To the Editor:
While I do not disagree with the four essays by Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Pipes, Hillel Halkin, and Efraim Karsh on the current situation in Israel [“Intifada II,” December 2000], I do quibble with the underlying assumption that the al-Aqsa intifada succeeded in radically altering the perceptions of the Israeli public.
As one might expect, the renewal of wide-scale Palestinian violence shocked many Israelis, and the response of the Barak government profoundly weakened the prime minister’s public standing; but that does not tell the whole story. In a Gallup/Ma’ariv poll conducted in December, Israelis were asked whether Barak, having resigned as prime minister, had a mandate to make a deal with Arafat during the period leading up to the February 2001 election. According to the poll, the country was split, with 46 percent believing Barak would still have a mandate and 47 percent believing he would not. Similarly, 59 percent were in favor or leaning in favor of a referendum based on a “permanent peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” with a near majority preferring such an agreement, “including compromises over Jerusalem and a declaration ending the conflict with the Palestinians,” to an interim agreement. On the flip side, 56 percent said there was not “a partner for peace on the Palestinian side.”
One is tempted to disregard such polls, particularly in light of the fluidity of events on the ground. But there can be little doubt that Israeli public opinion has continued to be schizophrenic about the peace process. While skeptical of Palestinian intentions, a majority of Israelis still hunger for a permanent agreement and remain unwilling to entertain the bitter (if more sober) alternatives. It is this political reality that drove Barak forward and that had bent his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, however reluctantly, in the same direction.
Until the Israeli public gives its politicians a mandate to resist—however long and hard the road may be—more concessions will surely follow.
Gary M. Osen
Oradell, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Your excellent essays omit one major factor that is responsible for Israel’s absurd willingness to give up land in exchange for vague promises from sworn enemies. The problem is not, as some of the essayists claim, that a good part of the population has become weary and demoralized, or has bought into the peace process. Rather, Israel has become the victim of its own secularism. Having been taught for a generation that the Bible is not sacred but is simply a source book for archaeological digs, that the land is not holy, that Jewish history and Jewish destiny are without special meaning, and that the prophets of Israel were merely good poets, Israelis have inevitably come to possess no serious attachment to the land and to have no qualms about giving it away.
Israel’s indifference to the Arab destruction of Joseph’s Tomb, its willingness to trade away Rachel’s Tomb, and the cavalier treatment of Judaism’s holiest site—the Temple Mount—are all traceable to a secular indoctrination that has emptied Israel of Jewish pride and self-respect After all, why concern oneself with a Jewish history that goes no further back than Theodor Herzl?
It is no coincidence that the only groups in Israel that are still fully conscious of their heritage and that have not lost their spirit and courage are precisely those groups that have not been secularized, and for whom Judaism and Torah are living entities.
[Rabbi] Emanuel Feldman
To the Editor:
The four depressing articles in “Intifada II” suggest that the crisis facing Israel is self-inflicted and largely psychological. This certainly seems to be the case. No other people would allow an uprising like this to go on without crushing it. Would the United States tolerate, even for one day, known terrorists operating within its borders, smashing up religious shrines, shooting into apartment buildings, stoning and fire-bombing cars on the roads, blowing up school buses, or kidnapping, torturing, and then butchering soldiers?
Israel’s weak leaders might have looked to the late King Hussein of Jordan to learn how to deal with an intifada. In 1970 Yasir Arafat tried out a similar terrorist campaign in Jordan. King Hussein immediately ordered his army to defeat Arafat’s forces; 5,000 were shot down in what is now mourned by Palestinian Arabs as “Black September.” King Hussein saved his country and received the respect of the entire world.
George E. Rubin
New York City
To the Editor:
The authors of the articles in “Intifada II” seem to argue that Israel’s own actions are responsible for its current situation. Nowhere are there references to outside pressure from the U.S. or Europe. But, although Israel may have been at fault at Oslo and perhaps even until recently, certainly its current travail is to a great degree the result of external influences. Note the vote of fourteen to zero at the UN condemning Israel’s use of violence against the Palestinians, criticism from the U.S. for responding to Arab attacks, and thunder in the European press for Israel’s role in the deaths of Arab children.
