Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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Israel and the Middle East

Now That We Have Signed

Daniel J. Elazar

How my heart aches to believe what we have heard and witnessed. Like so many other Jews in Israel and outside, how I wish that we have signed a declaration of principles for peace, that the long quarrel between the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews has ended, and that we are now on a path toward peace and cooperation. As I read the final text of the agreement it offers every possibility of being just that, yet sobriety and logic suggest that it is open to other interpretations as well. Have we not given away too much? We have heard about starting with the Gaza District and Jericho (whose boundaries are themselves undefined) and as what we all talk about, Gaza, whom no one wants, and Jericho, which seems so far away. Yet, by the end of July, after elections for the new Palestinian Governing Council, they acquire jurisdiction over all of the territories except for what Israel must retain for security and the settlers. We read of their receiving only five middle range functions, but then there is the passage that says "and others that may be given them." Perhaps I am mistaken, but it seems to me that the paragraphs on required cooperation, which then decides on more than an interim basis, are shorter and reduced from the draft agreement. Thus, we do have to cooperate, we in giving and they in taking. No wonder they seem so willing. There is nothing in the agreement about renouncing irridentist claims, that this not being the first step for the Arabs in the implementation of their frequently proclaimed salame tactics. At every point, there is ambiguity and wherever there is ambiguity we can only live on hope, but have no concrete basis for those hopes. What the Knesset could not decide with regard to Israel, we decided in a secret negotiation, that is to revive the green line again. Is this the way to peace or to a continuing of the pressure upon us by other means, with us in a less advantageous position?

It very well could be, so we are left hanging between quasi-Utopian hopes and the blackest visions of the third Jewish Commonwealth, whose independence may not last longer than the last Jewish Commonwealth, the Hasmonean state, which held out as an independent entity for two generations. We are already in the second of ours. And the threat comes for the same reason, not that the army is not good nor that we are not strong, but as statesmen we are so poor. We have so many hopes and so little skepticism. Moreover, in a more democratic age, the public is now being brainwashed as well. We hear that Malaysia and Indonesia and Zimbabwe are interested in having relations with us "soon," as if that, while nice, made a difference as to our security. Our prime minister makes a lightening trip to Morocco to see the king. They hold a joint press conference, but there is no recognition, only a statement that it will come "soon." Jordan signs an agreement, but it is only an agenda in which we, in effect, have pledged to give them some territory, too. Afterall, we have so much. And now what we hear from Jordan are noises to the effect that let us not be precipitous. Let us not rush, that they, too, have concerns. As always we trade away substance for symbols because, as a people of principle, we are in love with those symbols. Old Jewish neuroses assert themselves in policy making. We so much want to be accepted and recognized and brought in the front door by our neighbors. We have so little faith in ourselves, but what is substance compared to those little symbols. We are able to have our radio and TV correspondents in Amman and we get so excited. While they are there they are told, "Take it easy," and Jordan begins to raise the ante of its demands. We are again the center of the communications network in our region, at least momentarily, but at what price? Then, reporter themselves were given broad hints by the Jordanian authorities that it was time to leave. How can a people with those neuroses conduct proper negotiations, especially when the negotiators for Israel are committed in advance to the idea of a Palestinian state as the only fair solution, even more so than many of their Arab counterparts. We remain like a big puppy dog, our tail wagging frenetically as we jump on those with whom we wish to make friends, begging for a bit of affection. And those on whom we jump assess the situation immediately and make us pay for every crumb that they give us.

Suddenly the divide between Israeli and American Jewish leaders that everyone said had been growing disappears as both fall over their feet to rush out to embrace Arab counterparts. That is very nice. It is one of our nice qualities, but are we being embraced back? Will we continue to be, when the Arabs see how we will embrace in any case? Puppy dogs, like children, can conceal nothing and it is only natural that the objects of their attention will respond accordingly when they have interests and demands as well. I have no complaints towards the Palestinians or other Arabs for acting as they have been in the negotiations. My complaint is directed at our side for making possible to act that way and succeed.

That this is an old theme in Jewish history, even as we absorb the news on the peace front, we are subjected to a new barrage on the forthcoming visit of Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Israel Lau, to the Vatican, where he will see the pope and maybe even get diplomatic recognition for Israel. Why should we care? Why should this excite us so much? Why do we lower our pride so that the other side can dangle us in the air? What can we gain except another symbol? So the radio interviews Dr. Marcel Dubois, the Catholic philosopher with a permanent appointment with the Hebrew University, who lectures us on the need to have a just solution to make the pope happy.

