Unilateralism Only Led to a Political Vacuum and Violence

CALME Luminary Marcia Freedman originally wrote this piece for Brit Tzedek V’Shalom. 

The Second Lebanon War has only just ended and the Israeli public is already asking hard questions, starting with the reservists (young fathers, husbands) called up in the thousands to defend their country. Now a protest campaign is making its home in the Rose Garden, a small park not far from the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

Anyone who was in Israel in 1973 can see the parallels. Then, the protest movement was started by a single man, Motti Ashkenazi. Eventually, Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff David Elazar were unseated.

Ashkenazi was recently given an honored place at the Rose Garden, and the similarity of scene is eerie — two generations have gone by, but the issues have not changed much. Once again the military and the politicians are being challenged by the citizenry for a costly failure of vision.

When the dust of the 1973 Yom Kippur War settled, two things became clear: The army had grown arrogantly complacent after the swift victory in 1967’s Six Day War, and the failure of Golda Meir’s government to respond to peace feelers (the Rogers Plan) led directly to Egypt’s attempt to reclaim the Sinai by force.

Now a similar arrogance and complacency, together with the military burden of the occupation, left the IDF ill-prepared to fight a well-equipped, well-trained guerilla army. Worse, the military left the home front exposed — the Israeli civilian death toll was the highest in the nation’s history of wars.

The start of the more recent war is also traceable to Israel’s refusal to negotiate with the Palestinians. The power vacuum created by Ariel Sharon’s refusal to coordinate the Gaza disengagement with the Palestinian Authority led to political and economic chaos in Gaza, fertile soil for extremism. Moreover, Israel’s unilateralism left Palestinian moderates, such as President Mahmoud Abbas, with nothing to show for years of willingness to negotiate, allowing Hamas to claim the withdrawal as a victory for their tactics. The poor showing of moderates in the recent Palestinian elections is another consequence of unilateralism.

Had Sharon agreed to negotiate the terms of the Gaza withdrawal with the Palestinians, the current violence in Gaza could have been avoided, and, by extension would not have provided political cover for Hezbollah to provoke Israel into a war.

Both left and right agree that the Second Lebanon War, together with the military’s re-occupation of Gaza, demonstrate the failure of unilateralism. The right, however, would fight to the death to maintain the country’s hold on the territories, but the Second Lebanon War should refute this thinking. Israel’s enemies can afford to lose many wars; Israel cannot afford to lose even one. Not only the odds, but every force of history stands against the idea that Israel can survive by relying solely on its military. Even a stalemate, such as the outcome of the war with Hezbollah, is an enormous loss in military deterrent power, as well as home front morale.

Sheer common sense tells us that if military means alone cannot secure Israel’s survival, and unilateral policies quickly prove themselves bankrupt, there is only one option left: Negotiations and compromise — land for peace.

Why, one has to ask, does this practical wisdom elude Israel’s policy makers, generation after generation?

One answer is that each generation of Israelis is guided by the founding myths of Zionism. Israel has long been enthused by the image of newly incarnate Hebrew warriors defending their homeland. The lessons of the pogroms and Holocaust left a lasting impression: We must be able to defend ourselves. This understanding guides Israeli thinking so centrally that it has more than once blinded Israel’s people to the inherent limitations of all military solutions.

Clearly, the notion of a never-defeated military machine is a phantasm, and it is foundering now, just as it did in 1973. It will recover once again, but each blow to the military reveals more clearly that underneath the idea’s heroic shell, the social core grows ever more hollow, from generation to generation.

The more wars Israel takes on, the greater the chances it will lose one. Those who care about Israel’s survival should heed and support whatever voices of international peacemaking there are, whether or not they are yet heard by Israel’s leaders.

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Explore posts in the same categories: CALME Luminaries, Israel, Middle East, Middle East Peace, Palestinians

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