Daniel Pipes wants the U.S. to help Israel out of its fix by providing military and diplomatic support—because, he argues, it is in America’s interest to do so. But what is the U.S. likely to do if confronted with a choice between its support for Israel and its oil supply?
To the Editor:
As an eighty-six-year-old man who lived through a narrow escape from the Nazis but whose family perished in Auschwitz, I cannot believe that I am now witnessing in Israel a repetition of the treacherous appeasement that took place in the months leading up to World War II. Just as the Western powers of Europe thought they could ensure the peace by signing a treaty with Hitler and the Nazis, Ehud Barak pursued utopian illusions of peace with Yasir Arafat and the Arab leaders.
These illusions were only encouraged by the interference and pressure of the U.S. in favor of Israel’s aggressors. After World War II, the allies forced Germany to cede a significant part of its Eastern provinces to Poland; France recovered the province of Alsace; and all of the German inhabitants of the Sudetenland had to leave. By contrast, after Israel was victorious in the Six-Day war with Egypt, it was coerced into giving back the Sinai up to the last grain of sand. Not only have the Arabs escaped punishment, the United States now continues to supply Egypt with armaments.
Mountain View, California
To the Editor:
The essays in “Intifada II” are reasoned indictments of terrible deeds done to the people of Israel. There is no gainsaying the facts or the conclusions drawn from them. But these accounts will make no difference.
We have in the Middle East an object lesson in how otherwise decent people allowed the slaughter of Jews in Germany. Everyone wishes to be reasonable; no one wishes to be regarded as an extremist. But in this case, as in the case of Germany, a solution will require force beyond any yet seen in the Middle East. I hope, but doubt, that the American military is already planning for it.
To the Editor:
The articles by Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Pipes, Hillel Halkin, and Efraim Karsh are very pessimistic indeed; even so, they understate the threat that faces Israel. Israel’s enemies include not only Palestinians and Arabs but Muslims all over the world and American politicians on the far Left and far Right, like Ralph Nader and Patrick Buchanan. Israel is small and unimportant, but it is the most hated country on earth.
College of Staten Island
Staten Island, New York
To the Editor:
I much admire Norman Podhoretz’s analysis of the dire situation in which Israel finds itself. His description of Oslo and its not-so-slow undermining of Israel’s territorial integrity is unfortunately right on the mark. But how does Mr. Podhoretz then account for his relatively upbeat conclusion?
To assert, as he does, that “present circumstances will not last forever” is a given. Nothing lasts forever. But an “unexpected surprise,” in which the Arabs will acknowledge Israel as a sovereign state, is about as likely as the moon falling on Alabama.
If there is no solution, then so be it. Perhaps miracles do happen, but it would be far better to reaffirm the legitimacy of Israel and whatever boundaries the majority of Israelis decide upon and to say, as Luther did, “Here stand I. I can do no other,” than to dream of a change of heart among the enemy.
Boca Raton, Florida
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz correctly observes that almost everyone in the world took at face value the Palestinian Authority’s version of the 1996 events regarding the Western Wall tunnel—that is, that it was supposedly intended by Israel to undermine the foundations of the al-Aqsa Mosque—when even a cursory glance would have shown that the allegation was blatantly false. Worse, however, is the fact that Israelis themselves are now spreading the Palestinians’ propaganda.
In an article that appeared in September in the International Herald Tribune, Uri Dromi, the former director of the Israeli government press office, wrote that “[Netanyahu] started his term by inciting a bloodbath when he opened the tunnel under the Temple Mount, resulting in the death of dozens of Israelis and Palestinians.” It is scandalous that Dromi does not know where the Western Wall tunnel is. Not only is the tunnel adjacent to the Temple Mount and not under it, but the controversial northern gate is in fact 500 yards away from the walls of the mosque.