Perhaps providence will smile on us and we will negotiate the translation to which we are now bound in a satisfactory manner, but in a larger sense while we will gain peace, we will pay another price as well. We will bury the last major Zionism aspects of Israel. Oh yes, there will remain vestiges to which people will point in hope, if not in pride, but we will have given up the essence. Here, too, history has a way of reinforcing itself. Within the same week of the signing we have a visit from Michael Jackson, the superstar. For the first time, we have pictures of teenboppers lined up outside of his hotel, or along his route, and screaming and crying and waiting for him. One cannot blame the subteen girls for this. That is the way of subteen girls. (In earlier generations they knew how to keep them home until they passed through that period, unlike in our democratic age when nobody can be kept from anything.) And when does that happen? On Rosh Hashana, with his great concert to take place during the ten days of penitence. If our presence in this land is indeed the result of God's promise to us and a covenant made in fulfillment of that promise. We have certainly violated our part of the agreement and we know what has happened every time we have done that in the past. In essence, what we are saying is that let us turn away from the best among us, the idealists, the people willing to make personal sacrifices to move the Zionist dream ahead and find our support among those masses who simply wish to be like all the other masses in the world -- to be left alone to pursue their individual lives. Those masses are not to be blamed for wanting to live their own lives. That has been the way of the world, but neither are they to be blamed when they find that leading their own lives means that they should go out to New York or Los Angeles or Sydney, Australia to do so better than they can do in Israel, or so they think. That is why the United States and Australia were populated in the first place. Englishmen and Poles and Scandinavians and Italians who felt the same way and were willing to make the effort transported themselves across oceans. Here people came for other, more idealistic reasons. Not everyone. There were many who came here because they were refugees who had no other place to go. But those who set the tone of the society saw theirs as a pioneering effort for the Jewish people, not simply for themselves. There will be no more of that. Our latest pioneers will have to pay and pay dearly for having answered the call, while the teenyboppers continue to pursue the superstars of the new world culture and their parents will continue to make money now that peace gives them even greater access to the sources of money making. One can argue that this is for the good. Afterall, Zionism did seek the normalization of the Jewish people and now it is within our grasp, but, as a friend of mine said, "What will happen to aliya?" Afterall, who wants to move from an affluent country to the Middle East? Jews may have wanted to move to a Jewish state for ideological reasons, but nobody thinks the Middle East is America, not even the Russian Jews, who have no reason to prefer Israel over America, especially since while the country will improve in affluence, its greater crowdedness will certainly lower the quality of life.

Israel's relative quality of life has been improving considerably in the last fifteen years based on a combination of communal solidarity which has united its people, a pleasant climate which has given them much sun and outdoors exposure, fine produce which has given them among the best fruits and vegetables in the world and an easygoing style of life which enables them to have all of this with less of the stresses and strains found in richer centers. We are now in the process of dismantling most of those elements one by one. Our solidarity is being threatened by a number of great cleavages that are strengthening not only between Hilonim and Haredim, but between those whose life measures are secular even if they do preserve some traditional practices and those whose life measures are religious, not necessarily ultra-Orthodox. To that is being added the cleavage between those who have settled in the territories and their supporters and those for whom peace at a price that will make the culture of Tel Aviv the culture of the country is much more attractive. Army Chief of Staff, Ehud Barak, tells us to expect greater cleavage in the army as well. Those who end up as the backbone of the army, the combat forces, will have to serve many more days in miluim than the "jobniks," those who have behind-the-lines responsibilities and whose time won't be needed so much. Is this justice? Those who take the bigger risks have to take them more frequently, while those who take less risk get more time off? It's a new concept to me. Now that we are no longer socialist the socioeconomic cleavage is also growing. More people will be relegated into what will seem to be a permanent lower class, while those who make money will make more of it. These latter two cleavages may have less to do with the kind of peace we are moving in to than the former, but the cumulative affect will be that solidarity in this country is already on the decline. Soon people will begin avoiding army service when they can, not necessarily illegally, just by pulling all the strings they can find. Nor will the army want them all, so it will connive in that effort. That is enough. I do not know what the effects of the decline of the other elements in the quality of life equation will be. Most Israelis, like most Jews, seem to prefer being close to one another, crowded together on the beach than hiking alone in the mountains. So perhaps the crowds that will grow as the population grows and the land where Jews can travel safely diminishes will not make so much difference to them, but even there there may be a limit, a breaking point. Who knows?

