Prime Minister Netanyahu’s most important statement of government policy regarding the peace process came, as expected, during his appearance before a joint session of the U.S. Congress last week. To the assembled elected representatives of the American people, Bibi proposed three “pillars of peace” — which were received with more than a dozen ovations.
The first thing I thought as I heard our Prime Minister speak was: hey, I agree with most of this! Who wouldn’t? Probably ninety percent of what Bibi told the Representatives and Senators were things that every Israeli believes in, including members of the Opposition.
The three “pillars of peace” were “security, reciprocity and democracy” — and who could have any problem with those?
Unfortunately, most of the people watching and listening to Netanyahu thought they were hearing a speech in English — but the speech was actually written in Bibi-talk. In this article, I want to translate some of Bibi’s ideas back into plain English.
Because what was said in Washington, even if ninety percent of it was perfectly agreeable, reflected Bibi’s real views on the Middle East conflict and the peace process — and those are very dangerous views.
Netanyahu says that there can be no peace without security. And in saying that, he’s not saying anything different from what Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said. When Israel under the Labor government negotiated with Arafat and Assad, it made no security demands? Of course it did.
Israel demanded from the Palestinian Authority that it recognize Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorism as the enemy and that the Palestinian police cooperate with the Israeli security forces in the war against terror.
Israel demanded from Syria that it help restrain Hizbollah, and in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights (partial or total), that stringent security precautions be in place, including Israeli observation of Syrian troop movements, withdrawal of Syrian divisions to positions behind Damascus, U.S. troops in place in the demilitarized zone, and the like.
These long-standing Israeli demands do not constitute “peace with security”? Of course they do.
So what does Bibi mean when he says that the new government is going to pursue a new policy? In plain English, he means that the peace process itself is a threat to Israel’s security.
Bibi is not interested in getting the Palestinian Authority to do more in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalist terror. The previous government weighed carefully the actions of Arafat. When Arafat hesitated or did not do enough, Peres would slow down the peace process. When Arafat would do more, including arresting and trying Hamas terrorists, Peres would make concessions, such as releasing Palestinian prisoners.
Bibi doesn’t look at things this way. To him, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are not the enemies (potential or otherwise) of the Palestinian Authority. They are its secret allies. For several years now, he’s claimed that the terrorists act as a secret army employed by Arafat to put pressure on Israel.
So if you look at Palestinian terror that way, of course you don’t care what Arafat actually does.
To Bibi Netanyahu, all terror is state-sponsored terror, and there are no Arab states which are fighting terrorism. (It seems to me that states like Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the emerging Palestinian state, are all engaged in the same war we are, fighting fundamentalist terror. But Bibi doesn’t see things that way.)
Netanyahu repeated again and again his mantra that “more Israelis have been killed by terror” in the years since the signing of the Oslo accord than in the preceding ten years. He ignores the views of top Israeli military analysts who’ve been saying all along that Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation means a split in the Palestinian camp — and an intensification of terror by those Arabs who fear and reject the peace process.
The same may also be said of the Israeli Jews, by the way. There have been more acts of extremist Jewish terror (the massacre in Hebron and Rabin’s assassination come to mind) since Oslo than before Oslo. Does that mean the peace process is wrong? I don’t think so.
Shimon Peres had the wisdom to see the peace process not as an alternative to security, but as part of security. Without a peace process, and ultimately without peace, Israel remains insecure.
Reciprocity is a two-way street.
For every Palestinian violation of the Oslo agreements noted by groups like Peace Watch, there’s an Israeli violation as well. And while the Palestinian Authority has excuses — and some of them pretty good excuses — for its inability to live up to certain aspects of the accord, Israel has no excuses.
Let me explain what I mean. Bibi is angry at the Palestinians for violations including:
* Not fully cancelling out the anti-Israel clauses of the Palestinian National Covenant.
* Not turning over to Israel terrorists who fled into Palestinian controlled territory after carrying out attacks in Israel.
But Arafat’s problem here is clear. He has to persuade the Palestinian leadership and people to do things which even a couple of years ago seemed unthinkable. The fact that the Palestinian security services cooperate on a daily basis with Israel’s General Security Service is a great success. But to get the Palestinians to change their Covenant or openly turn over their own people to the Jewish state for trial — that’s a process that takes time. Of course, Israel should not accept such Palestinian violations of the accord, and must put pressure on Arafat to live up to every word of that accord. But let’s also look at a couple of Israeli violations of Oslo:
* Not redeploying the IDF in Hebron.
* Not releasing all the Palestinian prisoners.
To redeploy the IDF doesn’t require a long and complicated process of reaching consensus, as has to happen with the Palestinian National Council. All the Israeli government has to do, is give the order. The same is true with Palestinian prisoners. By a stroke of the pen, Bibi can meet all of Israel’s obligations under Oslo — but this is not true of Arafat.
