Another Tack: The wooden-headedness factor

Insightful Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Barbara Tuchman died in February 1989, more than four years before Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and their underhanded crew clandestinely negotiated the Oslo Accords and then dropped them on the heads of all unsuspecting Israelis, including their prime minister.

Yitzhak Rabin proved too weak-willed to resist the fait accompli with which he had been presented, and on September 13, 15 years ago, formalized it on the White House lawn.

Thus Tuchman, alas, missed an example of preposterous statecraft on a scale that would have easily vied with every absurdity she included in her 1984 March of Folly.

Defining folly as “the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests,” Tuchman demanded that to qualify as folly, each policy examined needs to meet three criteria: “It must have been perceived as counterproductive in its own time,” “a feasible alternative course of action must have been available” and “the policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual leader, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime.” It must be adhered to by “collective government or a succession of rulers in the same office.”

Oslo, sadly, meets all of Tuchman’s conditions and then some. Rarely in human affairs is it as possible to point to a single inanity as the trigger which radically changed the fortunes of a people – in Israel’s case of a beleaguered people struggling for bare physical survival. Oslo turned this once feisty and plucky little nation into an apathetic aggregate that has ceased to seethe about much of anything. It briefly appeared that the Second Lebanon War, Oslo’s direct defective descendant, might ignite the extinguished flicker of common sense yet again, but that spark quickly died out.

The Oslo-generated apathy allowed Ehud Barak’s rash unilateral flight from Lebanon, the unilateral flight from Gaza and the expulsion of its 10,000 Jews, the relinquishing of the strategically indispensable Philadelphi corridor, the establishment of Hamastan, the continued funneling of funds, electricity and goods to Hamastan, the failure to react against the rocketing of Sderot and Ashkelon, the obsequious acquiescence to PA demands for “goodwill gestures” (such as the unilateral release of convicted terrorists), the shrinking of areas west of the security fence (such as the 1,000 relinquished Ma’aleh Adumim acres), the in-your-face sedition within Israel’s own Arab sector, and too much more to mention.

Our tired masses seem to stomach anything. There is somehow an unuttered expectation that if we ignore palpable danger signs or tolerate them and make nice, they’ll go away.

That is Oslo’s incontrovertible legacy to the Israeli psyche. Few dare insist on the justice of our cause. Fewer yet know our case. The youngest Israelis are never taught it and remain ignorant to a degree that severely imperils Israel’s prospects of self-preservation. Increasingly we see ourselves as our enemies portray us, and insert their fraudulent narrative into our school curriculums, art, theater and film. We brainwash and browbeat ourselves, but call that enlightenment and broadmindedness.

Before Oslo we retaliated for every terror onslaught and refused to give in even when hostages’ lives hung in the balance. Today the nation that rescued hijacked passengers at Entebbe debases itself by freeing barbaric mass murderers, and bankrolls the indiscriminate shelling of its own towns. The nation that liberated Jerusalem contemplates relinquishing it.

OSLO’S RATIONALE was to purchase a modicum of peace by sacrificing strategically vital territory. Yet our convoluted logic failed the test of simple popular perception. All our sophisticated argumentation notwithstanding, nothing could erase the core intuition that a people ready to surrender its patrimony isn’t genuinely attached to it.

By giving away bits of the Jewish heartland, we imparted the impression here and abroad that we have no roots, claim or connection to this country – that we’re not here by right. Israeli concessions underscored the slanderous image of Israelis as interlopers who plead to be allowed to retain a bit of what they usurped.

Oslo conferred legitimacy on the PLO, an organization whose raison d’etre is to cleanse this land of our presence. Therein lies the fundamental difference between what Menachem Begin contracted with Egypt and what Rabin was conned into championing. Egypt is a neighboring state with whom we fought a number of wars and with whom we reached accommodation. By compromising with an organization founded for the explicit purpose of coming in our stead, the Rabin-Peres government undermined Israel’s claim not only to the territories it freed in the 1967 war of self-defense, but it undermined its claim to the whole shebang – to the entire state Jews established in 1948. It’s no coincidence that more than at any time since 1948 there are escalating challenges in the international arena to our very right to exist. It’s no longer taboo in polite society to suggest that Israel shouldn’t be.