Perhaps the most important casualty of the present approach to peace will be Israel's Jewish heritage. Like Zionism, but even more than Zionism, the Jewish way of life makes its demands. Moreover, it stands in stark contrast with the hedonistic individualism which approaches and sometimes crosses the line into paganism of contemporary society, down to and including extreme environmentalism, which is essentially nature worship, just as ancient paganism was in a different way. Part of Zionism's normalization movement in Israel is the embracing of that hedonistic individualism, which has won in the West, to be like the West. It is led by the most "sophisticated" members of Israeli society -- the artists, the intellectuals, the academics -- who are products of that milieu, in their training if not in their early education and have embraced it. In contrast, Israel's Jewish way of life, which would have had difficulty expressing itself against the current trends in the best of cases, has been taken over by the most obscurantist elements who increasingly set its tone and are publicized as such by media whose masters oppose them in any case. The religious Zionists, who were once strong have become an increasingly smaller part of the middle, have tried to hold the two sides together, but much of their effort has been directed toward settling the territories acquired in 1967, providing the idealists for the task. In other spheres of religious life they have had the ground cut out from under them by the haredim and the opponents of the haredim, who would rather have haredim as their opponents. Now, in this the last area in which they are dominant they are being cut out. This is not an argument that we must embrace the position of the more militant nationalist settlers. It is only that, even if we reject it, we turn to them with understanding and indeed sorrow at the situation, for whatever reason, dictates sharing the land with another people. But to treat them as our prime minister -- their prime minister,too -- has, suggesting even that they are the enemy while embracing people who, while they may have changed, were not terribly desirable characters in the past, to say the least, and embracing them is not only gratuitously insulting and inflammatory, but also gives the sign as who is really wanted by the establishment in this country and that (in the words of Samuel Goldwyn) includes many of us out. It has never been suggested of Mr. Rabin, and to whom people appreciate many fine qualities, that tact is among his greatest virtues. That is the most charitable thing that can be said about his response to those, the last carriers of the Zionist dream that we are likely to see. Nor has he been any nicer to the rest of us who still believe that there is a place for Jewish ideals as well as that one overriding ideal of peace, which is more a matter of comfort than anything else, which he has adopted as his own. One need not be a religious fundamentalist and see the change that has come as another rejection of God which is likely to bear consequences as it has in the past. One can take a more balanced position that it is always difficult to determine God's will or intentions or that peace is as desirable as territory and still understand the backing of those who seek peace out of convenience or weariness. Both legitimate, cannot be weighed as so much more important than those who are prepared to struggle on for what were until recently the most legitimate of Zionist beliefs.

Still, if the proposed peace would save Jewish lives I, for one, would be prepared to argue for it with all of its cultural and religious dangers. Unfortunately there is no sign that it will. Our political leaders do not claim that it will. Oh yes, it may change the concentrations. We may not lose people as much in dribs and drabs, but when the big war comes, provoked by our exposing ourselves, in ways that we thought we had eliminated in 1967, in offering a tempting target to those who wish our destruction even if we win militarily, it will only be at a heavy price. The proposed peace can bring genuine peace if our security interests are appropriately safeguarded, but if we begin to make the kinds of concessions that seem to be in the air we merely guarantee another massive conflict, one that will not spare civilians anymore than it will spare our soldiers. It was hard enough scaling the Golan Heights in 1967. How much harder will it be when sophisticated weaponry of the day is brought in to play. But our peacemaking leaders say, "We will secure all kinds of disarmament and demilitarization of the territory." How many of us remember the disarmament and demilitarization promised with the ceasefire of August, 1970, when the Egyptians were enabled to return to the east bank of the Suez Canal. There were all sorts of promises and agreements, all violated the next day and when Israel still had a chance to respond it succumbed to outside pressures not to do so, with the result three years later that our airforce could not prevent the Egyptian canal crossing because of the missiles the Egyptians had implanted on the east bank, which were only taken out by the airforce after several days of battle and at real cost. Why should we assume that we would behave differently now? Security means being able to stand up against worse case scenarios as well as against best case ones.

Our leadership, political and military, does seem to be more fearful of Iranian missiles than of Syrian tanks. This after every twentieth war, including the war in Vietnam and the Gulf War, has demonstrated conclusively that wars cannot be won from the air without extensive ground troop involvement to occupy the ground involved. Aerial bombardment, ship to shore rockets, and skuds or whatever, make great dramam, but do they really change the strategic situation when compared to tanks, artillery and infantry? We know the answer and it is not what our present leadership wants to hear.

We are now going down a path to which our leaders have committed us, and which the country has accepted. It is a path fraught with dangers, some serious ones of which are almost certain to tear at our very fabric, even if we are successful in confronting others. We can just pray that the Palestinians and the others of the Arab world really do want peace and that the people of Israel will be able to live in peace. But in the best case scenario in order to do so we will have to give up the Zionist vision, for internal as well as external reasons. Israelis, including those born here as Jews, would then be able to live at peace, but just as Judaism is disappearing in the diaspora because of the warming of different winds so, too, will the disappearance of Judaism accelerate in what was once the Jewish state. Pockets of thousands, maybe even a few hundred thousand, Jews will remain, both in Israel and in the diaspora, not necessarily representing the best that Judaism has to offer, that what we had within our grasp -- a strong, vibrant, productive, a Jewish people -- is rapidly slipping from us. That is the way the world was destined to go in the twenty-first century. If so, like in any other ship in its last moments of sinking, it's every man for himself.

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