By Barry Rubin
Just to make the situation completely clear let me be very explicit: In the 1980s and in 1993 at the time of the Oslo agreement many Israelis argued that because Israel was more secure it could take risks and make concessions to try to achieve peace. A number of specific steps, including Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, were based on this same stance. Israel could pull out of the Gaza Strip, uproot all of the settlements there, and not suffer any decline in security. That's the historic argument: the more secure Israel was, the more it could offer the Palestinians in the hope that they would make peace. Is that clear?
When a country becomes less secure it must increase its ability to protect itself, including by retaining territory useful for that defense, spending more on military equipment, and not making concessions and taking risks. The only exception is that if people feel certain that such concessions and risks would definitely bring a full response from the other side and thus lead to a secure and lasting peace.
Now even leaving aside the Palestinian Authority's intransigence and desire--clearly visible for the last twelve years--to avoid a compromise two-state solution, Israel also faces the following new regional features:
--Hamas, which constantly attacks Israel and would continue to do so (indeed escalate attacks) if Israel did reach an agreement with the PA.
--An Islamist Egypt whose ruling Muslim Brotherhood group daily speaks of genocide against Israel and Jews, plus not accepting the 30-year-old peace treaty, not to mention the even more extreme Salafists.
--An Islamist-ruled Lebanon, where Hizballah, the ruling group, constantly threatens to attack and also daily calls for Israel's extinction.
--A hostile Turkey whose rulers support Hamas and Hizballah.
--A Syria where radical Islamists seem poised to gain power. They cannot possibly be more anti-Israel than the current regime but they are willing to make the anti-Israel war a higher priority for direct action.
So this is an era where Israel clearly needs to defend itself. Compare this to the early 1990s. Saddam Hussein had been defeated in the 1991 war; the radical Arabs main ally, the USSR, had fallen; America was the sole superpower; the PLO was so weak and depressed that it seemed conceivable it might be pushed into peace because it had no other alternative (in contrast to the contemporary Palestinian Authority which just got recognition as a state and is feeling very confident); and other factors.
That was a moment when Israel could take risks and did so with the Oslo Agreement. And yet, of course, we know--like it or not--that this "peace process" made things worse, another lesson not processed by the hegemonic political forces in much of the West today.
So how do we get from here to demands that Israel must keep doing what has failed and the claim that the weaker is Israel's strategic position the more it can and should make concessions and take risks? Such a stance is just about equivalent to saying that it is a pity that U.S. counterterrorism measures are working because if there were more September 11 type attacks that succeeded the Americans would be nicer to Muslims. Or if the British air force had only not defeated the Luftwaffe perhaps Prime Minister Winston Churchill wouldn't have been so insulated from the need to make peace with the Axis.
Special categories are constantly created to bash Israel. Has the concept of "proportional response"--that if defending yourself you shouldn't do too much--ever been applied to anyone other than Israel? Can you imagine an American journalist writing an article suggesting that if only England got hiT harder by IRA terrorism it would treat the Irish better in Northern Ireland?
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And here is the speech by Hamas's leader to mark the organization's twenty-fifth anniversary. See for whom the Washington Post is suggesting that greater military success will lead to Middle East peace.
Regarding Friedman's article, here's a response from Dan Margalit.