The “Israeli-Palestinian direct talks” are now underway in Washington in which, yet once again, the intractable dilemma that bedevils the region will be addressed and hopefully resolved, at least in part. All the parties have expressed a guarded optimism, to a greater or lesser degree, that this latest round of talks will bear some kind of fruit. Everything, apparently, is on the table — even, according to some reports, the division of Jerusalem. With clearly anti-Israeli figures like Barack Obama and Ban Ki-moon — let’s be honest about this — fanning the proceedings, it should be evident things will not go well for Israel, and that the country will be blamed for not offering sufficient giveback to the Palestinians and for the inevitable derelictions that will ensue. Indeed, the UN secretary-general is on record urging that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas be “given full support” and international recognition. Nowhere does he extend the same counsel on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nor does Ban acknowledge that Abbas has no legal authority to participate in the peace conference since his term as president expired in January 2009 and he has not called new elections.
Netanyahu is obviously keeping his gaze fixed on the big picture: the so-called “peace process” which to date has been all process and no peace, envisioning the chimera of two states living side by side in sandaled amity; intense American pressure; the discriminatory media ready to pounce upon Israel for every pretext they can manufacture; and the international trend toward delegitimation of the Jewish state. But sometimes the smaller portraits are just as important, and sometimes even more important, than the larger picture that monopolizes the attention of the usual suspects: diplomats, officials, negotiators, and, of course, the usual cohort of “liberal” agitators both in the West and among Israel’s arguably treasonable left-wing academics.
Given enough time, the little cameos add up and eventually come to crowd the entire frame, a development which the big picture people refuse to consider. They tend to neglect or to put out of mind the implicit assumption of an intimate contract between the state and the nation, the filaments that bind the government to the individual citizens it represents, which can fray and snap if the government is no longer perceived as honoring that contract, of holding up its end of the bargain. Speaking before a Tel Aviv audience on January 28, 2009, Aviva Shalit, the mother of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, faulted the government for abandoning her son, stating that the unwritten covenant between Israel’s leaders and its soldier-citizens “has cracked.” This is the unspoken peril now confronting the Israeli leadership.
The Israeli administration under Ariel Sharon waited too long to respond to the suicide attacks of the Second Intifada provoked by arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, which claimed 1,100 little portraits. When it finally sent the IDF into the Jenin terrorist nest, it sacrificed 13 of its young soldiers to booby-trapped buildings instead of doing what the Americans do regularly, striking from the air. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert waited years while the town of Sderot came under fire from thousands of Hamas-launched Kassam rockets and the community was effectively paralyzed, before giving the order to launch a retaliatory incursion into Gaza. Apart from the fatalities, statistics show that nearly 80% of Sderot’s children suffered from PTSD and required intensive medical treatment. Many still do. These tiny portraits obviously did not figure in Olmert’s big picture calculations.
Another little portrait, Gilad Shalit, still remains in captivity in Gaza, when a credible threat to destroy Hamas root and branch, clearly within Israeli capability, would lead to his release. On August 31, as the latest Washington exercise in futility was just getting underway, Hamas operatives murdered four Israeli civilians, Kochava Even-Chaim, Avishai Schindler, and Tali and Yitzhak Ames. Seven children lost their parents. On the following day two more Israelis, Moshe Moreno and his wife, were wounded in yet another drive-by shooting. One recalls Shalhevet Pass, aged 10 months, drilled in the head by a Palestinian sniper; Dorit Aniso, aged 2, and Yuval Abedeh, aged 4, playing under an olive tree, killed on the festival of Sukkot by a Gaza rocket in the Western Negev; and pregnant Tali Hatuel, shot point blank in her car by gunmen from Rafah, with her four young daughters, Hila, aged 11, Hadar, aged 9, Roni, aged 7, and Meirav, aged 2. These and many thousands like them are the smaller portraits filling up the canvas. They have now become the big picture.
And what that real big picture tells us is that it is time to cease the useless and increasingly bloody parlor game that goes by the name of a “peace process,” a “road map” to nowhere. It is time to solve the political and military stalemate from which Israel suffers and will continue to suffer by letting it be known that, in the event of another provocation, it will not hesitate to administer an all-out, crushing military defeat upon its enemies, as it should have done during the Lebanon war of 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008. For Israel’s enemies have their own big picture, the annihilation of Israel, whether in a “single storm,” as Iran has promised, or by stages and slices, the strategy of the Palestinian Authority carried over from the days of Yasser Arafat.
