is that its hopes of integrating into the region and establishing true and lasting peace will have to await a sea change in Arab attitudes.” The situation in the Middle East is fluid and developments quite uncertain. . . . If Israel does not succumb to Arab bullying and American “partnership” in the peace process, maybe playing a waiting game will result in real peace.
Union, New Jersey
To the Editor:
. . . No one in his right mind would object to the Arabs and Israel talking to each other—when the time is ripe. But is this the time? . . .
The Arabs have managed to split the peace process into two independent segments, “peace” and “process,” making the latter the dominant issue. They procrastinate, sensing that time is on their side and that delay may help them achieve their goal of an independent Palestinian state which would be a way station to the eventual destruction of the “Zionist entity.”
Neither side is sure of the direction that the third party, the United States, will take during the negotiations. Both sides see the inexperience and vacillation of the Clinton-Christopher foreign policy. Israel particularly is afraid that the Clinton administration will try to save face by imposing an unacceptable solution on Israel.
Instead of being maligned, Mr. Podhoretz ought to be praised for his far-sightedness. The political reality is that now is not the time for meaningful negotiations. Therefore, negotiations are not in Israel’s interest. Unless and until Rabin widens his coalition, he is in no position to achieve his promise for peace—real peace, not a scrap of meaningless paper.
Samuel L. Tennenbaum
West Orange, New Jersey
To the Editor:
I have been following the debate about “criticizing” Israel in COMMENTARY and in the Sunday New York Times. Let me say that there is no real contradiction between Norman Podhoretz’s new position and his earlier one: his consistency is the survival of Israel. The military facts cannot be denigrated as the product of either a “hard-line” or a “conservative” mentality. As I once noted, Napoleon said that geography is strategy. The new Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands this clearly. He points out that the Judean and Samarian mountain ranges make virtually impossible an invasion of Israel from the east. He also understands that, militarily, the Golan Heights are necessary to the military security of Israel (though Gaza is not). Militarily, the formula “land for peace” is a recipe for suicide.
Israel’s Arab and Egyptian neighbors are anything but stable. The area is being revolutionized by Islamic fundamentalism. What sort of “peace” under these conditions is worth diminishing military security?
Lyme, New Hampshire
To the Editor:
I recently summarized what has been happening in the Arab-Israeli peace process since the last Israeli elections as follows: the Israeli government has embarked on a process of self-induced suicide, with the U.S. State Department acting as Dr. Kevorkian. . . . My frame of reference is “The Peace Imperative,” an official document distributed . . . by Israeli diplomatic missions. From the June issue of COMMENTARY I learned that it was primarily written in response to Norman Podhoretz’s April “Statement on the Peace Process.” . . . In his June Statement, Mr. Podhoretz handled two of the most important issues raised by that document very well. Here I will deal with other sections which reveal the mind-set of the authors of the document, and which lead me to conclude that he was too mild in his criticism. . . .
“The Peace Imperative” . . . contains a strange mixture of fear (e.g., warning of potential danger from Iran) with an inflated sense of importance. For example, the claim that Israeli actions, which in this document invariably mean concessions, will significantly reduce “Islamic fundamentalism” in the region and the world. This obsession with Islamic fundamentalism raises some unsettling issues: (1) Here is another example of Israel trying to justify its existence not on self-evident right, but by claiming it can provide service to the world. (2) Israel used to encourage Islamic activities as a counterweight to PLO “nationalists”; this policy ended up facilitating the foundation of Hamas. (3) Now Israel has reversed course and is dangerously close to “koshering” the PLO, whose Covenant is not much less murderous toward Israel than that of Hamas.
The only Jewish ideology recognized in “The Peace Imperative” is the East European turn-of-the-century socialist notion of a “new Jewish person,” . . . and we all know what happened to its cousin, Stalin’s “new Soviet person.” . . . Equally pathetic is the rather flimsy rationale used to justify dangerous concessions. For example: “Assad made a thinly veiled appeal to Israeli public opinion, noting ‘the increased number of Israelis who want peace.’” I read this again and again and it is clear to me that Assad is not offering anything, let alone peace. On the contrary, he blames the absence of peace so far on the alleged absence of peace-lovers in Israel. He also obviously wants to influence Israeli public and official opinion to yield to his demands, and in this he has had some success, as Mr. Podhoretz has shown.
Reading this document eliminated my earlier hopes that there was some hidden sophistication behind the strange moves of the Israeli government. Reluctantly and with trepidation, because I do not wish to insult honorable and otherwise intelligent persons, I have to conclude that the closest model into which we can fit recent Israeli moves is that of the simpletons of Jewish folklore, “the wise men of Chelm.”
How else can one explain the rather innovative “bargaining strategy” of giving away even before the sessions start much of what was supposed to be haggled over? . . . As could have been expected, the Arabs treated these concessions as a given and proceeded to demand further concessions. . . .
The following should remove any doubts about the Chelmite nature of such a “strategy.” Israel has given up, one by one, matters of principle and safety valves that had originally been part of the Madrid formula. One of the latest was agreeing that Faisal Husseini, who is a resident of Jerusalem, be an official leader of the “Palestinian” delegation (one no longer hears that these people were supposed to be part of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation). Rabin said that this would not affect the status of Jerusalem, which is the eternal united capital of Israel and is not subject to negotiations. Then, lo and behold, recently Jerusalem has been discussed . . . and it has already been decided to allow the Arab residents of Jerusalem to participate in the autonomy voting. . . .
