In many centrist and leftwing pro-Zionist circles, one encounters the following assertion made with varying degrees of conviction and emphasis: “it is utterly vital to the continued existence of Israel and the whole Zionist enterprise that Israel gets a ‘peace deal’.”
This comes generally with the stated or implicit corollary that the real obstacle to a “two-state solution” and Israel’s continued survival is Netanyahu or the “lurch to the right” or past and present Israeli transgressions, and not Palestinian intransigence, fanaticism or antisemitism. It also comes with the assumption that the 2-state option is the only morally, legally and pragmatically legitimate course of action open to Israel.
I regard this line of reasoning as representative of the strategy of appeasementand that it will lead to both disaster and dishonour. This post is the start of a debate on these vital topics. It is longish and thus challenging to time-constrained readers, but please attempt to read and consider it carefully so that we can take this discussion forward with the participation of all.
The appeasement strategy comes in different variants which appear to morph quite smoothly into one another. But all forms contain the following argument at their core, though very rarely stated with any degree of clarity or coherence:
“While Israel is currently the militarily, technologically and economically stronger of the two contending parties, her very existence is imminently threatened by an approaching global consensus that she is an aggressor state imposing an “apartheid-like” reality on the Palestinians (or on all Arabs) with the object of stealing their territory.
A weaker form of this argument is that even if Israel did not start with the intention of annexation, “the occupation” is fatal to Israeli democracy and values and can only morph into an “apartheid-like” oppression as it continues in the face of Palestinian resistance. This will has and will continue to undermine global, and even Jewish, support for Zionism.
This approaching consensual view often comes with two further subsidiary beliefs: firstly, that Israel represents the last and most important remnant of Western colonialism, thus making a just resolution of the Middle East conflict a moral imperative. The second subsidiary belief is that all the Palestinians are asking for is a sustainable state of their own and that Israel is stealthily and steadily undermining that option.
As a result of these consensual interlocking narratives, so the claim goes, global opinion is coming round to the view that Israel constitutes an intolerable threat to world peace and that only a single, binational state will meet the moral and pragmatic needs of a stable and moral world community. At a certain point, not far off, this opinion will reach a tipping point and the global community (including the West and even the USA) will bring overwhelming pressure on Israel to accept a single state outcome. That will mean the end of Israel and possibly also large-scale destruction and death.”
Since I believe that talk along these lines is inspired by fear and moral confusion and can lead to a self-fulfilling strategy of surrender by increments, I will deconstruct this line of thinking in the following post. To bring some clarity we’ll identify 2 overlapping variants.
Variant one: In this variant it is generally agreed that Israel has periodically made genuine attempts at reaching a peace deal along the lines of two states, one Jewish and the other Palestinian, and that it is mainly Palestinian intransigence and maximalism (plus regional extremist states and sub-state groups) which has contributed to the current impasse. Along with this goes the belief that Israel is generally a moral state and that its current policies are the result of past experience and that concessions will probably not meet Palestinian demands.
Thus, in this version a two-state solution may not be possible and the global consensus is false in its assumptions, but is, nevertheless, all-powerful and must be appeased or, at least, finessed.
According to this view, Netanyahu and the rightwing have made the situation much worse by their settlement policies, by not pursuing a two-state solution with sufficient vigour and credibility and by actions and words which feed into fears of annexation or permanent occupation. Thus variant one adherents believe that these policies must change, settlement building must stop, that Bibi must banish all thoughts of even partial annexation or unilateral imposition of Israeli solutions and take steps to restore Israel’s credibility as a partner for a genuine two-state solution.
(In passing it should be mentioned that this is often accompanied by the personal vilification of Netanyahu.)
According to the centrist and moderate pro-Zionists who make this argument, without specifying the steps Netanyahu should take or where the limits (if any) should be drawn, world opinion would respond appropriately to this strategy. Thus even if peace does not come despite Israeli “concessions” and overtures, the world will understand it is not “annexationist” or “apartheid” Israel which stands in the way of peace but rather Arab extremists and Palestinian maximalists. Perhaps, they believe, world pressure will come to bear on the other side to demonstrate their bona fides rather than on Israel.
Variant two: Israel has never seriously or vigorously enough pursued peace and the Palestinian narrative of victimhood and Israeli intransigence is not too far off the mark. Furthermore, Palestinian maximalism has been wildly exaggerated and a realistic Palestinian two-state constituency exists.
It is thus incumbent on the Israelis to take full responsibility and to demonstrate unambiguously to the waiting Palestinians and the world that they are sincere in their peace overtures willing to make substantial concessions and are not secret annexationists. As a result the moderate forces in Palestinian-Arab society will be strengthened and a genuine two-state solution with adequate guarantees for Israel’s security could well be brought about to the world’s relief and applause.
So let us examine three of the most important hidden assumptions and implications that underlie the various forms of “Peace Deal” myth.
- That a credible Palestinian partner for peace exists. That is the basis of Variant 2 though it is not required by Variant one. I would argue that such a partner has never existed and that is even more true today. Naturally, groups and individual Arabs have been open to the prospect of peaceful co-existence with Jews (see, for example, King Feisal of Iraq), but the roll-call of independent and courageous Muslims have always been outnumbered and overwhelmed by the extremists in their midst. The Grand Mufti and enthusiastic Nazi, Haj Amin al-Husseini, for the decades from the 1920s to the war of 1948 ensured that no possible rapprochement between Jews and Arabs was possible. Since then the three no’s at Khartoum in 1967, Arafat’s corrupt and malevolent anti-Zionism and the unremitting rhetoric of annihilation from Iran, Syria and a whole host of extremist groups in Lebanon, Gaza, Egypt and elsewhere has been a constant backdrop to the Arab-Jewish relationship.