What goes by the name of “Peace Now” is only an evasive sobriquet for War Later. Hamas and Hezbollah must and can be neutralized sooner rather than later, for the longer that reckoning is put off, the more devastating the consequences will be for Israel. As for the West Bank, Israel must ensure that it retains the necessary strategic depth and establishes an armed presence on the West Bank hill terrain, the “prominent high ground” that, following the Six Day War, the American chiefs of staff agreed Israel should control for defensive purposes. And as for Jerusalem, it must remain the indivisible Jewish capital, for solid historical and political reasons. Ramallah, by all accounts a thriving city, is a good enough Palestinian capital.
The time to act with fortitude and determination is now and the stage is not in Washington. Naturally, the temptation will be to fall back on geopolitical considerations, on the necessity of not alienating the United States — which means Barack Obama, a hostile administration, and the nefarious State Department, aka Foggy Bottom — and on the argument that negotiations and concessions actually reduce the number of casualties or, in other words, that the big picture is to the advantage of the little portrait.
But Menachem Begin did not genuflect to the U.S. or crawl abjectly before the “international community,” and as a result, despite setbacks, achieved more than any of his successors in the political arena. He negotiated from a position of strength, without which the peace agreement with Egypt would never have come to pass. The Oslo Accords that led to great Israeli suffering, and Bill Clinton’s Camp David fiasco, should serve as an object lesson to anyone who still credulously maintains that peace in the Middle East can be brokered in a spirit of gentlemanly accommodation, sacrificial deference on the part of the Israelis, and handshakes on the White House lawn. Peace will come only — should it ever come — in the wake of a massive Arab defeat or, in the best case scenario, if the Palestinians, including Hamas, as well as Hezbollah, truly understand that what is on the table is not a few lukewarm dishes presumably shared by Israel and the Palestinians but their very existence. They must be brought to realize that continuing to serve as Iran’s sock puppets will lead to neither prosperity nor conquest but to their destruction. As I say, this is a best case scenario.
And as it should go without saying, Prime Minister Netanyahu must revive in himself the spirit of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the practical, hard-headed, and unwavering patriot who helped bring a militarily strong Jewish state into being. Netanyahu must recognize that no Israeli concessions will satisfy the insatiable appetite of the “international community” or the Palestinians, who will always clamor for more until the country becomes the rump state proposed by the Peel Commission of 1936-37 and eventually ceases to exist as an independent Jewish state altogether. Israel must project power, not weakness. In a region which understands only sinew and nerve, tenacity and violence, Israel has no choice but to act like the strong horse, not like a spavined mare.
Plainly, these are not pleasant options I am proposing, but it is not as if Israel is blessed with a variety of agreeable choices. While the negotiators dither and compromise, while officials shuttle back and forth between the diverse capitals with fantasy-driven proposals, and while ever more pressure is brought to bear upon Israel to diminish its chances for survival, another Israeli is shot here, another family is obliterated there, another soldier is kidnapped in the Negev or killed by a sniper on Israeli soil near the Lebanese border. To quote Kurt Vonnegut from Slaughterhouse-Five, “so it goes.” The cameo casualties keep piling up.
Whether one likes it or not, the fact is that the diplomatic canvas as it is currently being painted is a snare and a deception, and a prohibitively costly one at that. The prime minister must flex his muscles, resolutely further the country’s material and security interests, and demand substantial concessions from the Palestinians if they are candidly devoted to peace rather than, as was the case with his predecessors Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, offer to give up the store in pursuit of a will o’ the wisp. He must not flinch from making it clear to all that he is prepared to react immediately and with force majeure to the next Kassam or Grad, the next mortar shell, the next suicide bombing, the next kidnapping, the next stabbing, the next drive-by shooting of civilians, the next sniper who fires on an Israeli soldier trimming a bush, the next traumatized child in Sderot or Ashkelon, the next flotilla, the next guerrilla intrusion from Gaza. Otherwise, for every next there will be another next.
The prime minister of Israel is responsible for every Israeli citizen. For this reason, he must toughen up and fix his gaze on the smaller portraits which, when all is said and done, constitute the big picture.