Beer Sheva, Israel
To the Editor:
In his contribution to “Intifada II,” Daniel Pipes writes that the Oslo agreement “paid off economically: the boom experienced by Israel in the 1990’s can be partly attributed to a greater global willingness to trade and invest in the country.” While it is impossible to know whether or how much of Israel’s economic growth can be attributed to improved international sentiment, the boom itself has been greatly exaggerated by cheerleaders for the peace process.
Between 1991 and 1999 the Israeli economy grew, on average, 4.7 percent annually in real terms. This is certainly spectacular, especially when compared to the 3.6 percent average growth in the American economy over the same period. But if we focus just on the post-Oslo period from 1994 to 1999, the Israeli economy in those years grew at an average of only 1.8 percent, as compared to 2.9 percent in the U.S.
The roots of whatever growth has occurred in the Israeli economy can be found in the economic stabilization plans put into place by the Likud-Labor government in the mid-1980’s, the massive influx of Russian immigrants, and the valiant struggle by the Bank of Israel to reduce inflation. The economic effects of the peace process were marginal at best, and should not be used as a justification of that policy.
New York City
To the Editor:
Of all people, Jews ought to understand the desires of indigenous Arabs and Palestinians to maintain their own community of interests and symbols in the face of threats by a dominant power.
Modern scholarship has found solid reasons for understanding the biblical stories of David and Solomon as something other than literal historiography. What we know about the demographics and economics of the Iron Age precludes the possibility that a Davidic kingdom from the Nile to the Euphrates existed circa 1000 B.C.E., or that a temple of the size and grandeur attributed to King Solomon could have graced the humble City of David.
But this scholarship does not negate the existence and importance of the Second Temple in the history of Jerusalem, and it would be self-defeating for any Arab leader or Muslim believer to pretend otherwise. Similarly, Jews and Christians should not minimize the importance of the al-Aqsa Mosque, which has been in place on the Temple Mount for nearly twice the 600-year duration of the revered Second Temple of the Jews.
Third-Temple Jewish militancy, millennialist Christian fanaticism, and Islamic jihad are three equally provocative affronts to everything that the genuine deity represents within the world’s extended monotheistic family. Martyrdom is a tradition that we could now do well without. May God bless us all if we can only get this lesson through our irrationally nationalist and/or religious heads.
To the Editor:
COMMENTARY merits congratulations for the fine essays in “Intifada II.” It is time that Arab and Palestinian university professors, artists, intellectuals, musicians, writers, journalists, and trade-union leaders issued a statement acknowledging the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Like their Israeli counterparts—A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, Tom Segev, Shlomo Avineri, Uri Avnery, Amos Oz, Ady Ophir, Dany Rubinstein—they too must publicly ask for peace.
Canadian Institute for Jewish
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
To the Editor:
May I express my thanks for the outstanding series of essays in “Intifada II.” I am a Jewish educator and have asked my students to read them in order to understand the sad events now occurring in Israel. I am grateful to you for consistently providing your readers with articles of such importance.
Foster City, California
Norman Podhoretz writes:
Gary M. Osen may well be right about Israeli public opinion, and Emanuel Feldman may have put his finger on one of the reasons for the stubborn delusion that peace is possible under current conditions. But in my judgment, the factor Rabbi Feldman cites is only one of many, and not necessarily the most important.
Surely George E. Rubin has a point, though the late King Hussein is hardly a model for the Israelis to follow, assuming even that they had the stomach to follow it (which I very much doubt). This is why I disagree with Morris Altschuler about the relative weights of external and internal pressures. The truth is that since Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres decided (on the grounds that I tried to describe in my article) to go forward with Oslo, Israel has been making concessions that no American administration—not even the Bush-Baker team, which was perhaps the most hostile of any since the days of John Foster Dulles—would have dared to demand, or ever did. From that point on, it has been successive Israeli governments that have taken the lead, not Washington. True, Bill Clinton did some pushing, but his mad race to the finish line was preceded, and given a strong tail wind, by the unprecedented concessions Ehud Barak had already offered at his own initiative.