The document contains lists of what Israel is giving up but no demands on the Arabs, not even that they stop the economic boycott now that no new Jewish communities are allowed in the territories. Even the not-too-friendly Bush-Baker regime demanded that. The only apparent exception—that Israel will not engage in discussion over the dimensions of withdrawal until the Syrians clarify whether they are prepared for full peace and normalization of relations—has already been violated. No such “clarification” was issued, yet Israel could not wait to make a major uncalled-for gift to Syria. An item on the front page of the July 1 Wall Street Journal says: “A senior Israeli official disavowed any permanent claim by Israel to the Golan Heights which he described as ‘occupied territory.’” Were I Assad, I would continue to sit tight and wait for the next Chelmite free gift, knowing that I would not have to wait long. . . .
Then there is the tinkering with history. . . . Consider the following: “Fate has decreed that the Israeli and Palestinian people share a narrow patch of land.” I don’t know who “fate” is and when he/ she “decreed” anything. The current situation is a direct result of what Israelis and Arabs did or did not do.
The next sentence is an abomination: “The resulting hatred and violence have slowly worked [their] poison on both sides.” I do not believe there is a single Israeli textbook containing anti-Arab instruction. In fact, I cannot recall an article in any of the many Israeli newspapers which denigrates Arabs as Arabs. This is rather remarkable given the history of the conflict. In the Arab states, on the other hand, the textbooks and the media are full of ferocious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel lies and hatred. And this did not start in 1967, nor did it start, as the Israeli document claims, “during the almost half-century of conflict which followed the creation of the state” (this is a typical internalization of the Arab line which maintains that trouble started when Israel was established). It started long before and was highlighted by the riots of 1920, 1929 (when the old Jewish community of Hebron was obliterated), 1936-39 (when quite a number of Jews were killed), and the years in between. . . .
The current Israeli government says that “Zionism emerged as the answer to perpetual insecurity. The Jewish catastrophe during World War II made the establishment of Israel an imperative.” . . . In other words, the government accepts the Arab version of why Israel was established, and, thereby, the Arabs’ collateral complaint that they have been asked to pay for the crimes the Europeans committed against the Jews. This official (!) document thus spits in the face of all those whose superhuman effort and dedication for more than a century (and the dreams of almost 2,000 years) came to fruition with Israel’s independence and subsequent flourishing. And these are the people in whose hands the future of Israel now lies.
University of Illinois
To the Editor:
At the conclusion of his June article, Norman Podhoretz writes that he is “praying with all my might that my analysis is wrong and the Rabin government and its spokesmen are right.” Save your prayers for the people of Israel, Mr. Podhoretz. If the anti-national, socialist ideologues of the present government succeed in their goal of peace-at-any-price, Israel will be stripped of its strategic frontiers and historic heritage and emerge as a tiny, indefensible enclave able to survive only as a protectorate of the United States or the United Nations—if it still exists and has not already been destroyed in a second Holocaust after the fifth Arab war against Israel. . . .
George E. Rubin
New York City
To the Editor:
It is clear, after reading both of Norman Podhoretz’s Statements, that he sees the “peace process [as] a trap from which it will be very hard for Israel to escape.” Why, then, does COMMENTARY continue to use the misleading label “peace process”?
The Israelis want peace, but history has shown that the Arab nations are, and have been, uniformly opposed even to the idea of a Jewish state. What in fact has been going on ever since Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt . . . should more accurately be called the “surrender process.” . . .
What the use of the phrase “peace process” accomplishes is to make Jews feel good with every step Israel takes toward the trap, and make them feel bad every time Israel balks at an outrageous Arab demand. Let COMMENTARY take the lead in calling this nefarious trap the “surrender process” that it is.
Matthew A. Rosenblatt
To the Editor:
The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s attack on Norman Podhoretz’s “Statement on the Peace Process” is a disturbing manifestation of the topsy-turvy policy some elements in the Israeli government seem to be pursuing: attack Israel’s American friends while coddling Israel’s enemies. Consider the following:
- An article in the Boston Globe reports that, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Israeli embassies may no longer distribute (in the words of the article) “inflammatory PLO material, such as its charter which calls for the destruction of Israel.” Thus, statements which attack longstanding friends of Israel are freely issued by the Ministry, but even something as uncontroversial as a translation of the PLO Covenant may not be distributed, lest terrorists be offended.
- The recent forced resignation of Harvey Friedman, a vice president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), after complaints from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Friedman reported that in a meeting with three American Congressmen Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin expressed willingness to see Israel return to its pre-’67 borders (save for Jerusalem), a significant deviation from official Israeli policy. Beilin denied the report and took his revenge by having the Foreign Ministry intercede with AIPAC to force Friedman out. Incidentally, Friedman claims that his account of the meeting can be verified by the three Congressmen present.
- The highly partisan remarks of Avraham Burg, the number-three man in the Israeli Labor party, at a public meeting in Pittsburgh this past November at which he attacked AIPAC as radically right wing and excoriated the audience for not speaking out against the Israeli government during the period it was led by Likud.
