The Israeli left. It's like the Energizer Bunny. No, it's like a Timex watch. It takes licking after licking and just keeps on ticking. How long has this flight from reality been going on? A very long time.
Cleaning out a drawer today, I came across a faded old copy of a Jerusalem Post op-ed by Shlomo Avineri. It was sent to me around the time of its publication by a very left-leaning friend on the faculty of Hebrew University, and it has the date November 28, 1978, hand written at the top. Entitled "Of Doves and Hawks," it's a victory piece, an "I told you so" to the Israeli right. The Camp David Accords are proof positive, said Avineri, that the hawks were dead wrong about the Arabs' aspirations for peace with Israel. And the doves were right.
(There is no link to this essay. If it was ever on line, it has long since disappeared. I copied the following out by hand. Hopefully, I've caught all of my mistakes.)
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Let's try to formulate some of the points of dispute between hawks and doves and then compare them with the present policies of the Begin government.
One of the basic tenets of the hawks was a firm conviction that the Arabs would never make peace with Israel. The Arabs, all of them, are united in one goal (according to the hawkish position): the destruction of Israel. They will not and cannot make peace with Israel. Unremitting enmity towards Israel is basic to their political philosophy, being deeply embedded in Islam, and therefore Israelis should not waste their time and effort speculating on what our policies should be if peace comes. Peace, said the hawks, will not be offered to us, and consequently we have to carry out our own policies, geared to our own national aims, unilaterally.
The doves, on the other hand, never said they knew there would be peace. Their position was slightly different from a merely idealistic hope for peace. They argued as follows: Despite the deep Arab hatred for Israel, let us not exclude the possibility that one day, one Arab leader, or one Arab country, will be ready for peace. And by not excluding that possibility, let us not in the meantime do things that will make it difficult for us to negotiate peace if and when such an Arab country or such an Arab leader is ready for peace.
The doves were proved right. An Arab leader ready for peace did eventually emerge, and some of the difficulties in the negotiations with Sadat stem from positions taken or acts committed by Israel in the meantime, which were premised on the hawkish position that there could never be peace.
Almost twenty-nine years later, who was "proved right?" The Arab leader who was ready for peace (Sadat) was assassinated less than three years later. The country that was supposedly ready for peace turned its back on his accomplishment and froze the struggling "peace" in its tracks. Since then, the thaws have been brief and unconsequential.
The only other Arab leader who has shown any inclination toward peace with Israeli, King Hussein of Jordan, did not so much "negotiate" the peace as abdicate almost all of the territorial impediments standing in the way. In other words, those positions or acts committed by Israel in the West Bank "in the meantime" did nothing to postpone or prevent the peace (such as it is) with Jordan. Rather, they sufficed to convince Jordan to give up its territorial claims in favor of the palestinian arabs, which Jordan would not likely have done in the absence of those positions and acts. But back to Avineri, who so far is batting 0 for 1.
Secondly, the hawks argued that even if one day there should emerge an Arab leader ready for peace, he would be promptly assassinated: Look, they said, at what happened to King Abdullah. Consequently, the policies of such a leader would not be carried out; hence we go back to square one, i.e., there is not going to be peace.
The doves, on the other hand, never denied the dangers that would have to be faced by such an Arab leader. But they argued: Let us not exclude the possibility that if an Arab leader is one day ready for peace, such a shift in policy will not be just the whim of an individual potentate, but will represent some very substantial changes in the structure of politics in that particular Arab country. Therefore, let us not exclude the possibility that the idea of peace will gather quite a lot of support in that Arab country and that the leader adopting such a policy will be able to carry it out.
Again, the doves were proved right. Not only has Sadat not been assassinated or deposed, but the move has added to his stature. He appears to be, despite all of the difficulties he is undoubtedly facing, firmly in control of Egypt, and he has managed to survive both internal and external Arab opposition to his move.
Ooops. Overtaken by events. It's to be noted that Sadat was not assassinated because of his economic policies or his attempts at rapprochment with the West. He was assassinated for making peace with Israel, and in many parts of the Arab world, his death was celebrated. As the BBC noted,
Nabil Ramlawi, a PLO official, said: "We were expecting this end of President Sadat because we are sure he was against the interests of his people, the Arab nations and the Palestinian people."
