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Israel and the Middle East

Munich or Real Peace?

Daniel J. Elazar

I am sitting here reading the second volume of William Manchester's three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion. Volume Two, entitled Alone, covers the years 1932 to 1940 when Churchill was in the political wilderness and Great Britain and France were busy selling out Europe to Nazi Germany in the vain hope of achieving what Neville Chamberlain stated in those immortal words of shame "peace in our time."

As I read I shake all over. Only the place names are different. The processes that Manchester traces are all too familiar to an Israeli Jew in the fall, winter and spring of 1993-1994 as our government capitulates on point after point to an ever bolder and more demanding PLO.

The government capitulates on grounds that we are so much stronger than the PLO, that we can be generous, even as the capitulators keep weakening us. The government gives in on both substance and symbol, not even defending our symbolic rights in the land or the fact that there is systematic Arab terrorism and far more of it than the occasional tragic and abhorrent outbursts of individual Jews. Even though we are in a position of strength on the ground, we constantly put ourselves in a position of weakness in the negotiations, responding to PLO demands as if they were the strong ones who could give us their diktats.

All this is accompanied by government dissimulation, by ringing statements one day of how Israel stands strong and will continue to do so and craven retreats in the next, in pronouncements carefully worded to say we do not intend to give this up now, properly leaving the implication that Israel will give it up in the future and probably not a very distant one. The government leads us step by step down the primrose path just as Stanley Baldwin's and Neville Chamberlain's governments did in Great Britain in the late 1930s, repressing distasteful information about what is happening or what the other side is claiming, dissimulating on matters not suppressed, and in general acting as if we are beaten and must salvage what we can, while we can expect the people on the other side to behave as reasonably as we would like them to behave.

The last government before Chamberlain's that opposed barbarous instincts with appeals to sweet reason alone was Germany's Weimar Republic before the rise of Hitler. Their misreading of the situation, their hope that all peoples would be as reasonable as they wanted people to be, paved the way for the rise of Nazism and even helped Hitler on the bus by allowing him to win an election in which the government kept everything "fair" while Nazi brownshirts were intimidating people in the streets.

Many of the Jewish supporters of the Weimar Republic found refuge in Palestine after that, some of them without having learned any of the lessons of the German experience. In time their children were able to plant the Weimar mentality in Israel, namely that those in power must be liberals and humanists to an extreme degree, no matter what. They are unable to distinguish between liberality to those who are committed to our values and the need to be very careful in dealing with those who not only are not so committed but actually oppose those values. Today the combination of the heirs of Ben-Gurion (who knew how to stand fast and defend Israel's interests) have allied with those bearers of Weimarism to form a government that for what it believes are noble reasons is deceiving its constituents.

Not only that, there seems to be no limits to their folly and no end in sight. What we see before us is a step-by-step process whereby the government deludes itself that it is standing fast while it gives the store away piece by piece. Nor do we have an opposition capable of replacing it. The opposition parties are riven and divided among and within themselves. We are left to wonder what will be our end. Is there any way to get out of this downward spiral? I believe that we can take the following steps:

1. We must declare that we will be faithful to the Declaration of Principles in the Oslo Agreement provided that the other side lives up to them in every respect and that we will move only as fast as they do in that regard. Therefore we are now freezing all movement until the PLO abolishes those sections of its national covenant that call for Israel's destruction and fulfills the other conditions of the DOP that they have, with our connivance, avoided confronting up to now while we give them all that we promised to give them and more.

2. We insist that until either massive Arab terrorism is stopped or substantially reduced, we will not consider the Declaration of Principles fulfilled by the Arab side.

3. We decide on what we believe the future map of Israel should be and declare which territories we will not evacuate under any conditions and that we insist upon a shared presence in the rest, providing a broad outline of where that sharing should take place and what it should consist of.

4. We reiterate our call for peace, but with these red lines and green lights clearly marked so that there will be no doubt as to what we want and what we will accept.

5. We should put forth a plan for future relations in the interim period and beyond so that there will be no one's mistake about our intentions to help the Palestinians realize their aims and to protect ours.

Instead, we are acting as if concessions to an implacable foe that knows what it wants will bring our adversaries to a properly negotiated compromise. It did not with Hitler in the 1930s. It will not with Arafat today.

I believe that a majority in the PLO does want a peaceful resolution of the conflict because they recognize that only in such a way can they gain any satisfaction of their goals, but I believe that they know how dangerous taking that position is in their dealings with their inflamed masses. We have taken the position that we must let them look as if they are winning big to calm their masses. I am arguing here that by doing so we simply inflame their masses to force them to demand more, to believe that they are settling for less than what they could get.

Our job is to be fair but firm, to make it clear what we will give and what we will not and to move ahead on that basis. This means recognition both of the strengths and the weaknesses of our adversaries. Only then can we negotiate a real peace and obtain it.

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