Norman Podhoretz—like several other pro-Israel American commentators who have recently found themselves in the Foreign Ministry’s sights—has been a loyal and consistent defender of the Jewish state. Under his stewardship, COMMENTARY has been an important and influential voice speaking out on behalf of Israel. The hysterical reaction that greeted his April Statement says more about the character of his critics—and their dubious “peace-in-our-time” ideology—than it does about Mr. Podhoretz’s well-reasoned, temperate, and carefully-considered essay.
Mountain View, California
To the Editor:
I would like to express my disagreement with Norman Podhoretz. But let me say first that this does not stem from any quarrel with Mr. Podhoretz’s view that the current Israeli administration is leading itself down the primrose path in the peace negotiations and that it seems to have taken too literally the old admonition that it is better to give than to receive. I also have no problem with Mr. Podhoretz’s characterization of many of his “dovish” critics in Israel and in the U.S. as hypocritical. The hypocrisy of the “peace activists” in both countries is neither new nor surprising. . . .
Second, I have no argument with the distinction he draws between his own criticism of Israeli policy, which is motivated by a sincere desire for Israeli security, and that of the Jewish Left, which, in spite of its protestations, is frequently not so motivated. Nor, in contrast to the Jewish Left, does Mr. Podhoretz argue that criticizing Israeli policy is legitimate, while criticizing the critics of Israeli policy is McCarthyite suppression.
Having said this, I am nevertheless unhappy with the implicit message in both of Mr. Podhoretz’s Statements that American Jews should take sides in internal Israeli partisan politics. Let me briefly summarize my views:
- Representation without taxation is just as objectionable as taxation without representation. (Any American Jew who thinks that contributing to the Jewish National Fund or other charities is the moral equivalent of taxation should try living in Israel and paying Israeli taxes.)
- U.S. Jews do not bear the consequences of Israeli policy choices. Hence it is unethical of them to try to influence those choices. Israelis bear the consequences, economic and strategic, of their decisions, including their foolish ones. It is morally uncourageous to try to particpate in internal Israeli political debate without taking the admittedly quite difficult road of actually living in Israel.
- In the last election, 37 parties ran for office in Israel, not counting political groups who chose not to run (like Peace Now). If American Jews were to pick sides in Israeli electoral politics, they would squander their energies and resources on partisan bickering. If politicization were carried to its logical conclusion, with U.S. Jews allied with the Israeli parties of their choice, and if each group were to withhold financial and moral support for Israel when its party of preference was out of power, the bulk of American support for Israel would disappear, regardless of who was in power.
- U.S. Jews, who do not face daily conditions of life in Israel and who do not know the language, are at a disadvantage in terms of information and so should be cautious about second-guessing the Israeli electorate.
- Advice and pressure from outside Israel probably have little effect on Israeli public thinking and choice, and may even have a perverse effect, given the famous Israeli “davka” syndrome (doing the opposite out of orneriness).
- Media misrepresentation notwithstanding, the Israeli consensus on most strategic issues is broad enough so that friends of Israel may endorse that consensus without taking partisan sides.
University of Haifa
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s argument about Jewish dissent on Israel leads inevitably to two propositions: (1) no American Jew, liberal or conservative, has the moral right to say anything about any Israeli security policy, and (2) Israelis themselves do not even have the moral right to criticize their own government’s policy if that government is in the hands of Likud.
Mr. Podhoretz writes that in the days of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir he counseled against American Jews criticizing Israel on security issues: since their lives were not “on the line,” they did not have the “standing to participate in the public debate.”. . . But American Jewish supporters of Likud’s Greater-Israel-Forever approach were also participating in the “public debate,” and their lives were certainly not on the line. . . .
Another way that Likud’s American Jewish advocates had of muzzling dissent against their favorite government was to say: “We don’t have the right to urge Israel to give up territory because we won’t have to bear the consequences.” Now no one really knows what the consequences of such a withdrawal might be; they could be either good or bad. But we do know what the consequences of a Likud-favored status quo on the West Bank and Gaza already are, the most obvious being that to keep the territories forever, Israelis must forever risk their lives policing the Palestinians there. That is a real and current consequence, not a hypothetical one—and American Jewish Likudniks do not have to face it, do they? So what moral right did they have to speak out in favor of the Likud government’s policy? . . . (There is a saying about such blood-and-fire right-wing American “Zionists”: they will defend Israel down to the last drop of Israeli blood.)
So, based on Mr. Podhoretz’s notion of the dues one has to pay to enter the debate over the occupation, not even American Jewish hawks have the right to open their mouths. But he actually goes one step further. American Jews, he writes, were morally forbidden from criticizing Likud policy because such criticism had
dangerous political consequences. For one thing, [it] provided cover for ideological enemies of Israel and even outright anti-Semites, who were overjoyed at being able to quote Jews instead of having to rely exclusively on their own easily discounted forms of vilification.
I doubt whether these American Jews helped Israel’s enemies. But if Mr. Podhoretz is correct, and Likud’s American Jewish critics did bring joy to Israel’s enemies, imagine the ecstasies these enemies must have experienced upon hearing Likud’s Israeli critics. It follows, then, that if American Jews were morally required to fall in line behind Begin and Shamir, Israeli Jews were required to stand at the head of that line. . . .