There’s a difference between reciprocity and symmetry. The decision-making process and the rule of law in Israel and Palestine are quite different things. Were Arafat the head of a stable and established republic, it would be easier to demand the strict and immediate implementation of every line of the Oslo accord. Because Israel itself is preventing Arafat from becoming the head of an independent Palestinian state, it can hardly attack him for not being strong enough.
In any event, Bibi looks at the whole issue of reciprocity as a way to torpedo the peace process. It’s a convenient excuse not to do the things that Bibi didn’t want to do anyway, like redeploy in Hebron.
Netanyahu says that without democracy and human rights in the Arab countries, there isn’t going to be any peace. And I have to admit, he’s right.
Nearly twenty years ago, I was writing articles making the very same point, and in fact, my first article in an Israeli publication, back in 1981, was entitled “Democracy: Key to Peace.” Because I really do agree with every word the Prime Minister said about this subject.
Until Arab regimes become stable, prosperous and democratic, there will be the threat of war hanging over Israel’s head. That’s why the most that can be achieved so long as Arab regimes remain unstable, poor and dictatorial, is an “end to the state of war.” A cold peace. A prolonged cease fire.
Leading lights among the Labor MKs, such as Haim Ramon, came down very hard on Bibi on this point. So did the daily voice of capital in this country, Ha’aretz. What concern of Israel’s is it, that there should be human rights in the Arab world?
Well, I agree with Bibi on this one. But — I think that the Prime Minister is ignoring two important points.
First, democracy in the Arab world is not a precondition for peace. Instead, we hope it will be the result of peace. An end to the state of war between the Arab countries and Israel, with its resultant economic boom, increased Middle Eastern ties to Europe and America, and open borders for products, tourism and ideas, will promote the democratic revolution in the Arab world we all long for.
But first, you end the state of war. Then, you create democracy. If Israel waits for Arab countries to become democratic before considering peace with them, it will wait forever.
There is a parallel, albeit not an exact one, in the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. The Communist world came apart not only as a result of Western military containment (which played an important role), but also because of the process of detente, which began in the 1970s. Billions of dollars of Western capital were invested in the Soviet bloc, which was increasingly integrated into the global capitalist economy. This investment (and the economic crisis it precipitated) was part of a general lowering of tensions and increases in tourism, trade and the free flow of ideas that brought the Iron Curtain crashing down.
If there is any lesson we in the Middle East can learn from the Cold War it is this: Israel must maintain its military strength while simultaneously lowering tensions in the region, opening up borders, and cutting out from under the feet of Arab dictators their reason for existence — the “Zionist threat”.
The second point Bibi didn’t talk about is Israel’s attitude toward repression and violations of human rights in the Arab countries — in the war against terror. It seems as if Bibi would want Arafat, for example, to use only legal means in his fight with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and not to use repression. But no one actually believes that the Israeli government thinks that way. Israel has no problem with Arab governments’ using torture in the war against terror. We don’t hear Israel condemning Arafat for closing down newspapers, or Egypt and Algeria for using barbaric methods in their wars against fundamentalism. On all these points, Israel follows the Washington line, which is: shut up about human rights when a Western ally is doing the violating.
The problem is that, in the long run, repression breeds resistance. As the Shah of Iran discovered, all the money in the world won’t stop an angry people that has been repressed for too long — and the result has been a nearly twenty-year long nightmare for the Iranians who dreamed of freedom. Arafat and Mubarak need to learn the Iranian lessons, and look for alternatives to repression in their war against Islamic fundamentalism.
The peace process is finished
Looking at Bibi’s speech most generously, we can say that it was filled with truisms and differed not at all from what Shimon Peres might have said. Parts of the speech that brought the Congressmen to their feet (like the declaration that Jerusalem will never be divided), were part and parcel of the Labor Party platform. The ideas of security and reciprocity were fundamental to the peace process that Rabin and Peres lead.
What was new and different was the meaning behind the words, the real message of Bibi’s visit to Washington, and it was this:
Israel is not interested in whether the Palestinian Authority fights terror because Israel believes that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are secretly working together with Arafat. Israel does not want real negotiations with the Palestinians over anything, because Israel demands the right of Jews to live anywhere in the “land of Israel” — just like Jews have the right to live anywhere in the world. (This statement, amazingly, also got a huge ovation from the Congress. Didn’t they understand what Bibi was telling them?) Israel will not negotiate over Jerusalem, which is its eternal and undivided capital. And Israel will not negotiate with the Syrians, because their regime is a dictatorial menace which cannot be trusted, and we will never, ever give up the Golan Heights.
Bibi could have said the whole thing in just five words:
The peace process is finished.