Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 1996, page 6
Point of View
Dangerous Myths About the Late, Great Peace Process
by Richard H. Curtiss
“We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country...Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly. Let the owners of immovable property believe that they are cheating us, selling us things for more than they are worth. But we are not going to sell them anything back.” —Founder of modern Zionism Theodor Herzl, writing about the Palestinians, 1895.
The reservoir of optimism among proponents of the Middle East peace process is seemingly inexhaustible. So, unfortunately, is the reservoir of cynicism, deceit, bigotry and malice among the enemies of Middle East peace including both the Jewish nationalists who want to keep the entire Holy Land to themselves and their Muslim extremist analogues. Right now, however, it is the Jewish nationalists Likudists and their political and religious allies who are directing the government of Israel, and their Muslim analogues, Islamic Jihad, who fill that government’s jails.
Ever since Binyamin Netanyahu’s election last May 31 as prime minister of Israel, it’s been said, hopefully, that it took an anti- communist like Richard Nixon to restore American relations with communist China. But both common sense and history indicate it won’t be Binyamin Netanyahu who makes peace with the Palestinians and, by ending a half-century of warfare, gives his country a chance of survival as a tiny Jewish island in a vast Islamic sea.
The Nixon to China analogy also was cited when former terrorist chieftain Menachem Begin became Israel’s first Likud prime minister, but not by anyone who had read his book The Revolt. His book then and his actions subsequently made it clear that his conscience was untroubled by the deaths he caused of tens of thousands of Arab, British, and even Jewish soldiers and civilians because by his reckoning they all were necessary to ensure that the Jewish state would keep every inch of “the land of Israel” which, to him, included every inch of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Some optimists cited “Nixon to China” again when Yitzhak Shamir came to power, but not those who knew him. He was a terrorist’s terrorist. During World War II, Begin’s Irgun Zvai Leumi branch of the Zionist Revisionist movement had halted its war against the British so that they could deal with Adolf Hitler, whose Afrika Korps was driving toward Egypt and Palestine.
But not Yitzhak Shamir’s Lehi (Stern Gang) branch of Revisionism. They first sent an emissary to try to strike up an alliance with Hitler. Although that went nowhere, the Stern Gang went right on killing British soldiers for their guns, World War II British Governor in Egypt Lord Moyne for God knows what, and, after the establishment of Israel, U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte to keep peace from being achieved in the Holy Land before Israel had fulfilled its territorial ambitions.
It won’t be Netanyahu who makes peace with the Palestinians.
Binyamin Netanyahu’s father was a devoted follower of Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, whose doctrines both Begin and Shamir shared and served. Netanyahu was said to be the most right-wing of his extremist father’s sons. Netanyahu now heads the Likud Party that both Begin and Shamir headed. The campaign money that put him there came from the most reactionary members of the American and Canadian Jewish communities not just Jewish fascists, but real Jewish Nazis. Netanyahu will not be going, figuratively, to China.
He probably will not even be going to Gaza’s Erez crossing to meet Yasser Arafat much longer, because his policies seem aimed at deliberately undermining the Palestinian Authority president. With Arafat gone there will be no Palestinian successor willing or able to make peace with Israel, and Netanyahu will no longer have to explain or justify his own policies, which clearly are aimed at keeping all of the land, regardless of what that does to the peace.
It’s also said, hopefully, that in a second term Bill Clinton may change his stripes, as both Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter intended to do. Clinton won’t have to do whatever the Israel lobby tells him to in order to be re-elected, the optimists point out.
Try explaining that to Al Gore, who has been Clinton’s loyal vice president for the past four years and who plans to stay glued to Clinton’s side for the next four years as well. Gore feels he’s earned his turn at the presidency in the year 2000, and if he thinks a Clinton policy is going to spoil his relationship with the Israel lobby, an affair which is even older and more intense than Clinton’s, he’ll speak up.
There also are those who say “never mind domestic lobbies. In a second term Bill Clinton may ignore domestic lobbies and even Gore’s wishes and conduct foreign policy according to the U.S. national interest.” They must be talking about some other Bill Clinton.
The Death of the Peace Process
Another thing that probably needs saying concerns the death of the peace process. History will have to record that Binyamin Netanyahu killed it, by renouncing publicly the basis for the Oslo accords: the land-for-peace agreement specified in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. Everything in the accords was premised in that resolution.
Now as Netanyahu stalls on the Israeli withdrawal from Hebron, stalls on opening of the final-stage implementation talks, stonewalls on the question of Jerusalem, and continues to take from the Palestinians West Bank land on which to build Jewish settlements, he certainly is publicly pronouncing the death warrant for the peace process.
That’s something he feels he can afford to do because his experience with the United States has convinced him that, regardless of what policies he follows, ultimately the leadership of the organized American Jewish community will support any elected government of Israel. And history demonstrates that so long as that American Jewish support does not waver, Israel can count on U.S. military and financial support at whatever level it needs, and can count on political support in the U.S. media whenever it is required.
Which leads to the last of the dangerous myths obscuring the depths to which prospects for Middle East peace have fallen. The ever-hopeful optimists mistake Netanyahu for a pragmatist who, once he sees that his seemingly short-sighted tactics are killing the “peace process,” will shift to a more workable strategy.
The first problem with this theory is that Netanyahu’s entire history is that of an ideologue. There is nothing in his makeup to indicate a pragmatist except his American accent.
The second problem is that he does have a long-range plan, because nothing that he has done before or since his election makes sense otherwise. And with every day that passes, the outlines of that plan become clearer.
Essentially Netanyahu’s plan is the same one advocated by the first Zionists who realized, upon reaching the “land without people for people without land,” that the land already was full of people, virtually none of them Jewish. A plan to “spirit” the Palestinians “across the border” was outlined in his diary by the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl in 1895 (see opening quotation above).
Since then the means have varied according to opportunity and the power the Israeli government can bring to bear. Some 750,000 Palestinian Muslims and Christians were “transferred” at gunpoint during the fighting of 1948, and another 250,000 after the war of 1967, never to be allowed to return. Since then, the Israeli government has made it relatively easy for more Palestinians to go abroad for work or study, but very hard to return. There also has been a trickle of “expulsions” over the years, the most famous of which isolated Muslims from both the West Bank and Gaza on a Lebanese mountaintop for a year.
The near-total and continuous closures that have remained in effect in the West Bank and Gaza since early in 1996 for “security reasons” are just the latest attempt to make the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories so impossible that they will leave voluntarily. If this, too, fails, Netanyahu may borrow a leaf from the scenario of Gen. Ariel Sharon, which is to pick a fight with either Lebanon or Jordan and, once again, force tens of thousands of Palestinians across a temporarily undefended border.
Already Israel has imported foreign labor from as far afield as Thailand and Rumania to replace the Palestinians as they go for good. When and if this actually happens, it will not be because Netanyahu lacks a policy, but because he has one.
Discarding the optimistic myths and realizing instead the dangers being unleashed by these hard realities is the first duty of America’s political policymakers and journalistic myth makers. Confronting such dangers promptly and honestly may be the essential first step in keeping them from coming true.