Tel Aviv, Israel
To the Editor:
. . . Like Norman Podhoretz, I was infuriated during the Begin-Shamir era by the incessant hectoring of Israel from the Diaspora Jewish Left, which often abetted Israel’s most unrelenting enemies. Certainly Mr. Podhoretz is correct to note that with the arrival of Yitzhak Rabin and the departure of George Bush, political reality has changed dramatically. Criticism of Israel may subject Mr. Podhoretz to the charge of hypocrisy, but it no longer exposes Israel to Diaspora sabotage.
As a Diaspora Jew, however, I remain uneasy about criticism of the government of Israel on security matters. Diaspora Jews cannot save Israel from itself if its own government is committed to the dubious proposition that relinquishing the Golan to Syria and Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians will, miraculously, increase the security of the Jewish state. . . .
To frame the issue exclusively in “security” terms, however, narrows the debate needlessly. If Diaspora Jews are not Israelis, certainly we share some common concerns as Jews. About these, at least, all Jews may speak; and Israel, which identifies itself as a Jewish state, for all the Jews in the world, may even be obligated to listen. In its proclamation of independence, the “Land of Israel” was identified as the “birthplace of the Jewish people,” the source of our “spiritual, religious, and national identity.” Israel declared itself the reconstituted national custodian for covenantal promises made long ago to the entire Jewish people. (As David Ben-Gurion once asserted, “The Bible is our mandate.”) If Jews, all of us standing at Sinai, were not silent then about assuming our responsibilities as a people, why should we be silent now?
To some of Mr. Podhoretz’s critics (like Alfred H. Moses writing in the June issue), this begins to sound suspiciously like an argument for a “‘greater Israel’ based on religious grounds or Revisionist ideology”—as though religion or Revisionism were, ipso facto, reasons for instant dismissal. And the Israeli embassy, clearly stung by Mr. Podhoretz’s initial Statement, conveniently narrowed Zionist purpose to “spiritual and ethical goals,” excluding religious imperatives or historic rights. But in any inclusive understanding of Judaism, or Zionism, these are not so easily relinquished.
Take what one fervently hopes is an extremely slim possibility: the government of Israel decides, for peace and security with the Palestinians, to relinquish the Old City of Jerusalem forever. Given the centrality of Jerusalem to Jews for historic and religious reasons, would anyone seriously question the responsibility of Diaspora Jews to participate in that debate? Is the answer to be found in “security,” or in the very essence of the meaning of Jerusalem within Judaism? What about Hebron, an even more ancient holy and historical place for Jews? And Shiloh, where the ark of the covenant rested on its journey from Sinai to the Jerusalem Temple? Or Judea and Samaria in their entirety, the geographical and historical heartland of the biblical Land of Israel? . . .
Ultimately, exclusive focus on the debate about Israeli security is misplaced. Issues of national security may indeed be for Israelis to decide. But as long as Israel claims to be the national home of the entire Jewish people, certain decisions with Jewish consequences are far too important to be left solely to Israelis. No government of Israel may relinquish the Jewish historical patrimony and expect Diaspora silence. It is not a question of who may speak, but whose speech is most faithful to Jewish imperatives. Jews, in the United States or Israel, who continue to align themselves with the demands of Israel’s implacable Arab enemies, can hardly make this claim in good faith.
Jerold S. Auerbach
To the Editor:
. . . The heart of all the criticisms of Norman Podhoretz is that he is, at best, inconsistent, and, at worst, hypocritical in his attitudes toward the Likud and Labor parties in Israel.
Mr. Podhoretz’s response to his critics includes partly pleading guilty and partly explaining the circumstances and the manner in which he intends to criticize Israel. But the charge against him is left essentially unanswered. One must conclude that the editor has gone a long way downhill between “J’Accuse” a decade ago [September 1982] and his two Statements. In the distinguished history of Norman Podhoretz as writer, journalist, editor, and Jew, these pieces will not be recalled as high points. . . .
Mr. Podhoretz ends his second Statement with the hope that time may prove him wrong and his critics correct. To which I can only add a fervent “amen.”
Teaneck, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz is not to blame for the misconception of his critics that his “Statement on the Peace Process” contradicts his earlier call for silence by Jews outside Israel who object to Israeli government policies. Inconsistent perhaps, but not contradictory: to contradict his earlier position, Mr. Podhoretz would have to defend the expression of all such disagreement, and he explicitly denies this by setting two conditions. So (he writes in the June issue), there is “all the difference in the world between attacking Israel as an immoral or criminal state . . . and expressing doubts and anxieties over the prudence of the policies being pursued by the Israeli government. . . .” And then: “The political dangers involved in Jewish criticism of Israel’s policies have for the moment faded.”
I take these conditions to mean that external criticism is legitimate with respect to practical but not to moral issues and only if the criticism is unlikely to affect adversely the attitude toward Israel of other governments (principally, of course, the U.S.). But does Mr. Podhoretz really mean this? He says himself that he hopes for the failure of present peace negotiations. Would he not also hope, or allow the possibility, that his reasoning will influence readers, perhaps even members of the Clinton administration? . . . And would he not then be encouraging American pressure on Israel to prevent the concessions he opposes? If not this, for whom is he writing?
