The Urgency of Now in Arab and Israeli Relations

Article excerpt

Every man has a father, and Benjamin Netanyahu's is worth knowing. He is Benzion Netanyahu, born 101 years ago in what was soon to become Poland and living now in what has become Israel. He is a historian by profession, the author of a well-respected book on the Spanish Inquisition and, most pertinent to today's events, former secretary to Ze'ev Jabotinsky, a militant Zionist leader whose credo when it came to the Arabs could be summarized as: Do nothing. Benjamin Netanyahu is doing precisely that.

Jabotinsky was an organizer, a soldier, a writer and, like most great men, a journalist. His most famous -- and influential -- essay was titled "The Iron Wall" and, although it was published in 1923, some of it is still timely. It is an eminently practical document that begins with an acknowledged diversion: "First: the expulsion of the Arabs from Palestine is absolutely impossible in any form." And, second: "I am prepared to swear, for us and our descendants, that we ... will never attempt to expel or oppress the Arabs." Then, as we might put it today, Jabotinsky said that the ball was in the Arabs' court.

It was up to the Arabs, he wrote, to come to terms with Zionism -- the creation of a Jewish state. He was unapologetic about Jewish rights and demands, and until the Arabs recognized those rights and agreed to those demands, the Jews would remain behind an "iron wall." Sooner or later, the Arabs would tire of their militancy and a moderate leadership would emerge. Then Jew and Arab could do business. Until then, "the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now."

The trouble with Netanyahu is that, for him, "now" is not now. A moderate and pragmatic Palestinian leadership has actually emerged in the West Bank (but not, for sure, in Gaza), terrorism has been denounced, rejected and, in the West Bank, all but disappeared. …