Another Tack: Then what's the alternative?

The days preceding Yom Kippur are devoted to soul-searching and apologies. I have loads to atone for, like irresistible meanness to the two Ehuds, Tzipi and their assorted expedient sidekicks and agenda-pushing boosters. But, as incoming mail indicates, I’ve also offended (albeit unintentionally and without malice) some readers. So I’ll hereby seek to explain, by way of making amends.

Lately there’s a marked resurgence of complaints about my failure to supply concrete proposals for how I would run the country. I plead guilty, but it’s no sin of inadvertent omission or careless neglect. It’s not up to me to compose detailed substitute policies for the incontrovertible mess our inept/delinquent leaders have made of things. I wasn’t elected to office, possess no clout or access to resources and executive authority. Hence, it’s unfair, misleading and intellectually insincere to taunt me to deliver what I patently cannot – and shouldn’t be asked to.

To draft decision-making guidelines nobody would ever implement is as much a waste of time as constructing castles in the air. Such pointless pursuits negate or enfeeble efforts to rouse some public opinion against catastrophic schemes, utter bamboozlement and/or corruption. Warnings delivered in time can save lives.

That’s my reply particularly to those who took me to task after I dared assert (on September 12) that Oslo was a fiasco on so grand a scale that it met all of Barbara Tuchman’s criteria for woodenheaded statecraft and merited inclusion (were she only alive then) in her March of Folly. In response, one reader wondered whether I prefer to avoid publicizing my recommendations and another took things a step further and asked: “What have Honig and the settlement fanatics ever offered instead of Oslo?”

These questions aren’t new, as isn’t the “fanatic” epithet. I’ve encountered these galling diversionary gibes with cyclical regularity. But besides being specious, such provocations are also exceedingly common in Israeli discourse. They’re often reverted to by the intellectually indolent, but just as frequently are willfully used to derail relevant discussion. Because the “alternative-baiting” tactic is so widespread, it’s exasperatingly effective and dangerous.

OCCASIONALLY I attempt to highlight the absurdity and shallow harassment inherent in aggressively demanding to know “what’s your solution?” The query suggests to unsuspecting minds that no other available courses of action exist apart from the government’s gross mismanagement of our most crucial affairs. Yet there’s no obligation to behave like imbeciles. Sometimes it’s enough just not to be rash and stupid.

A decade ago I illustrated the point with the story of an impoverished peddler from a distant Southeast Asian archipelago. The restless fellow pondered his inauspicious condition, pined for better things and hatched plans to improve his lot. He was intent on taking his wares to a far-off island where they’d be rare and fetch lucrative prices. He was elated by the adventure, the opportunities beyond the horizon and, most of all, by the prospect of breaking loose from a dead-end existence.

He had the minutest details worked out – all except one – the boat that would ferry him and his merchandise across the water.

The authentically self-delusional among our homegrown purveyors of bliss and peace – those who aren’t outright shysters – might recognize him as a fellow dreamer. They too have everything worked out except the most key element – a genuine, able, willing and honorable peace partner.

Our resourceful young entrepreneur eventually concocted a creative contrivance – about as practical as Oslo. He set sail in a discarded old tub. It soon emerged, though, that his makeshift vessel wasn’t seaworthy. The visionary seeker of fortune would have drowned were he not rescued by passing fishermen. They were bewildered by his senseless risk. Amazed by their lack of insight, their utter failure to think out of the box, he exclaimed: “How else could I go after my dreams?”

Translated into Israeli political parlance, his incredulous retort would be: “Then what’s the alternative?” Subtext: If there’s nothing but a death trap contraption to sail in, you embark on the fateful journey in the death trap contraption for lack of any floatable alternative.

Here’s the essence of Osloite logic. Perhaps the underhanded negotiators, who illicitly contracted their deal behind the nation’s back, might have been excused in 1993 for letting unjustifiable optimism and wishful thinking becloud their judgment. But, 15 years later, with the benefit of hindsight wisdom – after having witnessed how disastrous Oslo proved to be in every possible sphere – there’s no condoning continuing self-deception. At this point, obstinate cognitive dissonance can willy-nilly lead to self-destruction.

There’ll be no friendly fishermen to pluck Israelis from the Mediterranean were the self-inflicted weakening of Israel to reinvigorate genocidal temptations and reinforce Arab proclivity to “throw all the Jews into the sea.” Even under very different circumstances, a great deal of circumspection is warranted before any vital strategic assets are surrendered in a land as tiny and as vulnerable as ours.

Considering their past treachery, all Arab interlocutors – even if they regale us with honeyed blandishments – should be treated with more than a little suspicion. But we have no sweet flattery to worry about. Our neighbors openly rehash their hate, refuse to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state and won’t renounce their “right” to inundate it with untold millions of hostile so-called refugees.

THAT SAID, I do favor an alternative. It’s encapsulated in Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall. “The peace-mongers among us,” he wrote in 1923, before we became ogre occupiers, indeed before we won independence, “have induced us to believe that all our troubles are due to misunderstanding… If we only clarify to the Arabs how moderate our intentions really are, they will immediately extend to us their hand in friendship.”

Way back then he judged that “this belief is utterly unfounded,” because “there is no likelihood of a voluntary agreement with the Arabs. Those who regard a peace accord as a sine qua non for Zionism may as well say ‘non’ and withdraw from Zionism… There will never be a voluntary peace as long as there remains in Arab hearts a spark of hope to be rid of us. They will refuse to relinquish this hope… because they are not a rabble but a living people. This people will yield only when there is no longer any hope of doing away with us, when our Wall of Iron cannot be breached.”

Israel’s most imperative alternative is to become stronger, not weaker. By poking holes in our proverbial Iron Wall we invite enmity, not further the prospects of coexistence. Our conscious choice must be not to take existential risks. Suicide is not a national option, and avoiding it is alternative enough.

There might be something to not taking to the high seas in a leaky tub, even if we terribly hanker for the crossing, even if alluring promises beckon. There’s a lot to be said for just staying alive. Where healthy self-preservation instincts prevail, survival takes precedence over pipe-dreams – be they for regional peace or personal prosperity.

Staying on dry land is the only option in the absence of a boat. There simply is no other alternative.

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