Perhaps having moved this far, Mr. Podhoretz may yet grant what in easier times would be commonplace: that of course it is Israeli citizens who will in the end decide Israel’s policies—and that of course Jews outside Israel are entitled to express their views about these policies, even if the country they live in does not subsidize their implementation, but especially if it does. The alternative to this is a pretense of consensus that no knowledgeable observer would credit—a forced unanimity that does not exist in Israel itself and that new Israeli governments with other priorities may rightly resent—and the assumption that in order to support Israel one has to defend every one of its policies or acts. What is there to recommend this alternative on either prudential or moral grounds?
West Hartford, Connecticut
To the Editor:
In his last two articles, Norman Podhoretz discussed whether American Jewish criticism of Israeli policy is appropriate. What must be understood is that some types of criticism hurt Israel’s image while others do not. . . .
Many American Jews have good reason to be legitimately concerned about extremist Arab attitudes, such as not even accepting Israel’s right to exist. The PLO still sponsors most anti-Israel terrorism and refuses to amend its Covenant, which calls for the destruction of Israel. The PLO’s Yasir Arafat told a group of Jewish journalists in Tunis recently that “Israel’s goal is to capture all the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates.” And the PLO continues to claim that the Holocaust did not occur. . . .
Syria continues its feverish efforts to develop chemical, biological, and other weapons, while its Minister of Information claims that Israeli policies are “reminiscent of Nazi methods” (Jerusalem Post, June 8, 1993). Faisal Husseini, the new leader of the Palestinian Arab delegation to the peace talks, has recently called for the dissolution of the Zionist entity in stages. When one adds to these belligerent statements and actions the fact that Arab regimes have repeatedly broken signed treaties (the Israeli-Arab armistice of 1949; the Iraqi recognition of Kuwait of 1962; the Iran-Iraq peace treaty of 1976)—it is no wonder that many American Jews look with skepticism upon current Arab rhetoric about making “peace” with Israel.
Morton A. Klein
Zionist Organization of America
Greater Philadelphia Chapter
To the Editor:
. . . Ironically, the same Israeli Labor-party officials who are now reportedly so upset about American Jewish dissent from Israeli policy were until recently actively involved in instigating such dissent—when it suited their purposes. When criticsm by the American Jewish Left helped Labor undermine Likud, it was hailed by Laborites as “courageous” and “a legitimate attempt to facilitate peacemaking.” From 1977 until Likud was toppled by Labor last year, prominent Israeli doves frequently visited America to whip up criticism of the Israeli government. Shimon Peres deserves a “frequent-flier” award for his many such trips, as does Abba Eban, whose torrent of op-ed pieces and lectures attacking the Israeli government made him the darling of the State Department and Israel-bashers in the American media. . . .
How ironic that the new Israeli ambassador in Washington, Itamar Rabinovich, who was so vividly offended by Mr. Podhoretz’s April article that his embassy sent a two-page rebuttal to all Jewish newspapers, himself denounced the Likud government during many of his U.S. appearances when he was associated with Tel Aviv University.
Rabin, Rabinovich, and the others, having urged U.S. Jews to exercise their right as American citizens to speak out on Israeli policy, cannot expect anything less today from American Jews. . . .
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . There is absolutely no comparison between Norman Podhoretz’s newly formulated position with regard to criticism of Israel and the Israel-bashing of liberal American Jews when Likud was in power. . . . Mr. Podhoretz has expressed reasoned concern, a position hardly comparable to the actions of such groups as American Friends of Peace Now, which placed an ad in the New York Times alleging that Israel constituted the only impediment to peace in the Middle East, or to other groups which have called on the U.S. to put pressure on the Israeli government or which have met with enemies of Israel. . . .
West Orange, New Jersey
To the Editor:
How can we begin to talk about consistency and inconsistency without first agreeing on a frame of reference? . . . Certainly in an unchanging world it would be perfectly reasonable to make a fetish out of constancy. But, as we all know, people in political life tend to be as flighty as break dancers.
Consider, for example, Israel’s Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin: on the eve of last year’s election, he asserted that “anyone who comes down from the Golan forfeits Israel’s security interest.” That was last year. This year, as Prime Minister, he seems quite prepared to compromise this security interest.
Or consider the U.S. State Department: Washington is undoubtedly prodding Jerusalem to accede to a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, but there is no similar prodding by the State Department for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.
Then there is the argument that only Israelis have the right to determine Israel’s security needs. But that is precisely the point. According to a recent Gallup poll, 75 percent of the Israeli electorate would insist upon a national referendum before making any territorial concessions. . . . Given all these contradictions, all these vacillations, isn’t it just a little glib to complain about inconsistency? . . .
I suspect that this debate has more to do with infidelity than with inconsistency. There are some Jews who would like to remain, at least in some measure, faithful to our ancient covenant, and there are others who would seek another covenant. Up until a few generations ago, Jewish civilization could be characterized as a religious civilization. Today, however, there are some Jews, both here and in Israel, who are indifferent to our religious past. What is particularly distressing about this development is that in the process of separating themselves from this past, these people have also abandoned large chunks of Jewish history. Without this history, without this past, there is really very little to keep the Jewish state, or, for that matter, the state of world Jewry, from becoming unglued. . . .
Of course I share Norman Podhoretz’s anxieties. The peace process is a cul-de-sac whose only exit is a return to the 1967 lines. Such an Israel would be terminally vulnerable, a mere garrison state. Such an Israel would have to commit every possible resource just to stay alive. How could such an Israel possibly achieve its prophetic fulfillment?
