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The Price Israel Is Paying

Real Base of Security

The real problems of Israel’s security continue to exist and we must face them. We know that in the long run Israel’s military superiority over the Arabs is based on the educational, intellectual, and spiritual quality of her people and the degree of their identification with the country and its aspirations. It is based on the feeling of real community among the citizens, on the well-being of its populace, and on the conviction that the future will be meaningful to all. That was the secret of the past success of the Haganah and Israel’s army, and will remain so in the future. If the government will not apply its time and energies to the basic problems of Israeli society there will be a radical change in that society for the worse. The community will disintegrate into heterogeneous elements and will cease to identify itself with the country and its security. Its intellectual, moral, and educational standards will deteriorate and, with it, the spirit of citizenship and the willingness of the people to fight for the community.

Israeli society is today, in its ethnic-cultural composition, one of the most complicated communities in the world. The dangers inherent in such a community are the unavoidable results of the unprecedented effort to take in groups from the outside in a short time and in larger proportionate numbers than in the original absorbing society.

A society that takes upon itself the responsibilities of such historic daring must perforce invest all its creative, intellectual, moral, and economic resources in the absorption of this new community, and cannot leave the solutions and outcome to the unregulated and automatic process of economic, demographic, and technological developments. If it fails to do so, and allows events to take their course, without planning and regulation, it is creating with its own hands powers that will undermine it.

There is no dearth of signs that such a process is underway: growth of poverty areas, underprivileged regions, a growing class stratification, gaps in educational standards and levels of income—the creation, in short, of a class which controls the resources of society and of a class, largely composed of immigrants from the Arab countries, which feels deprived. When this division coincides with an ethnic and cultural pattern, it creates grave dangers to the integrity and the solidarity of Israeli society. Such a society will inevitably become weakened and divided, and the qualities that enabled it in the past to prevail against a hostile environment may fail it in the future.

One sometimes gets the impression that the government and civic leaders are oblivious to these processes and cannot evaluate their true extent or face the problems inherent in them. These leaders evaluate the situation according to their own origin and past, in moralistic and ideological stereotypes, which had definite meaning and usefulness in the pioneering society of the pre-state period, but which have lost their operative meaning, not only for the present society but also for the leadership itself.

This group, having been in a position of power and leadership for the last fifty years, having matured together and lived their lives in a closed circle, is unable to understand the new realities and problems of present-day Israeli society, or is afraid to face them. It is easier, therefore, to escape by doing the obvious and assuming those national duties and policies that correspond to their education and understanding: chiefly maintaining national security and unity, encouraging immigration and new settlements, and fostering national sentiments and rhetoric. Concerning all other questions they live from hand to mouth and solve the problems that arise only by improvisation and stopgaps. By their insistence on the status quo and their incapacity to face the consequences of their policies the leaders have burdened the new state with a million Palestinian Arabs in the occupied territories. Subjected against their will to Israeli rule, they will create problems that Israel cannot solve or survive unless it changes completely its structure, purpose, and mentality.

For these very reasons the government is unable to analyze or even formulate the basic problem of Israel’s security. This problem does not consist in the number of added kilometers needed by Israel in order to improve the old borders by annexation and new security settlements but rather in guarding and fostering the human, moral, and intellectual potentials of the Israeli society.

This problem can be solved only in times of peace and not of war. To this end the government should have mobilized all its efforts and wisdom and waged two campaigns: to attain a real and stable peace and to assure its existence. However, the government concentrates its activities on keeping the status quo. Its foreign policy is built on short-sighted opportunism and manipulation of international situations which are called by many “shrewd realism” or “realpolitik.” This is the kind of diplomacy that has brought the world, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to the threshold of self-destruction through unceasing wars and confrontations, with unceasing violence, on all sides.

Surrender to Big Powers

Until last month the present policy of maintaining the status quo made use of the ongoing conflict of the super-powers: their competition for influence and dominance in the area and the balance of force and threat which each side seeks in order to avoid confrontation while maintaining its hold on the region.

Thus each side supported its own party to the conflict—Russia the Arab countries, and the United States, not always wholeheartedly, Israel. There is little doubt that it was originally Russia that for its own purposes supported the Arab states in their relentless hostility toward Israel and fanned the conflict until war broke out in June, 1967. Israel’s victory threatening Russia’s hold on the region only confirmed the USSR’s resolve to continue support of Arab intransigence toward Israel and Arab unwillingness to come to terms with Israel on the basis of coexistence and peace. The military superiority of Israel and the support she received from the US against the threat of direct Russian intervention defeated all Arab-Russian attempts to compel Israel to retreat from the cease-fire lines without a peace settlement. It created a military and political impasse which first compelled, and then enabled, Israel to hold on to the occupied territories. Exploiting the superiority of the Israeli-American position as compared with the basic weakness of the other side, Israel has increasingly directed its policy toward maintaining the status quo indefinitely.

This policy, based on the continuation of the existing power struggle, lives on the passing crises, on the ups and downs of the games of diplomacy, with their ever-changing patterns of advance and retreat. Such policies have no long-range plans since the aims contradict the basic interests of the other countries in the region. An example of this crisis play is provided by the recent struggle between the superpowers in the India-Pakistan conflict. There is no doubt that the full support that the United States has recently given Israel has come as a result of the “lesson” she learned from the war on the Indian subcontinent. This policy made Israel, by her own choice, a client of the United States and strengthened the same tendency in Egypt. Thus it furthered the trend to turn the whole region into a center of intercontinental power competition and destroyed all chances that the countries concerned in the Israeli-Arab conflict would be able to determine their own policies. This policy increased the instability in the region and the regimes of the Arab countries and at the same time strengthened the frustration and hatred in the Arab camp.