Avineri: 0 for 2. One more point to go.
Thirdly (and this is the most important issue), despite the hawks' deep scepticism about the possibility of ultimate peace with the Arabs, the basic hawkish position has been that in the long run, Israel will get Arab acceptance of its existence and be able to keep most of the territories that came under its control in 1967.
The doves, on the other hand, never believed that we would be able to have our cake and eat it. One should add that despite distortions and misrepresentations, the Israeli dovish position never maintained that Israel should return the territories to Arab control unilaterally, without peace. The doves said something different: If and when an Arab country or an Arab leader will be ready for peace, then and only then, will Israel be faced with the agonizing dilemma of choosing between peace and territories. Then and only then, in the context of peace negotiations, will Israel have to make that choice, and then, and only then, will this be a real choice -- but Israel will have to make it.
The hawks, on the other hand, denied that such a choice would have to be made. As Menahem Begin said again and again, before and after he became prime minister, we shall have peace as well as much of the territories, especially Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The doves never thought we could have it both ways and tried to educate the Israeli public in anticipation of the day when this agonizing choice would have to be made.
Again, the doves were proved right. For one whole year the government under Begin tried to negotiate a peace treaty in which Israel would both get peace and keep much of the territories. This is not going to be the outcome of the peace treaty with Egypt. But it is not through lack of trying. Inch after inch, item after item, Begin and the govenment had to give up their position concerning Israeli control of the territories once peace is signed.
This assessment sounds bizarre in retrospect and, as we'll see in a minute, it gets even more bizarre -- and wrong. But it's interesting to note that Avineri, one of the leading lights of the Israeli left for decades, here disavows any support for unilateral withdrawal from any part of the disputed territories. Only in exchange for true peace, "then and only then," would the doves consider advocating the "agonizing choice" of territorial surrender. But that was in the flush of what he thought was a resounding victory for the "land for peace" concept. What a difference a few decades and a harsh dose of reality can make.
And now on to the (near) conclusion of this very odd essay. (Yes, there's more, but I'm stopping here.)
Take Sinai. After trying to keep Rafiah and the airfields, Israel has now agreed to a full withdrawal from all Egyptian territories. There could not be a more dovish Israeli policy on the bilateral Egyptian-Israeli front, and some doves even thought that one did not have to go that far. Be that as it may, Begin has given up all the settlements in Sinai, as well as Sharm e-Sheikh, and the airfields. Not one Israeli settlement, not one Isareli soldier, not one Israeli aircraft, not one grain of sand will remain in Israeli hands there.
On the West Bank, the issue is of course more complex and the exact outcome more dubious. Because of the Likud's unwillingness to negotiate with Jordan (as a result of its ideological hang-up about "foreign sovereignty" over parts of Eretz Yisrael, we may now be saddled with an ambiguous situation that could lead to an independent Palestinian state and profound dangers for Israeli society.
This, however, requires a separate discussion; what is clear is that despite its hopes and illusions, the Begin government has abandoned its initial plan of holding on to the West Bank. Whatever happens in Judea, Samaria and Gaza after the transitional period of five years, Israeli control of the area will not continue.
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It's interesting to be reminded that, back in 1978, even the far Israeli left considered the notion of "an independent Palestinian state" to pose "profound dangers for Israeli society." Even as Avineri confidently predicted the impending withdrawal of the Begin government from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, he clearly envisioned the "return" of those territories to the gentle stewardship of Egypt and Jordan. And he clearly never dreamed that Jordan would one day sign a peace treaty with Israel without the concession of one inch of that land (but rather only a small piece of the Arava together with some water rights).
And so the doves come out 0 for 3. Twenty-nine years later, their response is to advocate more of the same, more and more concessions, withdrawals, restraints and, above all, forebearance still from those programs and acts that might make it more difficult when that elusive Arab leader in search of peace, actually backed by an Arab country in search of peace, appears. Oslo, Camp David II, Taba, the Road Map, on and on and on.
Even a broken Timex is right twice a day. For the Israeli left, it's been a very, very long day.