THAT IS the greatest long-term harm inflicted by Oslo. Not all Israelis can coherently identify the damage and home in on its corollaries but, sensing grand national failure, they grow dispirited. Disheartenment inures them to repeated blows. Whereas at Oslo’s outset we still counted what Rabin cynically dubbed the “victims of peace,” we no longer do so. The deadly tally now nears 1,600. Proportionally this is tantamount to 80,000 fatalities in the US. While Americans remember 9/11’s disaster (whose toll is equivalent to 60 deaths in Israel), most workaday Israelis don’t instantly recognize 9/13 for the disaster it was.

That’s how profound is the Oslo-imposed impassivity, exacerbated by journalists and judges who failed to protect the public which depended on them. Though 15 years on, it’s all too abundantly clear that Oslo is a farcical flop, yet establishment mouthpieces insist on depicting it as an extraordinary breakthrough. The interminable mind-numbing media mantra is all-pervasive, while the opposition is stymied by an agenda-guided and politically-interventionist judiciary unparalleled anywhere in the free world.

Yet the primary culprits are the politicians who brazenly betrayed our trust – from Tsomet Knesset members Gonen Segev and Alex Goldfarb (who enabled Rabin to ratify Oslo by selling their votes for a ministerial appointment and a Mitsubishi, respectively) all the way to Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, who ditched the platforms on which they were elected and cheated their voters to implement Oslo’s disengagement sequel.

Which brings us back to Tuchman’s question: “Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests?” Her forthright answer is “wooden-headedness,” i.e. both “the refusal to learn from experience” and “the source of self-deception.”

Such recurrent wooden-headedness, she argues, is “a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists of assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish, while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

Though writing before the event, Tuchman incredibly seems to have analyzed the Osloite folly with unerring acumen. “The power to command,” she stressed, “frequently causes failure to think.”

1 thought on “Another Tack: The wooden-headedness factor

  1. Sarah,
    You have treated us to what can only be regarded as a Tour de force. In the March 10, 2010 edition of the New York Times, we were treated to a somewhat different interpretation of Barbara Tuchman’s, “March of Folly”, by Uri Dromi, one time spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments during the period from 1992 to 1996. Schooled in the mindset of Israeli elites. Uri was most disturbed by the Israeli governments decision to allow 1600 new homes in “East” Jerusalem in “the face of your [Israel’s] best friend and ally as represented by VP Joe Biden.
    Does Dromi not remember that in July 1980 the Knesset passed the Jrusalem Law which reconfirmed the unification of the city and its status as capital? For him, the real issues, or more accurately hang ups, are demography, realpolotik, border demarcation and shande fur de goyim.
    Have we no rights or claims? Are they solely the province of the Arabs? What about history? Obviously, the fact that the only declared sovereinty over Jerusalem is that by a Jewish government means nothing to Dromi.
    Jerusalem has been the spiritual center of Jewish life since the time of King David. The ancient, eternal connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem is reaffirmed time and again in Holy Scripture. There has been a continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem for thousands of years, and the city has never been claimed by any other nation or people. These facts expose the denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem for what it really is – a shoddy attempt to rewrite history. Obviously, this means nothing to our Uri.
    Jerusalem not metioned once in the Koran, while it is recorded more than 600 times in the Torah. Also not consequential! Jerusalem has never been the capital of any other people. Who cares! Jerusalem has been the capital of the the Jewsish people since the time of King David some 3000 years ago. Irrelevant! Jewish continuous in presence in Jerusalem, Palestine and Palestinians a recent creation. Really!
    For Uri Dromi, “Learning from experience is a faculty almost never practiced.” [Barbara Tuchman]

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