Silver Spring, Maryland
To the Editor:
In his extremely astute Statements on the Peace Process, Norman Podhoretz has provided a valuable service to the American Jewish community. Even those whose initial reaction was negative would be well advised to contemplate objectively the significance of what Mr. Podhoretz has written.
Another related matter affecting American Jews was the decision last spring by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to grant membership . . . to Americans for Peace Now (APN). The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) made energetic efforts to inform the Conference and the community at large of APN’s positions, and it succeeded in alerting those who had previously been unaware of APN to the true nature of the group. But in spite of these efforts, APN was accepted as a member of the Conference.
I was the last speaker at the tension-filled meeting on March 29, 1993, when the issue of admitting APN was voted on. I concluded my remarks with the following statement:
While all of us in this room may have different philosophical, ideological, religious, and political points of view, every member of the Conference of Presidents is totally in agreement on one fundamental issue: that Jerusalem is and will remain the undivided capital of the sovereign state of Israel. If the conference votes to admit Americans for Peace Now it would be the first member of the conference which has failed to support, unequivocally, the one historic position which has universally united our community.
This plea did not succeed in changing the minds of those present. And thus, major Jewish organizations, both religious and secular, which in the past had been united on the question of Jerusalem, voted to bring into their ranks a group which believes that there are “many options” in connection with the status of Jerusalem—that, in other words, Jerusalem is “negotiable.” . . .
APN boasts of its love for Israel and claims that its criticisms are voiced only out of concern for Israel’s welfare, security, and future. Yet the course it advocates—an accommodation with the terrorist PLO—is detrimental to all three. APN’s support for dialogue with the PLO is in fact contrary to the policies of Prime Minister Rabin’s government. . . .
Of course, APN has a right to urge Israel to negotiate with the PLO, and it has a right to vacillate on the issue of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the question must still be asked: should an organization whose leadership holds such views be a member of the American Jewish community’s highest decision-making body?
Executive Vice President Emeritus
Zionist Organization of America
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . In his June Statement, Norman Podhoretz calls Jacob Amir’s letter in that same issue “moving” and says that Mr. Amir “makes the case for Palestine statehood in a way that gives me pause and avoids lending aid and comfort to Israel’s enemies.” Having been a resident of Israel in 1951-52, and from 1954 to 1960, and as an avid reader of every news item during the pre-1967 period, I hereby attest to Jacob Amir’s total memory loss.
Contrary to what he says, Israeli civilians did not live a remarkably normal life during this period, and the terrorist infiltration was most certainly not confined to the border moshavim and kibbutzim during this period. Terrorism was explosive and pervasive in most of Israel, ranging from attacks on civilian buses with multiple fatalities to the massacre of schoolchildren in the city of Lod near Tel Aviv and the firing on buses on the Petah Tikvah-Tel Aviv route. In the north of Israel, death and destruction rained down from the Golan Heights and from the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
All travel in the Negev (two-thirds of Israel’s territory) was accompanied by armed escort or the mandatory carrying of weapons. . . .
As for the tranquility of Mr. Amir’s post-midnight walks in Jerusalem “just a few yards from the border,” his safety lay solely in the darkness of night because in daylight he could easily have become one of the victims of Jordanian Arab Legionnaires who were constantly firing on and, yes, killing and maiming Jews from the safety of their outposts on the Old City walls and their reinforced bunkers facing Jewish Jerusalem.
In fact, the overwhelming popularity of the Sinai campaign of 1956 lay in the absolute necessity to distance fedayeen terrorist squads from their access through the Gaza Strip. The formation of the famed anti-terrorist commando unit headed by a young army officer named Ariel Sharon and the unprecedented latitude granted to it were motivated by the desperate need to reduce terrorism against the civilian Jewish population.
As for the peaceful Israeli Arabs in the fantasyland of Jacob Amir’s pre-1967 Israel, I will make only two brief observations.
First and foremost, the government and army of Israel deemed it necessary to impose martial law on Israel’s Arabs and maintain it for a number of years.
Secondly, I was in the audience during a speech made by David Ben-Gurion in which he emphatically stated that, given the opportunity, the Arabs of Israel would support any war dedicated to the destruction of Israel and would rather live under the iron fist of an Arab dictator than be ruled by democratic Jewish sovereignty. These remarks were duly reported in the next day’s newspapers with little or no reaction.
Finally, if Mr. Amir intends to include Jerusalem in his fail-safe Jewish state, how does he intend to protect Jewish children from the stabbings in Jerusalem that he so poignantly described? The bulk of the hostile Palestinian population that he insists “Israel must separate itself from” lives both within or in very close proximity to that very Jerusalem.
If Mr. Amir has full confidence in the ability of Israel’s army to protect the 1949 sieve-like armistice borders from hostile and “sworn-to-war” Arab nations hovering above and around it, plus an autonomous Palestinian state seething with hatred and determination to regain its “conquered land,” why does he not find it possible for the army and the police and an alert, armed citizenry “to make the streets of its cities safe once again,” those streets which at their very worst are far safer than the cities in which most Americans live?
