Strictly in the Israeli context, the first decade of the 21st century deserves to be remembered as the decade of defeatism. The country ushered in the new millennium with an air of resignation. The no-can-do premise and loser mentality still persist, perniciously.
It’s essentially a psychological state in which defeat is the foregone conclusion, anticipated as inevitable and accepted without significant resistance. Thus Kadima MK Nahman Shai pontificated in a radio interview that “Israel has no choice but to pay the price Hamas demanded for Gilad Schalit” and if more abductions are thereby engendered, “we’ll have to pay then too. That is our lot.”
To be sure, Israeli defeatists aren’t all cut from the same cloth. Some, especially on the ideological Left’s fringes, promote anything that weakens the state. Their espousal of capitulation to Hamas over Schalit’s kidnapping wasn’t inspired by concern for his welfare but by desire to further dent Israel’s armor. Hence they portray settlements as, heaven forefend, compromising the country’s Jewish majority. Yet they simultaneously clamor against new citizenship legislation geared to prevent the wholesale importation of hostile Arabs under the guise of family reunions, as occurred in Oslo’s wake when some 150,000 Arabs were willy-nilly added to the population. That transpired without arousing any outcry from the Left, which, at opportune occasions, wrings its hands in despair over the purportedly perilous Jewish demographics.
Since the more hypocritical ideological defeatists hold inordinate sway in the media, they also perforce mold opinions, forge zeitgeist and orchestrate political crusades. They inspire widespread defeatism compounded by the citizenry’s intellectual indolence. Their demoralizing spin is that there’s no sense to struggle and sacrifice because the fight will anyhow be lost. The inescapable by-products are erosion of faith in the cause and the pervasive perception of all headliners as corrupt and unworthy. “They’re all the same” is the oft-heard catchphrase.
IRONICALLY, THIS cynicism failed to foil the most cunning abuse against our most fundamental existential interests. The public let Ariel Sharon – striving to extricate himself from whopping legal entanglements – cheat his voters with an abrupt volte-face, renege on the referendum he initiated, crush his opponents with political steamrollers and propagate patently false prophesies about the bounties of disengagement.
The Ehud Olmert-Tzipi Livni duo had ample opportunity to change course but seemed fettered to the folly and indeed plotted more of the same.
Binyamin Netanyahu, despite promising redirection, imposed the most draconian settlement freeze ever. It hardly improved Israel’s image but will create a hell of a stink if or when it’s thawed.
The dynamics of defeatism were best exposed by Ehud Barak’s ex-foreign minister, ultra-dove Shlomo Ben-Ami. In an extensive monologue entitled “The Day the Peace Died”(Ha’aretz, September 14, 2001), Ben-Ami spellbindingly dissected Barak’s 2000-2001 near-desperate peace-drive that began in Stockholm, continued at Camp David and expired ignominiously in Taba. Not to forget, 2000 was highlighted by the unilateral retreat/escape from South Lebanon and by within-Green-Line riots.
The decade’s tone was set: Barak’s egregious territorial generosity undercut all future Israeli bargaining positions. Subsequently Sharon’s unilateral disengagement emboldened terror to the point of imposing Hamas hegemony on Gaza. Instead of super-icon Yasser Arafat, our current interlocutors are Ramallah’s virtual-leader Mahmoud Abbas and his clique, trusted and respected by nobody in the Mideast apart from a select band of Israelis calling the shots even in Netanyahu’s coalition and serially addicted to making nice to genocidal foes.
THESE ARE the same defeatists who masterminded the haggling of 2000. When it was over, Ben-Ami retroactively understood that Israel “operated under misguided conceptions about the other side’s intentions… Oslo constituted a mega-camouflage behind which Arafat exerted political pressure and employed varying measures of terror to undermine the very notion of a two-state solution.”
While Israel kept retreating from one “red line” to another, eventually agreeing to cede almost anything the Palestinians insisted upon, including much of Jerusalem and its holiest of holies, Ben-Ami noted, “never at any point did the Palestinians so much as draft any counterproposals.”
That, he belatedly concluded, “was the crux of the matter. The Israeli side forever finds itself in a dilemma: Either we quit because this bunch is unwilling to suggest anything, or we manage one more concession, one more kvetch. At the end, however, even the most moderate person arrives at a point in which he admits that the other side has no endgame. Kvetch after kvetch but they’re never satisfied. It never ends.”
With painstaking detail Ben-Ami listed each and every kvetch, each and every vital position from which Barak and his team were reluctantly pushed by the intractable Palestinians. Even as Israeli negotiators sacrificed Jerusalem, the Palestinians “weren’t ready for as much as allowing a face-saving formulation for Israel.”
A senior American go-between opined to Ben-Ami that “all the Palestinians want is to humiliate you.” They even degradingly rejected a last shameful Israeli entreaty for “subterranean sovereignty underneath the Temple Mount, denying we have any right whatsoever there.” When Ben-Ami was willing to make do with Palestinian “undertakings not to dig on the Mount, because it’s holy to Jews, they adamantly refused to tolerate any mention of any sanctity anyplace for Jews.”
WHAT DISTRESSED Ben-Ami most “wasn’t just their refusal but how they refused – with total contempt. They were dismissive and arrogant toward us… They weren’t willing to make even an emotional or symbolic conciliatory gesture. In the deepest sense, they were loath to acknowledge that we have any claim here.”
Camp David eventually flopped, according to Ben-Ami, because “the Palestinians refused to give us any inkling about where their demands would terminate. Our impression was that they constantly sought to drag us into a black hole of another concession and another, without there being anything like a discernible finish line.”
Ben-Ami’s unavoidable conclusion was that “more than the Palestinians want their own state, they want to condemn ours… They always leave loose ends… to keep viable the option that at some future point someone would pull these ends and unravel the Jewish state.”
That said, like fellow leftists, Ben-Ami even then couldn’t bring himself to fully renounce his demonstrably untenable ideological creed. But though still professing devotion to his smitten idols, he nevertheless cautioned against “ignoring what was revealed to us: Palestinian and Islamic positions that defy our very right to exist. We mustn’t continue the kvetch culture which might culminate in our suicide… We must cease relinquishing Jewish and Israeli patriotism. We must understand that we aren’t always guilty. We must learn to say, ‘Till here and no farther.’ If the other side aims to destroy even this nucleus, we must steadfastly defend it.”
In other words, Ben-Ami cautioned against defeatism early in the decade, before the disengagement that monstrously magnified all of Barak’s blunders and then some. But nobody paid heed.