February 02, 2011 3:55 pm ET
Those of us in the pro-Israel, pro-peace camp do not enjoy being proven right — although we invariably are.
Our standard recommendation to Israel is that it should move quickly to achieve agreements with the Arab states and the stateless Palestinians before it is too late.
And the Israeli response is that there is no urgency to make peace — except on Israeli terms — because Israel is strong and the Arabs are weak.
The most egregious example of this phenomenon comes from Egypt, where in 1971 President Anwar Sadat offered to begin negotiations toward peace in exchange for a two-mile wide Israeli withdrawal from the east bank of the Suez Canal, which Israel had captured along with the rest of the Sinai Peninsula in the 1967 war.
The Nixon administration told the Israeli government to explore the idea because Sadat was intent on going to war if he did not get his territory back.
The peace camp in Israel and its allies here urged Israel to follow Nixon's advice and hear Sadat out. The lobby, of course, told Nixon to mind his own business.
As for the Israeli
cabinet, it told Nixon's emissary, Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco,
that it had no interest in discussing Egypt's offer. It voted for keeping
all of the Sinai Peninsula and sending Egypt a simple message: no. After
all, the Egyptians had shown just four years earlier that they were no match
for the IDF.
Two years later, the Egyptians attacked, and within hours all of Israel's positions along the canal were overrun and its soldiers killed. By the time the war ended, Israel had lost 3,000 soldiers and almost the state itself. And then, a few years later, it gave up the entire Sinai anyway, not just the two-mile strip Egypt had demanded in 1971.
The peace camp was proven right. But I don't recall anyone being happy about it. On the contrary, we were devastated. 3,000 Israelis (and thousands more Egyptians) were killed in a war that might have been prevented if the Israeli government had simply agreed to talk.
This pattern has been repeated over and over again. The Oslo Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which gave Israel its safest and most optimistic years in its history, collapsed after Prime Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak repeatedly refused to live up to its terms.
During the Oslo process, Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority did what it was supposed to do: it combated terrorism so effectively (Hamas had launched a series of deadly bus bombings to thwart the peace process) that Netanyahu himself telephoned Arafat to thank him. By 1999, terrorism was effectively defeated in Israel. It was an amazing time, with the free and safe movement of goods and people from Israel to the West Bank and back again — not the way it is today, with a towering wall separating Israelis from Palestinians and dividing Palestinians on one side from Palestinians on the other.
But the temporary end of terrorism did not achieve the transfer of any actual territory to the Palestinians. Netanyahu and Barak nickeled and dimed the Palestinians to death — actually, to the death of the peace process, which for all intents and purposes is now buried. By the time Clinton convened the Camp David summit in 2000, any good will between the two sides was gone.
One could go on and on. According to President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Barak could have had peace with Syria in 2000 until, at the very last minute, Barak chickened out. (He was afraid of the settlers.) The opportunity for full peace with Syria (which would almost certainly also mean peace with Lebanon as well as a lowering of tensions with Syria's ally, Iran) came again in December 2008.
The Turks had brokered a deal with the Syrians that Prime Minister Olmert celebrated with a five-hour Ankara dinner with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Olmert went home. The Turks waited for Israel's final approval.
And then this is what happened next, according to Israeli New York University professor Alon Ben-Meir:
...to the utter surprise and dismay of the Turkish government, five days after Olmert returned to Jerusalem, Israel began a massive incursion into Gaza. Ankara felt betrayed by the Israeli action and deceived by Olmert's failure to inform the Turkish Prime Minister of Israel's pending operation of which he, as the Prime Minister, was obviously fully aware of and could have disclosed to his Turkish counterpart while he was still in Ankara. For Mr. Erdogan, the problem was compounded not only because he did not hear from Olmert the message of peace which he eagerly anticipated, but a 'declaration' of war with all of its potential regional consequences.
It is hard to describe the depth of the Turks' disappointment, not only because they were left in the dark, but because a major breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli peace process of historical magnitude was snatched away.
This incident was a major first step toward the collapse of Israeli-Turkish friendship, which — along with the relationship with Mubarak's Egypt — was the cornerstone of Israel's sense of security. Who's left? Jordan. However, Israel consistently ignores King Abdullah's demands that it end the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza.
And then there is our own country. President Obama put his prestige on the line to achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but all Israel did in response was to ridicule him and reject every suggestion the president made (no matter that Israel receives more U.S. aid than any other country, by far).
Anyone who cares about Israel at all has to be appalled by these repeated blunders — all backed by AIPAC and its cutouts in Congress.
When will Israel's supposed friends learn?
Maybe never. In today's New York Times, Yossi Klein Halevi, an influential Israeli journalist, expresses fear, almost terror, about the Egyptian revolution. He tells of "the grim assumption" that
... it is just a matter of time before the only real opposition group in Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, takes power. Israelis fear that Egypt will go the way of Iran or Turkey, with Islamists gaining control through violence or gradual co-optation.
Note how Halevi conflates Turkey with Iran (a ridiculous comparison based only on the fact that democratic Turkey opposes Israel's blockade of Gaza) and then adds Egypt to the list.
And then there is the latest fright word, the Muslim Brotherhood. You would never know it from Halevi, but the Brotherhood is non-violent, has always opposed Al Qaeda, and condemned 9/11 and other acts of international terrorism.
Yes, they are an Islamic organization which would prefer an Egypt based on Islamic law, much as the Shas party (a significant part of Israel's ruling coalition) pushes for an Israel based on its extreme interpretation of Torah.
Halevi (and other lobby types) may want the Muslim Brotherhood to be terrorists but, sadly for them, that is not true. And, besides, the January 25 revolution is not a Muslim Brotherhood revolution. They support it — almost all Egyptians do — but that does not make it theirs. Nor do they claim otherwise. (See this interview with George Washington University professor Nathan Brown, who explains what the Brotherhood is and isn't.)
The bottom line: I am happy for the Egyptian people, but I am sad for Israel — not because it is genuinely threatened by this revolution but because Israel's leaders seem determined to turn the revolution against them.
One can only hope that Israel, and its lobby, wakes up. I hate always being proven right when it comes to Israel. I care about it too much.
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