That this bears a terrifying resemblance to the policies of appeasement recalled by Ernest Schwarcz is as obvious as it is—to me—incomprehensible. For Jews, of all people, to buy into such policies so short a period after the most dramatic demonstration imaginable of their inevitable consequences, is something that, when all is said and done, I find almost impossible to understand. Therefore, while Ed Haefele is worried about whether the American military is ready for the big war (as distinguished from the low-intensity conflict going on now) that both he and I expect to break out one of these days, I am more worried about whether the Israeli military is ready.
Why then, asks Judith Hirsch very reasonably, did I reach a “relatively upbeat” conclusion in my article? The answer is that, while agreeing with every word she writes, I cannot, after having living through the sudden demise of the Soviet Union, preclude the possibility of some analogous “miracle” occurring in the Arab world. But the last implication I would wish to be drawn from this position is that Israel should wait around passively for the necessary changes, let alone that it should go on pursuing a delusory peace. As to the strategy Judith Hirsch proposes—which amounts to a form of “separation”—I said in my article that I doubted its viability, and to my own regret (since it seems no less attractive to me than it does to so many Israelis), I still entertain the same skepticism.
But, alas—in view of the evidence cited by Gary Osen—I am more skeptical than I was about the willingness of Israelis in their present condition to stand up for themselves in the war of ideas. Mladen Andrijasevic gives us one example, and there are now Israelis who join with Bob Garner in lending credence to the latest turn in Palestinian propaganda, which is to deny that there ever was a Temple on the Temple Mount. Mr. Garner, while peddling spurious “scholarship” about the First Temple, at least accepts the existence of the Second Temple, but Arafat and his minions and fellow-travelers (some of them Israelis, and others American or English Jews) even dispute that. And the Palestinians have done everything in their power to make sure that no further archaeological evidence of Solomon’s Temple will be unearthed.
Be that as it may, Mr. Garner is very much mistaken in the moral equivalence he draws among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Neither “Jewish militancy” nor “Christian fanaticism” is responsible for the war against Israel that the Arab world has been conducting since the state came into existence, and that it continues to conduct by a combination of military and political tactics. Would that one could say the same about “Islamic jihad.”
Daniel Pipes writes:
I agree with Gary M. Osen that the violence that began in September did not seem radically to alter the perceptions of the Israeli public. Although I did not address this matter in my COMMENTARY article, I did make precisely Mr. Osen’s point in a Jerusalem Post column (October 25, 2000) titled “Oslo’s Nine Lives.”
Emanuel Feldman argues that Israel’s problem is not that “a good part of the population has become weary and demoralized, or has bought into the peace process. Rather, Israel has become the victim of its own secularism.” But these are hardly contrary points: as Rabbi Feldman himself goes on to suggest, one among many reasons for Israel’s weariness and demoralization may be its secularism.
George E. Rubin’s suggestion that Israel learn from King Hussein’s actions in September 1970 is not realistic; there is no way that democratic Israel, always the focus of world attention, could or should employ the brutal methods of the Jordanian armed forces back then. So brutal were those methods, indeed, that when more than 200 PLO fighters escaped Jordanian forces by crossing into the West Bank, they willingly surrendered to the Israelis.
Although Morris Altschuler chides all four authors in “Intifada II” for failing to refer to pressure from the United States or Europe, this was the premise of my entire article. Nevertheless, one must be fair. It is true that the Clinton administration encouraged policies that another correspondent, Ernest Schwarcz, likens to “the treacherous appeasement” of Great Britain and France in the 1930’s. But in my judgment the ultimate responsibility for these policies lies with Israel’s demoralized electorate. As for Mr. Altschuler’s question about what the U.S. government would do if faced with a choice between its support for Israel and its oil supply, one need only think back 27 years to when the Arab oil boycott put tremendous pressure on Washington to abandon Israel, and it did not do so.
Josiah Rotenberg holds that Israel’s economic boom “has been greatly exaggerated by cheerleaders for the peace process.” I agree. That is why I wrote only that Israel’s economic success could be “partly” attributed to its diplomacy.
