Some political controversies remain the subject of debate for years to come, while others are settled by subsequent historical events. Such is the case with Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. In his latest book, "Five Days in London, May 1940" and quoting from Andrew Robert's biography of Lord Halifax ("The Holy Fox: A Life of Lord Halifax"), John Lukacs vividly describes the atmosphere surrounding the debate between Chamberlain's supporters and those who opposed his policy at the time.
"Although today, it is considered shameful and craven, the policy of appeasement once occupied almost the entire moral high ground. The word was originally synonymous with idealism, magnanimity of the victor and the willingness to right wrongs," writes Roberts.
It took only a few months to prove that the policy, which to many seemed fair, pragmatic and designed to attain "peace in our time," was nothing but an invitation to aggression. When Hitler marched his troops into Prague in March 1939, the question was settled once and for all.
After the outbreak of World War II, the United States was consumed by a debate regarding the American policy toward the belligerents - the isolationists arguing that the war was strictly a European affair and that the United States should stay out of it and not provide any assistance to Great Britain and France. That debate was settled once and for all by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, bringing the United States into the war on the side of Britain and Russia and eventually leading to the Allied victory that saved the world from Nazism.
During the debate on the Oslo agreements, the accords were presented by their supporters as an expression of idealism, magnanimity and a willingness on the part of Israel to right wrongs perpetrated against the Palestinians. They were heralded as the path to the end of violence and to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The agreements were endorsed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, while those who signed them - Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat - were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their contribution to peace in the Middle East.
But neither the support of the Clinton administration nor the Nobel Prizes stilled the debate in Israel regarding the agreements themselves, which were considered by many as inimical to the best interests of Israel and the Palestinians. Arafat's rejection of former prime minister Ehud Barak's egregious offers of concessions at Camp David and the Palestinian leader's subsequent launching of a war against Israel should have settled that debate once and for all, with the supporters of the Oslo agreements admitting the futility of the policy they had advocated.
Although this is evidently true for many of the supporters of this policy of appeasement among the Israeli public, as illustrated by the results of the elections of February 2001, the architects of that mistaken policy, Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, have remained unrepentant.
Simply drawing up a balance sheet regarding the period since the Oslo agreements were signed should leave no doubt in anyone's mind. Both Israelis and Palestinians are far worse off today than they were prior to the Oslo accords. The importation of Arafat and his PLO colleagues from Tunis has resulted in violence and terror, leading to hundreds of Israeli and thousands of Palestinian casualties, while bringing ruin to the Palestinian economy.
But Peres and Beilin are not only unrepentant; they are also incorrigible. Each in his own way continues making overtures to Arafat and pleading the PLO's cause.
While Beilin's activities can be considered as an irrelevant nuisance, the same cannot be said about Peres, who officiates as Israel's foreign minister. His contacts with Arafat and his associates stand in contradiction to the declared policies of the Israeli cabinet and weaken the government's position. His negotiations with Arafat's representatives at a time when Jerusalem declares that there will be no negotiations under fire seriously undercuts the Israeli government and the credibility of its decisions. This is, presumably, the price of national unity.
But public opinion polls indicate that support for Peres' policies among the Israeli public is minimal. His contribution to the image of national unity is hardly likely to be substantial. Whatever value it may have, it may have ceased to be worth the price.
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