“There is no precedent of a conflict between nations being brought to finality without direct negotiations. In the conflict between the Arabs and Israel, the issue of direct negotiations goes to the very crux of the matter. Our objective is to achieve peace and coexistence but how will our neighbors ever be able to live with us in peace if they refuse to speak with us?”
The above is a direct quote from an address by prime minister Golda Meir to the Knesset on May 26, 1970, 40 years minus-five-days ago. The insistence on direct talks was cardinal for Israeli leaders before and since the above statement. A succession of foreign emissaries and politicos came and went, but Israel consistently recoiled from the notion of go-betweens and shuttle diplomacy.
The principle of direct talks steadfastly guided even the misguided progenitors of the Oslo folly – until the advent of Binyamin Netanyahu’s current term.
Decades of making one existentially risky concession after another existentially risky concession – of erasing one declaratively indelible red line after another, of drawing new “red lines” but deleting these in turn – have certainly paid off. We have gained so indubitably much. We’re so ahead of the starting line. At the beginning we wouldn’t hear of indirect negotiations. After we had yielded so much ground, we are at long overdue last engaged in – indirect negotiations. It was all really worth it. We’ve come a long way, Bibi!
TO BE fair, it’s not all his fault. Netanyahu inherited an unenviable legacy. The Osloites stealthily ushered another Arab Palestinian state into the original territory once designated as Palestine, some 80 percent of which is already Arab (even if it parades under the wholly artificial name of Jordan). This negated Golda’s stance that “Israel and Jordan were the two state-successors to the British Mandate. There is no room for a third… A Palestinian state between us and Jordan can only become a base to make it even more convenient to attack and destroy Israel.”
Ehud Barak, in his catastrophic stint as premier, established the ever-insidious model of total withdrawal back to the 1949 armistice lines. More recently Ehud Olmert, Barak’s challenger for the dubious distinction of worst-ever prime minister, additionally reinforced Barak’s precedent. This, coupled with Washington’s most antagonistic administration ever, left Netanyahu in dire circumstances and with powerful incentives to just please the hectoring censorious chorus out there.
Giving in is the easy thing to do. But true patriots, like Golda, summoned intestinal fortitude to avoid alluring facile solutions. If the experience of the past 40 years has taught us any lesson, it’s that buying time via “painful concessions” doesn’t work. Concessions become self-evidently the new square-one for ensuing haggling rounds.
History suffers no vacuums. Every retreat spawns yet another retreat, triggering a negative dynamic. Oslo elicited universal acceptance of a third state in original Palestine (the second Arab one), which forced Israel into increasingly defensive negotiating postures, culminating in Barak’s capitulation. Ariel Sharon subsequently expelled Jews and razed 25 veteran thriving settlements. Then, on paper, Olmert ceded most remaining settlements. The security fence was essentially moved to 1949’s Green Line.
Next (and this, significantly under Netanyahu) Israel froze Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, implying in effect that it too acknowledges the settlements’ illegitimacy. But that still didn’t suffice. Each concession breeds another and thus Jerusalem was targeted and Jewish residence came under fire in a city which boasted a very massive Jewish majority since the first census was taken there early in the 19th century.
Bargaining, which we assumed was about agreed boundaries within territories we were forced to take in 1967, turned out to be about the 1949 line of exhaustion demarcated to end the War of Independence imposed on us. Beyond that lies an older Arab claim for the 1947 UN partition lines which Arabs rejected violently, thereby sparking that War of Independence. And before that raged the antebellum debate about whether any Jewish state ought to exist, which is what sparked that violent Arab opposition in 1947.
The same animus still foments Arab refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or to forgo the “right” to inundate that Jewish state with untold millions of hostile Arabs who’ll destroy its continued existence as a Jewish state.
WHILE ISRAEL serially drew back from its positions to appease America and/or to coax Arabs into some modicum of accommodation, Arab orientations during all that time hadn’t budged a fraction of a millimeter. Their only modifications were tactical. Instead of eradicating Israel in one fell swoop (which they didn’t do only because they couldn’t), they settled on slicing Israel’s salami bit by bit to deprive it of strategic depth, render it more vulnerable to predations and erode it by demonization and demoralization. The basic premise remains that at most the existence of the unwanted “Zionist entity” is admitted temporarily de facto, that this entity must shrink and that Arabs have a right to deluge it.
Whenever we concede even a theoretical point, we imbue Arab obstructionism with an aura of righteous respectability in the (kangaroo) court of world opinion. We irreversibly undermine our own case.
That’s why it’s taken for granted internationally that Israel must be squeezed into the 1949 lines. Global discourse now dwells on whether there’s at all any justification for a Jewish state.
We have indeed come a long way – backward. By rushing recklessly headlong to resolve a conflict not of our making, we ended up returning to its very origins – the aspiration to eradicate the Jewish state.
As Golda stressed: “There is no obstacle to peace except for the Arab persistence in denying Israel’s very right to exist. Arab refusal to acquiesce in our existence in the Middle East, alongside the Arab states, abides. The only way to peace is through a change in that recalcitrance.”
It would further serve us to memorize what was emphasized at the Palestinian national assembly in July 1968: “Our basic aim is to liberate the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. We are not concerned with what happened in June 1967 or with eliminating the consequences of the June war. The Palestinian revolution’s basic concern is uprooting the Zionist entity.”
This, finally, takes us back to Golda’s May 26, 1970 speech: “The refusal to talk to us directly is damning evidence of the unwillingness of the Arab leaders to be reconciled with the very being of Israel.”
It was true then. The latest “proximity talks” underscore just how true it remains, especially when the supposed honest broker is taking sides.
Have we anything to show for four decades of regression from principles to which Golda adhered tenaciously? Not much if we judge by the fact that we’re now reduced to willingly enmeshing ourselves in the very trap we throughout wisely avoided.