Hillel Halkin writes:
Most of the readers responding to “Intifada II” seem to be in basic agreement with what its authors were arguing in their different ways. Writing from Israel at the end of January, I would only observe that, with the polls showing Ehud Barak about to be soundly beaten in his electoral contest with Ariel Sharon, the Israeli public has seemed ready to give its politicians what Gary M. Osen calls a “mandate to resist” the irrational and self-destructive concessions made by the Barak government to the Palestinians. Although Emanuel Feldman is certainly right that religiously traditional Israelis have shown, in recent months and years, more backbone than have many secular Israelis, the February elections will have demonstrated, I believe, that “Jewish pride and self-respect” are not lacking among a large number of secular Israelis as well.
Like the Rabin-Peres government that went to Oslo, the Barak government inflicted grave and perhaps irreparable damage upon Israel and upon its ability to stand up to an Arab world that still does not accept its existence. It will not be easy for any new government to undo that damage. The road back to a credible policy of defending Jewish and Israeli interests, and convincing the Arabs and the world that these will not be forfeited, will demand years of determination and possibly bloodshed, for which the Barak government will bear much of the responsibility. We can only hope that Israel’s new leaders will prove equal to the task.
Efraim Karsh writes:
George Jochnowitz is concerned that COMMENTARY’s authors may be understating the threat that faces Israel. Although I hardly think that is the case, it is true that, in the world at large, there is a general tendency to downplay the degree to which Israel is indeed, to use Mr. Jochnowitz’s word, hated. That is precisely why, in underscoring the intractability of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I sought to highlight a central albeit often overlooked source of Muslim-Arab rejection of the Jewish state, namely, millenarian anti-Semitism.
Israel is widely perceived as an implacable enemy of Islam with whom there can be no real peace. This point was made by Yasir Arafat as early as 1994, when he compared the Oslo Accords to the Treaty of Hudaybiya, signed by the Prophet Muhammad with the people of Mecca in 628 C.E., only to be discarded two years later when the prophet’s political fortunes improved. It has most recently been amplified by the categorical Arab and Muslim rejection of the sanctity, for Jews, of the Temple Mount, including the Western Wall, and the uncompromising insistence on full control of these sites.
No less detrimental to the prospects for peace has been the historic Arab-Muslim dismissal of the notion of Jewish peoplehood, and continued adherence to the Islamic perception of Jews as a tolerated, if distinctly inferior, religious community living at the sufferance of the Muslim sovereign. Hence the Palestinian insistence on a “right of return” to territories that are now part of Israel, with a view to creating an Arab-dominated state in which Jews would constitute a minority. In the recent words of Edward Said: “The Jews are a minority everywhere. They are a minority in the United States. Surely they can live as a minority in the Middle East, in Israel.”
What makes the situation all the more disturbing, as Gary M. Osen aptly notes, is the reluctance of many Israelis themselves to acknowledge this stark reality. Fatigued by decades of fighting, and yearning for a normalcy that would allow them to enjoy their recently won affluence, the majority of Israelis embraced the Oslo Accords as a panacea. As a result, the peace process became a one-way street, in which Israel progressively relinquished control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip while the Palestinians, failing to meet a single commitment undertaken under Oslo, systematically indoctrinated their young with a burning hatred for Jews and Israel, refused to abrogate clauses in the Palestinian National Covenant calling for Israel’s destruction, sanctioned and at times organized terrorist attacks against Israel, and in the end resorted to wholesale violence.
And yet, despite the writing on the wall, successive Israeli governments turned a blind eye. This exercise in national self-delusion reached its peak during Ehud Barak’s brief term in office. Not only was he prepared to negotiate with the Palestinians while they were actively subverting the very basis of the process on which these negotiations were predicated, but the more audacious the Palestinian aggression, the greater Barak’s concessions.
And so, while the official Palestinian newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida was telling its readers how Israeli policies were guided by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, we had the spectacle of senior Israeli ministers still meeting with their Palestinian counterparts in the Egyptian resort of Taba to ask what further Israeli concessions might be required in order to reach a “comprehensive” agreement for “peace.”