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
Jacob Amir forgets that the peaceful days in Jerusalem in the 1950’s that he describes in his letter were a fool’s paradise. That idyllic “peace” was punctuated by the war of 1967, when the Arabs used the territories they had illegally seized to launch hostilities against Israel. This means that there are no “good old days” for Mr. Amir to go back to. The events of 1967 show that Arab enmity is not related to possession of the territories, but to the existence of Israel itself. The plain fact is that there is no peace that the Arabs have the capacity to deliver. . . .
The Arabs must never get a second chance to repeat 1967. Israel should under no circumstances go back to the vulnerabilities of its pre-1967 borders . . . which, at a minimum, must ultimately be annexed by Israel so that they will never play a role in any potential Arab attack. . . .
Mr. Amir worries about radicalizing the 900,000 Israeli Arabs. What will he say when they become 2,500,000 in a few short decades and show even less capacity for understanding the defense needs of the Jewish state? If those Arabs do not support action now to counteract potential dangers to the state, they must be written off and encouraged to leave, in the interest of preserving the lives of the 4.5 million-plus Jews. . . .
It is such facts that the Amirs do not wish to face. It is bizarre that they would trust agreements with the Arabs—trust to pieces of paper that history has shown to have had no efficacy—instead of demanding the objective condition of militarily secure borders, which is what all other nations of the world demand for themselves. . . .
I note that at least one observer, in a recent New York Times op-ed article, maintains that population transfer for the purpose of saving lives is a legitimate solution to the problems of Bosnia. It is even more valid in the case of Israel. There is no reason for Israel to risk its future or to apologize for taking the proper action to protect its people.
West Hartford, Connecticut
To the Editor:
. . . The tragedy in Israel today is that there is essentially no difference between the Right and Left; both are motivated by fundamental selfishness for power. . . .
And, of course, dishonesty. The Left speaks of achieving peace by making insane concessions. The Right speaks of coexistence with the Arabs in our midst, and denies any demographic danger. Meanwhile, mention of the only real solution is prohibited and punishable.
Scarsdale, New York
To the Editor:
. . . All over the world ethnic cleansing seems to be the order of the day. In Germany we have xenophobia. In Japan ethnic cleansing has been in effect throughout the nation’s history, since only ethnic Japanese can become citizens and even Koreans, who have lived in Japan for generations, are denied citizenship. England has had to limit the number of Pakistani immigrants. And in the former Soviet Union we are probably about to find the ultimate ethnic cleansing, with the various republics anxious to rid themselves of the Russians who had been sent among them to maintain Russian-Soviet hegemony. And we all know about Bosnia and the Sudan. . . .
Today Israel is at risk. Yet the entire world insists that Israel alone may not resort to the almost universal practice of ethnic cleansing. Israel’s survival depends on guaranteeing its current boundaries. If possible, Israel should buy up the land owned by Israeli Arabs, or get the 22 Arab nations to welcome their co-religionists and rescue them from what they call the persecution they suffer in Israel. After all, Israel welcomed the unfortunate survivors of the Holocaust; why can’t the Arabs be as hospitable to their own? Maybe Jordan, which is already 70-percent Palestinian, should set an example. . . .
Israel can survive only by an exchange of populations, which has already been done several times in the modern era. Half of this process has already been accomplished—there are almost no Jews left in Arab lands. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Laguna Hills, California
To the Editor:
Four years ago, in his article “Israel: A Lamentation from the Future” [COMMENTARY, March 1989] , Norman Podhoretz wrote: “It was therefore clear from the start of the U.S. dialogue with Arafat that it was likely to lead . . . to an American endorsement of a PLO state.” Recent news seems to point to the accuracy of this prediction. Mr. Podhoretz’s haunting article was written from an imaginary future in which Israel no longer existed. Though details of Israel’s demise were left out, Mr. Podhoretz made it clear that what had happened was that both the well-meaning and the cynical were seduced by the idea of peace and made territorial concessions that left the state unable to defend itself. In his two Statements on the Peace Process, Mr. Podhoretz has only been pointing out that many of those who are now seduced by the idea of peace are in positions of power in Israel today. . . .
To the Editor:
Reading Norman Podhoretz’s penetrating though sobering “Statement on the Peace Process” (and the published comments on the article) brings to mind another article he wrote some time ago, “Israel: A Lamentation from the Future.”
Has the “future” arrived?
Brooklyn, New York
Norman Podhoretz writes:
Having gone around the track twice now in these pages, and a few more times in interviews with the press, on the issue of why and how I have violated my old rule of staying out of the debate over Israel’s security, I am content to let my critics have their say without reiterating my position yet again. Nor do I have anything to add (except for my thanks) in response to the supporting letters on this particular issue. But Berel Lang raises an objection I have not adequately addressed before—an objection also raised by Abraham H. Fox-man, the executive director of the ADL, in a piece published both in the Jerusalem Post and in a number of Anglo-Jewish papers here in the U.S.
Neither Mr. Lang nor Mr. Fox-man is persuaded by my argument that to criticize the Rabin government for being too conciliatory, unlike the old left-wing attacks on the Shamir government for being intransigent and immoral, poses no political danger to Israel. How, asks Mr. Foxman, do I know what use will be made of my criticisms? And Mr. Lang, spelling out explicitly what Mr. Foxman only hints at, declares that I am “encouraging American pressure on Israel to prevent the concessions [I] oppose.”
What world do these people live in? Can they really envisage a situation in which the Clinton administration would pressure Israel to make fewer concessions or to take a tougher line in negotiations with the Arabs?