Yet while the impasse created in the Middle East tended to strengthen the Israeli-American position, it created, as recent events in Egypt and other Arab countries are proving, a growing tension between Russia and the Arab countries and a fundamental reconsideration of the situation by both sides. The inability and unwillingness of the Soviet Union to support a war of revenge and to retrieve by force the lost territories compelled the leadership of Jordan and Egypt to search for political solutions which included even the possibility of a peace settlement with Israel. Such attempts were hardly ever made wholeheartedly and remained equivocal, ambivalent, and sporadic. Yet such tendencies could have been strengthened tremendously if Israel would have initiated from the beginning a courageous, generous peace policy, not conditioned on territorial changes but on practical provisions for real guarantees to maintain the peace in the area once a plan had been worked out and defined by treaty.

There is of course no guarantee that such a policy would have been accepted by the other side or carried out in good faith. Such questions can only be answered as we reach the stage of negotiation and during the negotiations themselves. It would be the true measure of Israel’s statesmanship to test the good will and reliability of the other side and to work out such proposals as would give both sides a secure sense that agreements once reached would be kept.

The government of Israel did nothing to encourage those Arab leaders and governments that at certain moments were courageous enough to offer political solutions based on recognition of Israel and a peace settlement with her. Such was the case in February, 1971, when Sadat announced his readiness to sign a peace treaty with Israel, while Israel refused to answer Dr. Jarring’s letter. Such was the case when Israel posed conditions for opening the Suez Canal which obviously could not be accepted by the other side.

Israel always defended her positions in a way that would make it more difficult, not easier, for the other side to continue the effort to find a political solution. Taking full advantage of the fact that the Arab countries have been prisoners of their own rhetoric of hate against Israel and that their policies are far more irresponsible toward their own societies than toward Israel, Israel’s leaders found it easy to rely on the vicious circles which the Arab states created in relation to the Israeli-Arab conflict. From the beginning, this policy has been formulated so that it could be applied to alternative possibilities: either that the other side would accept Israel’s conditions—that is to say, start negotiations without prior commitments regarding the permanent borders of Israel; or that the deadlock would permit the continuation of the present territorial situation.

In this limited view, the policy has been totally successful. Yet the price of this success has been exorbitantly high—for the cost has been the renunciation of a long-range vision, both of our future in the Middle East and of the future development of our society.

Israel’s true interest should have been to bring about a maximum disengagement of the region from the influence of the big powers, which would help the Arabs to free themselves from the Russian penetration, and to achieve stability in their own countries and societies. Israel’s interest should be to eschew the attempt to drag the big powers into their struggle with the Arab world, or to be dragged by them into their struggle, and to use the help of the powers to reach a peace settlement.

Recent events may have created a new and decisive chance of reaching these aims and initiating a systematic diplomacy for peace. The apparent split in the Arab-Russian alliance and the enforced evacuation of Soviet advisers could represent a turning point for the Israeli-Arab conflict if Israel were willing to seize this opportunity for constructive statesmanship. It could then claim that it was because of its political strategy, followed since the Six Day War, that that Soviet-Arab alliance was broken up and that the Arab countries were compelled to face squarely the real issues between them and Israel. The realization of such possibilities depend, if not exclusively then at least greatly, on a determined effort by Israel to reach a peace without annexation and to renounce its policy of maintaining the status quo.

No Substitute for Peace

It is of essential importance for Israel, as for other nations, to increase stability in the world, to ease the tension among nations, and to encourage the forces that are capable of bringing peace and unity to the world. Israel’s most urgent need is to do so in the region in which she lives and in which her future must be built. We live today in a steadily shrinking world, where the interdependence of all is growing.

Every country that bases its policies on continued strife among nations contradicts the real interests of mankind and of itself by helping to divert the attention of people from the real problems which all nations face. To fight hunger, poverty, ignorance, and violence. To save the biosphere—the biological and atmospheric environment which maintains life on earth—from the pollution and the self-destruction of our civilization. To tackle the problems of overpopulation, which shortly will threaten the very existence of humanity, and to discover and produce, and preserve, new resources for its existence. To adjust the patterns of society and industrial life to the revolutionary powers of a technological age so that man will be able to rule these powers and not be destroyed by them. To foster a spirit of understanding, rationality, love of peace and life, in order to fight the tendency toward private, social, and international violence and strife.

These are not the fair words of a Sunday sermon or an exercise in utopian fantasy but rather an urgent program for the continued existence of mankind. Well-founded scientific estimates have given mankind a very short time in which to prevent physical self-destruction by an unrestrained technology, by exploitation and wasteful uses of its natural resources, by polluting the biosphere, and by natural increase.

These are immediate and urgent problems for Israel, as for all other nations. If Israel, with her high scientific and intellectual potential, were free to employ her energies to the solution of these problems, she would discover anew the soul and spirit which have motivated her in the past. For the true intent of the Zionist and pioneering movement was to create and build life in the spirit of a great human vision and not with the heat of a nationalistic fanaticism, which feeds on spiritual, moral, and emotional isolation.

The Status Quo: A Wrong Choice

The continuation of the status quo has not been forced upon us. Instead of insisting on negotiating for the quality of peace, for exact guarantees to preserve a peace agreement, for ways to demilitarize the evacuated territories, we have insisted on negotiating the quantity of border changes. For the sake of annexation of the territories we occupy we are sacrificing, unintentionally, our true security, the quality of our society, our free progressive spirit, our internal integrity and unity, and economic, social, and spiritual well-being.


An Exchange on Zionism November 30, 1972

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