Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's seventh prime minister, passed away on Saturday, leaving a diplomatic legacy that is dangerous and sows despair.
Shamir's admirers on the Revisionist right remember favorably his commitment to the idea of a "Greater Land of Israel" and the settlements he established everywhere. They see in him a model of a modest ideological leader who does not forsake his principles.
But the truth is that Shamir turned lack of diplomatic activity into a policy and preserving the freeze into a goal. These led to, among other things, the eruption of the first intifada.
His blunt interference in scuttling the agreement that Shimon Peres had reached with Jordan's King Hussein in 1987, which came to be known as the London agreement, was apparently another missed diplomatic opportunity. Even the praise that was heaped on him because of his restraint during the first Gulf War was exaggerated, given that the United States didn't leave Israel much maneuvering room, having ordered Jerusalem not to get involved.
After that war, Shamir accepted the first President George Bush's invitation to participate in the regional peace conference in Madrid. Later he admitted that he had responded to the American initiative against his will, to preserve Israel's special relationship with the United States, and that he planned to drag his feet endlessly in the depths of the diplomatic process.
Meanwhile, the refusal of the Shamir government to freeze construction in the settlements brought about one of the most serious crises ever to occur between Washington and Jerusalem, when Bush froze loan guarantees of $10 billion that Israel had requested for absorbing the growing wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Benjamin Netanyahu is, unfortunately, Shamir's heir as prime minister and Likud leader. Netanyahu will also respond to American initiatives, as long as they don't threaten the wholeness of the land and harm the settlement enterprise. He also tried, and even succeeded, in recruiting American Jewry and Congress to block the efforts of the U.S. president to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians.
Thus Shamir's policies - to stave off an agreement with the Palestinians and the chance of peace with the Arab states - are also the policies of our current prime minister, his loyal student.
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