israel's appeasement habits

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Sally F. Zerker

    What is about us Jews that we have leaders who are ever so quick to appease their enemies? That's what I think Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is doing with unwarranted unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, in the context of the so-called road map peace plan, just as the late Yitzhak Rabin did with the Oslo accords.

    Appeasement was and is dangerous. I thought the 1938 Munich conference and British prime minister Neville Chamberlain taught us for all time the perils of appeasement. But apparently not for our Jewish leaders.

    Undoubtedly, that self-same menace was in action when Rabin, who never even asked the Palestinians to live up to their end of the Oslo agreement, consistently found excuses for their murderous acts of terror, and insisted that no matter what evil they perpetrated on the Israeli and Jewish people, their acts would not halt the "peace process." Now, Sharon is doing much the same, saying that terror doesn't end in a moment, letting the Palestinians regroup through a hudna, a supposed cease-fire that Muslim tradition teaches as a measure for deceiving enemies and strengthening themselves for the next round of war. Worse, he is actually releasing terrorists in response to the hudna when that is not even part of the road map.

    Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has openly declared that he has no intention of disarming and dismantling Palestinian terrorist organizations, even though he signed the road map with this essential provision. Yet despite this condemnable dismissal, the Israeli cabinet has conceded to the release of hundreds of proven terrorists.

    The question is, why? Why did Rabin and his leftist colleagues do what no other nation has ever done in history--that is, arm its enemies? I used to attribute this madness to the self-deception that was inseparable from leftist ideology. But I can no longer assign blame to leftist illusions, since I now see similar submissions made by the rightists under Sharon. So, what is the source of this Jewish sickness? Why is it that Israeli leaders still get weak in the knees when outside authorities come to court them?

    When I asked this question of Rabbi J. Benjamin Friedberg, rabbi emeritus of Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, he suggested that such acquiescent behaviour is due to an inapt quality of Jewish national leaders, that they still have the spirit of shtetl Yiddin. By that I take it, he means they are abnormally fearful of perceived external power, a fear that although it was realistic and justifiable in pre-statehood conditions, is exaggerated and unwarranted given Israel's current state power. The corollary of that understanding is that Israeli leaders have failed to appreciate what is appropriate exercise of state power and what is not. Shtetl Yiddin were indeed powerless, and their strategy of survival involved succumbing to those in powerful positions, but the current Israeli reality is far from that powerlessness.

    I don't disagree with this view, but I have another way of interpreting this appalling Jewish phenomenon. Some years ago I wrote an article in the Middle East Focus in which I took an academic's approach on the nature of Israeli leadership. The point I made then, following from the analytical method of the late, great Canadian scholar, Harold Innis, was that Jews had learned enormously successful techniques for survival without the foundation of a geographical base--what Innis called "time-biased characteristics." However, just coming out of 2,000 years of Jewish exile, they lacked a "space-biased balance"--that is, they lacked the essential understanding of the true nature of state power and its uses.

    I wrote the article just after Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. At the time, I had some hope, if not assured confidence, that actual, on-the-ground experience of statehood, through the exercises of diplomacy, through assessments of its own military strength in addition to that of its enemies, through the correct evaluation of the deep-rootedness of Palestinian terrorism, would allow this much needed space-bias balance to evolve and strengthen. Now I can see that my hopes were unfounded. Appeasement is the symptom of powerlessness, of Rabbi Friedberg's shtetl Yiddin, not of a politic reality.

    Of course, some would argue Israel is actually not a free agent to act in its own best interests, but rather is limited by its position as a client state of the United States. Hence, Israeli leaders have no choice but to bend to the will of their "master". Those who hold to this point of view are in fact asserting a condition of powerlessness for Israel not unlike that of the days of the shtetl Yiddin. I am not naive about Israel's dependency on the United States, but I still believe that Israel has a great deal more flexibility to act in accordance with its own interests than we can observe from the performed record of its leaders.

    As an example, let's just look at the demanded the Palestinians recently made, and to which the Sharon government conceded, to release Palestinian prisoners. Sharon could have presented several strong arguments to counter this demand by U.S. President George W. Bush instead of conceding. He could have argued, firstly, that this demand is not part of the road map but is a unilateral demand, upon which continuation of the hudna, which is temporary and strategic for Palestinian benefit, is based.

    Secondly, he could have argued that the Palestinians refuse to live up to the essential term of the road map, that is, the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure. And his third and most persuasive argument could have been that adding strength to Palestinian terrorist operations is against the interests of the United States.
    Appeasement is making concessions, and sacrificing your principles as a result, in order to soothe or satisfy others' appetite or prejudice. If one looks at the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is obvious that the Palestinian appetite and prejudice have not been placated by even the most desperate yielding on the part of Israel.

    Let's look back and examine the record. Palestinian appetite was not satiated by the United Nations partition plan in 1947, or by the handover of "every inch" of land that Sadat demanded, or by the recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organization by Rabin, or by the importation and arming of thousands of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasser Arafat's thugs from Tunis, or by the Oslo agreements' open access for Palestinians, or by former prime minister Benjamin Natanyahu's withdrawal from Hebron and the transfer of power over Hebron to the PA, or by the financial aid that Israel has made available to Arafat, or by whatever else you can conjure up from recent history.

    No good has come to Israel from all these risky undertakings. In fact, the contrary is true. The Palestinians still are training their young to kill and hate Jews, they persist in publishing maps of the land west of the Jordan River with no mention of Israel--maps that tell the tale of their true ambitions--and instead of their terrorist operations being dismantled, there is every expectation that they will be allowed to recoup from recent Israeli military measures that did indeed wound them.

    Most tragically, the number of terror victims in Israel, young and old, has been enhanced by these repeated concessions, particularly from the beginning of the Oslo appeasement until now. Nothing Sharon has said or done subsequent to the road map contrivance gives me comfort that he appreciates the dire consequences of such acts. This habit of appeasement by the leaders of Israel has inflicted immense harm on the country and its people in the past--on its security, its economy, its diplomacy--and it can do nothing but continue to exact a huge cost in the future.

    (Sally F. Zerker, a member of CIJR's Academic Council, is an economistand professor emeritus at York University.)
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