“Shall the sword devour forever?” the prime minister was asked at a recent session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. This verse from the Second Book of Samuel has become a modern metaphor for a war without an end.
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Benjamin Netanyahu’s answer was straightforward and unequivocal – “yes.” Many were abashed by his response. Is that the future he’s holding out for us? Where is the peace we’re all seeking?
As a matter of fact, the history of the Zionist enterprise in the Land of Israel has been accompanied by a continuous strand of efforts to reach an accommodation with the Arab world and the Palestinian population living here. Just look at Theodor Herzl’s book “Altneuland” envisioning the future Jewish state where Jews and Arabs live together in peace.
In retrospect, it was no more than wishful thinking. The agreement between Chaim Weizmann and Emir Faisal of January 1919 pledging cooperation between the Zionists and the Arabs lasted no more than a few months. Brit Shalom, whose members were prepared to renounce the aim of establishing a Jewish state, got nowhere with the Arabs and went down in history as a small group of well-meaning dreamers.
Then followed the Zionists’ consent to the Peel Commission decision in 1937 to partition the land between Jews and Arabs, only to be turned down by the Arabs. And there was a repetition 10 years later when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution dividing the land between Jews and Arabs, only to be again accepted by the Zionists and rejected by the Arabs.
This was followed by four Arab wars of aggression against Israel – in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was a lonely voice back in 1923 when he warned that the Arabs should not be expected to welcome the Zionist enterprise with open arms. He called for the building of an “iron wall” that could not be breached in order to disabuse the Arabs of the idea that they could throw the Jews into the sea.
As he predicted, it took the proof of Israel’s military prowess, as demonstrated in the Yom Kippur War, to bring an Arab country – Egypt – to the peace table with Israel. The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979 was followed 15 years later by the peace treaty with Jordan.
That’s where things stand today. Repeated attempts to arrive at a peace treaty with Syria were not successful, and few regret this now. The Oslo Accords with the PLO did not lead to a peace treaty with the Palestinians when Yasser Arafat rejected the Israeli offer tendered by Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000.
But there was a period of over 30 years, after the Yom Kippur War, when “peace was in the air.” That period is gone, at least for the time being. The Arab Spring ended it.
The turmoil in the Arab world, the carnage in Syria, the appearance of Al-Qaida and the Islamic State, and the increasing dominance of Iran sworn to Israel’s destruction have effectively killed the prospects for widening the circle of peace.
The idea that despite all this Israel can reach peace with the Palestinians by negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas, who has nothing like the authority among the Palestinians that Arafat had in his day, seems nothing more than a fantasy. Abbas is challenged by Hamas and is an easy takeover target for the Islamic State.
At the moment peace seems very far away, and Israel needs to be prepared for all eventualities. This is basically what Netanyahu said at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The current Middle Eastern situation will not last forever, but it does not seem it will stabilize in the foreseeable future.
Is this not clear to every observer of the Middle East? Can our desire for peace blind us to the reality around us? A verse from the Book of Jeremiah is applicable to those inspired by their desire for peace, people who refuse to recognize the unsavory reality around us: “They have eyes and see not.”