The supposedly moderate but Holocaust-denying Abbas has never undertaken a single step required to reassure the Israelis that he constitutes anything other than another maximalist Palestinian leader. All peace offers initiated by Israel or the West have ended in failure. He consistently refuses to recognise Israel as a Jewish state or the legitimacy of Jewish historical associations with Jerusalem or the land, or stop anti-Israel incitement, or end the rhetoric of unremitting struggle and glorification of martyrdom or refute the right of return. His recent diplomatic adventures and attempts to seek peaceful co-existence with Hamas further highlight the fantasy of a peace partner.
The idea that unilateral concessions by Israel will not be correctly interpreted as weakness in the face of “global opinion” and pressure from the Jewish left is wishful fantasy; as is the belief that this will elicit moderation rather than escalating demands.
On the contrary, such evidence of Israeli weakness will undermine the tiny but possibly important, in the longer term, principled and progressive segment of Muslim society while strengthening the extremists in the Middle East and the virulent activists in the West. It will also demoralise the Zionist community and reinforce appeasement as the operating strategy in Israel thus hastening the collapse of Zionist resolve.
- That even if rejected by Palestine, Israeli peace overtures will buy relief from Western activists and propagandists. This presupposes that current anti-Israel sentiment has its basis in rational assessment of conflicting Palestinian and Jewish narratives and actions and is thus amenable to actions on the part of Israel which will result in the re-calibration of current beliefs.
Of course it is nothing of the sort. It is in significant measure the result of a coldly calculated para-military strategy of delegitimisation, demoralisation and isolation using the “apartheid“ analogy as both model and metaphor. The objective is to weaken Israel on the economic, diplomatic and military fronts in order to render it helpless prior to capitulation and its annihilation. It is known now as the BDS strategy.
It is as offensive in intent as a rocket fired from Gaza and much more effective. Its success stems from the ruthless and effective use of every instrument of propaganda by skilled and well-funded activists aided by Israeli neglect and incompetence, the Zeitgeist of Western elites, the complicity of much of the Western media in the project of news selection and distortion and lingering Western guilt over past sins – real and imaginary. To a variable extent this fake narrative may also suit Western leaders with large Muslim populations and their commercial interests in Arab-Muslim oil and markets.
And let us not forget the role of Jews who have contributed in considerable measure to the success of this program.
Given these realities it is utterly naive to imagine that the activists and their backers who drive the BDS campaign will lapse into confused silence as the result of Israeli peace moves. On the contrary, expect a heightened international campaign to rubbish every Israeli initiative, to find new causes for affront and rejection and fresh examples of Israeli misdemeanours. Nor is it realistic to believe that the media will suddenly find the intelligence and courage to assert their own independence.
In reality, the BDS campaign will go into overdrive in response to Israeli overtures with the objective of blocking any swing in alleged global opinion and to ensure that the Palestinians themselves continue to raise the bar to the point of Israeli capitulation.
- That global public opinion is solidly anti-Israel and that pro-Israeli sentiment will be strengthened by Israeli concessions. Reality is more complex than the myth that a solid, anti-Israeli global consensus is about to be reached and that the only means of preventing it will be Israeli concessions.
International opinion is a rather complex mix of elite and leftist (and some rightwing) anti-Israelism, fear and dislike of Muslim extremism, outright anti-Islamic bigotry and also antisemitism, complex issues of self-interest and considerable confusion and disinterest. This more accurate and subtle understanding of public opinion, in place of the bogeyman of a universal anti-Zionism/antisemitism, allows for a much more effective and targeted response on the part of Israel and her supporters.
For instance, the following countermeasures would be more honourable and effective than panicky appeasement:
- A clear statement by Israeli leaders of their desire to live in peace with their neighbours, their absence of hostile intent and the history of repeated efforts to find peace on their part.
- This must be accompanied by an equally clear and unapologetic determination to protect Israeli lives, interests and honour.
- A full account of the repeated rejection by Palestinians of peace overtures based on a two-state outcome, the on-going use of terror and delegitimisation strategies under the umbrella of “resistance”, the continued cultivation of the politics of affront, struggle and martyrdom and the annihilationist rhetoric from extremist elements in the Arab-Muslim-Palestinian front – to name only some of the hostile tactics regularly used against Israel.
- An unambiguous indication that hostility will not be met appeasement and that if serious and productive negotiations towards a resolution fail to materialise soon that Israel will be compelled to take unilateral steps to ensure its own survival.
- Israel and Israeli supporters must not be reticent in pointing out the global threat posed by Islamic extremism and the problems resulting from the current convulsions in the Arab-Muslim world to reaching stability and security in the Middle East.
- Zionists must point to the repeated failures of appeasement in history and publicly state that Israel and Jews generally intend to live not only in safety but with honour, and that the two are inseparable.
To end, therefore, Israel and its supporters must find the words and moral clarity to reject appeasement as doomed both to disastrous failure and humiliation. We need to repeatedly emphasize that Israel is part of the Western community of nations but seeks to live in peace with its neighbours to their mutual benefit. We must utterly reject the demonisation narrative put out by professional propagandists and cryptic antisemites and demand that the media ceases from its systematic censorship and selective filtering of news and commentary.
Those of us in the Diaspora who see ourselves as part of the broad Zionist community must find the inner resources to defend Israel in these terms.
There are many substantive issues which have been sidestepped in this post which should be taken up in future. But I felt it was important to start the New Year with an emphasis on guiding principle. I believe that nations as well as individuals implicitly live by often unconscious values. If that is true, it is important to bring such values to the fore so that they can be examined and factored into the complex business of making choices in a demanding and dangerous world.
This post is an attempt to start that debate.