There is, however, a more plausible variant of the idea that my criticisms of the peace process pose a political danger to Israel. According to this variant—which, I am reliably informed, has been put forward in private conversation by an Israeli diplomat in Washington and has also been alluded to in a story in the Boston Globe—the Rabin government might at some juncture want and need American pressure so that, in making concessions that would be very unpopular at home, it would be able to blame Washington for leaving Israel no alternative. But, said this diplomat, if Clinton were persuaded by outcries like mine that such pressure on Israel would be unpopular with American Jews as well, then he would be reluctant to apply it for fear of losing Jewish votes in 1996.
Well, if Israeli officials believe that the deal they are contemplating can only be rammed through their domestic opposition under cover of American pressure, then they are on even shakier ground than I thought.
Moving on now from the question of my right to participate in the debate, I want to return to the substantive issues involved in the peace process which are, after all, the true heart of the matter. Before doing so, however, let me just say that “transfer” or “ethnic cleansing”—the solution proposed in a number of letters above—is in my judgment so unrealistic that it is hardly worth discussing. Even setting aside the obvious moral objections to so repellent a policy, can anyone seriously imagine its being adopted by a country which cannot even expel a few terrorists without tearing itself apart and incurring the wrath of the entire world? And even if, in spite of these considerations, transfer were to be attempted, can anyone seriously imagine that it would be permitted to go forward without an all-out military assault against Israel by the Arabs, quite possibly with the support of the UN?
But back now to the peace process itself.
When I was in Jerusalem this past June, I gave a talk based on my two Statements. There were many doves in the audience, and during the lengthy question period they did not fail to tax me with being callous about the sufferings which would continue to afflict both the Israelis and the Palestinians in the absence of a peaceful settlement. I was also accused by Professor Shlomo Avineri (a former Director General of the Foreign Ministry) of being a Manichean, from which he concluded that I must be as wrong in my analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict as, in his view, I had been about the U.S.-Soviet conflict. (To this I replied that in confronting evil—Nazi Germany, Soviet Communism, and the Arab dream of wiping Israel off the map—a Manichean was the only honorable thing to be, and that of course I had been right, not wrong, in my ideas about the cold war.)
Yet, astonishingly, in an hour-and-a-half of discussion, not only did it become apparent that the audience largely shared my doubts about the negotiations; it was also clear that the doves had nothing to say about the content of my analysis. That is, not a single person rose to argue that I had been mistaken on this or that detail of the Syrian position or the Palestinian position or even the position of the Rabin government. In fact, the only point that came seriously into dispute was my contention that the peace process is a trap from which Israel will find it very hard to escape without winding up weaker and more vulnerable to military assault.
Thus, Professor Yehoshua Porat of the Hebrew University, one of the leading academic authorities in Israel on the Arab world and a supporter of the leftist party Meretz (which is a member of Rabin’s governing coalition), shook most of the audience by agreeing “100 percent” with my analysis. At the same time, however, he disagreed with me about the peace process. Israel must, he contended, go on negotiating, because (I quote from memory) “unless our sons are convinced that we are doing everything possible to make peace, they will jump out of the tanks in the next war.”
My response was that if this was how young people in Israel actually felt, then they had been tragically miseducated to believe that it was up to their country to make peace when in truth only the Arabs could call off the war they had been waging against the Jewish state from the minute it came into existence. (I was later assured that only the children of doves, if even all of them, correspond to Porat’s description.)
I tell this story by way of confirming and adding to Kenneth Levin’s illuminating description of his encounter in Boston with a visiting Israeli dove. Yet even if I had not had this experience in Jerusalem, I would by now have known from the critical letters I have received (including, with all due respect, the one from Shlomo Gazit that appears above), as well as from articles in the public prints, that the position of the doves is based on little more than wishful thinking about the Arabs and about the terms they are willing to accept.
Just how wishful, so far as the Syrians are concerned, can be gauged from what Yigal Carmon tells us in his important letter about their intransigence. Furthermore, the Syrians, having turned down an Israeli request to disarm Hezbollah, then used it as a proxy for attacking Israeli soldiers in Lebanon and Israeli civilians in the Galilee, thereby provoking the retaliatory strikes of late July.
As for the Palestinians, they now insist not only on pushing Jerusalem to the top of the negotiating agenda but on making the “return” of East Jerusalem a condition for going on with the process. It is hard to know what this means. Are the Palestinians once again resuming their old habit of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity? Or do they believe that the Rabin government is so desperate for a deal that even East Jerusalem is now up for grabs?
If the Palestinians do believe this, and if it should turn out that they are right in believing it, then I would no longer be inclined to characterize a letter like the one from E.B. Ayal as overly harsh. To be sure, these are very big ifs indeed. Yet as Paul Flacks points out in his letter about the admission of Americans for Peace Now to the Presidents’ Conference, the solid front that used to exist on Jerusalem is already beginning to crack (and not only, I might add, among American Jews, but also on the Israeli Left).
On the other hand, I have discovered from the response to my two Statements that the fears and anxieties which led me to go public are very widely shared. It is also clear that they are not being allayed by the distressingly weak arguments put forward by the Rabin government and its apologists in defense of a strategy that looks less and less realistic and more and more dangerous (see David Bar-Illan’s powerful piece beginning on p. 27 below for the details).