The Israeli Imbroglio

The World and I, February 2001 | Go to article overview

The Israeli Imbroglio


Stephen Blank has an exceptionally important article in Currents in Modern Thought on the new intifada by the Palestinians against Israel. He is in possession of information that Palestinian Authorities were notified that Ariel Sharon would visit the Temple Mount and raised no objection, although why the visit of any Jew to the holiest site in his religion should stir such indignation raises serious questions. Yasser Arafat then used the visit to create the storm that led to subsequent bloodshed. Palestinian radio stations transmitted deliberate falsehoods in order to produce riots. Some of the shooting was by Palestinian police officers operating under instructions from the Palestinian Authority. Blank also notes that Arab schools teach mortal hatred of Jews, not merely of Israelis. "Death to Jews" is a popular cry, and terrorists who bomb buses carrying schoolchildren are popular heroes. For many, and perhaps most, statehood is merely the first step to the destruction of the state of Israel. Although neighboring Arab states such as Jordan and Egypt seem genuinely disposed to peace with Israel, an undercurrent of discontent in even the most stable states might reverse this.

Palestinian goals inconsistent with peace have been operative ever since Arab armies attacked the Jewish state in 1948. I recognize that many things occurred during the creation of Israel that were unjust to the Arabs of Palestine and that I would not condone. However, many of these things would not have happened had the Palestinians been willing to coexist in that area with Jews, who had a continuous connection with the area and nowhere else to go in a world that had just experienced the Holocaust. Many of their continuing tribulations have resulted from a failure to accept the existence of Israel. And their moral claims are diminished by the fact that their spiritual leader, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El Husseini, spent the war as the privileged guest of Hitler. There are penalties for being on the wrong side, as 10 million expelled Germans discovered.

Despite Palestinian goals inconsistent with peace, I have been working actively since 1974 to produce a peace in the area that will involve a Palestinian state through negotiations with the PLO. There are several reasons for this. Continued Israeli rule of the West Bank involves treating the Palestinians as a ruled people. This corrupts Israel, dehumanizes Palestinians, and ensures that the problem persists indefinitely. The main problem is that Arafat may see an agreement merely as a step toward the dismantling of Israel. On the other hand, regardless of Arafat's present intentions, a peace agreement may foster Palestinian interests that depend on continued peace.

I do not want to deny that from a Palestinian standpoint there were problems with the peace process that may have led Arafat to attempt an ill-conceived resort to violence. However, even if Barak had not compromised as fulsomely as they wished, he had moved substantially to fulfill legitimate Palestinian aspirations and might have taken the next steps if Arafat had not pulled the rug out from under him, a fateful choice for which both sides are paying a high price.

Although Israel is stronger than the surrounding Arab states, it cannot afford to lose a single war. The operative question is whether a peace agreement that is consistent with the security of Israel is possible. No firm answer can be given to this question, but I think the risks of peace, though very real, can be justified. Some of the security risks that are acceptable were discussed in a five-hour conversation I had with General Sharon at his farm in 1974. …

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