May 2nd 2013

The Vision and the Fantasy

by Shlomo Ben Ami

Shlomo Ben Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Centre for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.

JERUSALEM – Israel, an audacious vision that came true, is now celebrating its 65th anniversary with a sense of well-deserved satisfaction at its extraordinary domestic achievements. In its relations with the outside world, however, the Jewish state still has a long way to go.

Historically, the Jewish experience in international relations has not been particularly edifying. A Jewish state has existed for only short periods in Judaism’s history, and it twice committed political suicide. The reasons were always the same: politico-religious fanaticism and the blunder of challenging the prevailing world powers – hence modern Zionism’s obsessive quest for a binding alliance with a superpower.

Ethnocentrism is bound to distort a people’s relations with the rest of the world, and Israel’s doctrine of power was drawn from the depths of Jewish experience, particularly the eternal, unforgiving hostility of a Gentile world. The role of the Holocaust as the constituent myth of the Zionist meta-narrative reinforced Israel’s tendency to face “the world,” an amorphous but imposing construct with which the Jews wage a dispute that cannot be resolved through the traditional tools of international relations. 

It was through Zionism, an essentially secular nationalist movement, that the Jews were returned to political action and developed the necessary diplomatic tools. But, while early Zionism was blessed with pragmatism and diplomatic savoir-faire, the preponderance of the military ethos of the nation in arms has relegated Zionism’s extraordinary foreign-policy achievements to a remote corner of Israelis’ collective memory.

A crucial moment in the history of Israel’s oscillation between diplomatic and military “activism” took place on the eve of the 1967 war. That crossroads exposed a deep cleavage between the young, self-confident Israeli-born generals, who were spiteful of the older generation’s “submissive” attitude, and the Diaspora-born politicians who, haunted by Holocaust memories and existentially fearful of international isolation, resisted making a break with the old politics of diplomatic Zionism.

The pragmatic wisdom of early Zionism is easily explained: in contrast to the anti-Semitic cliché about “Jewish power,” Zionism was the national movement of a weak people, decimated by oppression and genocide – a people that might face annihilation if it made the wrong choice at a moment of decision. Admittedly, the Zionist leaders never really abandoned wider territorial dreams; but they would never have considered delaying the establishment of the Jewish state for the sole reason that it would not have access to the Western Wall or the Temple Mount. The positive ethos of building a new society was supposed to compensate for the poverty of the territorial solution.

The 1967 war, however, represented an ominous watershed. Israel’s lightning victory recalls Hegel’s dictum about “the impotence of the winners.” Military victories are never final and definitive.

In 1980, in a famous open letter entitled “The Homeland Is in Danger,” the historian Jacob Talmon tried to share this simple lesson with Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Talmon criticized the Israeli right’s belief that one major “event” would radically and permanently change the situation in Israel’s favor, and he repudiated the “religious sanction” used to justify unrealistic policies in the Occupied Territories. He explained the Messianic illusions that were reborn with the Six-Day War as false compensation for the martyrdom of the Shoah. There was nothing mysterious about Israel’s victory, he claimed; it was the result of a simple concatenation of circumstances.

A small country like Israel, lacking a serious demographic foundation or favorable geopolitical conditions, could never perpetuate its presence in occupied territories, Talmon argued. Hence, the danger to Israel lay in the Sisyphean effort to subjugate the Palestinians. “Blind is the leader who does not see that a war of races is what lies ahead,” he wrote. 

Israel’s annexationist right would dismiss its “defeatist” detractors with the claim that the entire Zionist enterprise was an unrealistic dream that miraculously came true. In fact, Israel materialized because historical and political conditions favored it, and because Zionist diplomacy successfully navigated the international-relations challenges that it encountered.

But the victory of June 1967 was not a license for Israel to set utterly unrealistic objectives for itself. Not every fantasy is a vision. The ethos of Israel’s far right consists in its insistence on blurring this distinction.

The right’s fatalism about the chances of peace is a useless adviser in foreign policy. Political positions are not eternal; they are always susceptible to change. Nor is it true that nothing can sway the Arab world from its hostility to Israel. The Arabs might never accept the moral justice of Zionism, but, as the Arab Peace Initiative indicates, they would consider accepting the political legitimacy of a Jewish state.

Not even Israel’s staunchest allies will risk an indefinite confrontation with the entire international community by supporting Israel’s territorial ambitions. Reasonable border modifications are one thing; legitimizing a Jewish empire is quite another.

Indeed, international acquiescence to the situation created by Israel’s victory in 1967 proved to be extremely short-lived. When a war of salvation and survival turned into a war of conquest, occupation, and annexation, the international community recoiled and Israel went on the defensive. It has remained there ever since.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.
www.project-syndicate.org



Book Description

Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy by Shlomo Ben-Ami

June 4, 2007
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami was a key figure in the Camp David negotiations and many other rounds of peace talks, public and secret, with Palestinian and Arab officials. Here he offers an unflinching account of the Arab-Israeli conflict, informed by his firsthand knowledge of the major characters and events.

Clear-eyed and unsparing, Ben-Ami traces the twists and turns of the Middle East conflict and gives us behind-the-scenes accounts of the meetings in Oslo, Madrid, and Camp David. The author paints particularly trenchant portraits of key figures from Ben-Gurion to Bill Clinton. He is highly critical of both Ariel Sharon and the late Yasser Arafat, seeing Arafat's rejection of Clinton's peace plan as a crime against the Palestinian people. The author is also critical of President Bush's Middle East policy, which he calls "a presumptuous grand strategy." Along the way, Ben-Ami highlights the many blunders on both sides, describing for instance how the great victory of the Six Day War launched many Israelis on a misbegotten "messianic" dream of controlling all the Biblical Jewish lands, which only served to make the Palestinian problem much worse. In contrast, it has only been when Israel has suffered setbacks that it has made moves towards peace. The best hope for the region, he concludes, is to create an international mandate in the Palestinian territories that would lead to the implementation of Clinton's two-state peace parameters.

Scars of War, Wounds of Peace is a major work of history--with by far the most fair and balanced critique of Israel ever to come from one of its key officials. This paperback edition features a new Epilogue by the author featuring an analysis of the most recent events in the Israeli-Arab situation, from the disappearance of Ariel Sharon from public life to the emergence of Hamas and Israel's recent war against Hizballah. It is an absolute must-read for everyone who wants to understand the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict.



 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "