By Shlomo Ben-Ami, Oxford University Press, 2/1/2006, 978-0195181586
Ben-Ami served as Foreign Minister during the failed Camp David Summit in 2000. He covers why it failed, but more importantly, explains the demographic problem and the roots of the Palestinian problem. He explains Eretz Israel within modern history – from the Yishuv onwards. The early history seems unbiased, but the later history seems tilted towards the Israeli Left’s view.
[p26] Ben. Gurion’s voice had always a special mearting and relevance, At a Zionist meeting in June 1938 he was as explicit as he could be: ‘I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see in it anything immoral.’ But he also knew that transfer would be possible only in the midst of war, not in ‘normal times’, What might be impossible in such times, he said, ‘is possible in revolutionary times’. The problem was, then, not moral, perhaps not even political; it was a function of timing, and this meant war.
[p39] The invasion by the Arab armies did not necessarily mean that the Jews now faced superior Arab forces. The invading Arab armies were ill prepared for batde, and poorly equipped; they suffered from a total lack of co-ordination and very low motivation. Moreover, flamboyant rhetoric apart, the Arab leaders did not send sufficient forces to Palestine as they needed the bulk of their armies to protect their regimes back home from popular revolution or military takeover. At practically every stage of the war, except during the first weeks of the Arab invasion until the first truce, Israel was able to put together forces far superior to those of its enemies. It was none other than Ben-Gurion himself who recognised in a meeting of the Israeli Cabinet by the end of the war (19 December 1948) that ‘this is not true’ that it was a war of the few against the many. ‘Though it sounds somewhat strange, we had then an army that was bigger than theirs: he acknowledged on another occasion.’ By the end of the war the formidable organisational capaciry of the Yishuv, sustained by a unifying Israeli ethos of self-sacrifice and ‘Bin Brerah’, that is, the notion that defeat was not an option, was responsible for an extraordinary military mobilisation of about 17 per cent of the Jewish population, almost 100,000 men and women in arms out of a population of 650,000.
But however right the ‘new historians’ of the 1948 war are in questioning Israel’s myth about the victory of ‘the few against the many’ - and as we just saw, the ‘old historiography’ was not entirely blind to this reality either - at the end of the day the Zionists won the war because they had an infinitely higher motivation than that of their enemies. The young conscripts of the incipient Jewish state knew that they and their families faced annihilation should they be defeated.
[p75] But Ben-Gurion’s was essentially a strategy of pre-emptive war. He took the bellicose rhetoric of the Arab leaders at face value and not only prepared for the inevitable war but also did not discard precipitating it, so that it could be conducted on Israel’s terms. He led an ‘activist’ line, one that assumed that sooner or later the Arab states would unite in a war aimed at wiping the State of Israel out of existence. To survive in such an unmerciful environment, Israel would have to be able constandy to deter and intimidate her neighbours. They must be brought to assimilate the notion that they had no chance in batde and that a strong Jewish state was there to stay.
[p77] The way to the 1956 war was preceded by Israel’s drive to deter her enemies and pre-empt real, and sometimes exaggerated, threats through a persistent policy of force and confrontation led by her military establishment. Not all were strictly military operations. Such was, for example, the case of the notorious ‘Affair’. Operations such as the fiasco of the Affair, or the hijacking of a Syrian civilian aircraft ordered by Lavon in order to force the Syrians to release five Israeli commandos that were arrested on 8 December 1954 while conducting an intelligence operation deep in Syrian territory, seriously compromised the already precarious international standing of the Jewish state. According to Sharett, in a candid speech in the Knesset on 17 January 1955, the dilemma was to be ‘a state of law’ or ‘a state of piracy’.
[p110] The immediate reasons that led to [the 1967] war can be detected in the chain of events as they developed from the moment that Nasser decided to deploy his army in Sinai in clear violation of the spirit of the post-1956 settlement. But on a deeper level the entire crisis was fed and fuelled by perceptions and fears, by Israel’s concern for her military hegemony as the basis of her existence in the midst of a hostile Arab world and by irrational Arab military moves, the reflection of the tragic gap in Arab behaviour between rhetoric and practice, between dreams and reality.
On the Israeli side, though always complaining of the backwardness of Arab societies as being the reason for their incapacity to make peace with Israel, there also existed a deep, and never really fully acknowledged, undercurrent of satisfaction at this state of affairs, and hence a hidden apprehension prevailed at the possibility that the Arab world might be reformed and modernised.
[p140] In formulating her policies and addressing rliplomatic initiatives, Golda Meir was flanked by a most powerful political triumvirate. Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon and Israel Galili - the last was the mastermind behind the Galili document that established the major guidelines for Israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank - were the most authentic representatives of the Zionist Labourite ethos of land, settlements and security. Like Ben-Gurion, they wanted to explore avenues for peace, but again as in his case, peace was not their strategic prioriry, which was that of developing and consolidating the Jewish state. At that point they failed to assume what another Labourite general with the same mental profile, Yitzhak Rabin, would not assimilate until twenty-five years later, namely that peace, even when generous and magnanimous in terms of territorial concessions, should be a central pillar of Israel’s security. They preferred still to rely on the traditional tools of the Zionist enterprise: land, water, Jewish immigration and military might.
[p327] We stand, then, at the end of the peace process as we have known it to date. From now on, our options will be between a violent and unilateral separation or disengagement, such as the one being led by Ariel Sharon, and a comptehensive peace plan that will be annexed to the road map and will lead to its practical imposition on the parties by an international peace coalition headed and led by the United States. I believe that this peace plan should follow the letter and spirit of the Clinton plan, and I have proposed that this be anchored in a special Security Council resolution that will view the plan as the authoritative international interpretation of Resolution 141 on the Palestinian issue. The Clinton Peace Parameters, a sensible and judicious point of equilibrium between the positions of the parties as they stood at the last stage of the negotiations in December 2000, provide the most advanced and precise set of principles upon which a reasonable compromise with overwhelming international legitimacy can be articulated. The ‘parameters’ do not contradict any of the principles laid down by the Saudi peace initiative that was later endorsed by the entire Arab League. The two platforms are not mutually exclusive; they are complementaty. Only when such a precise peace platform is established will the parties be able to develop a vested interest in securing an orderly transition to the final settlement. Clinton’s failure did not lie in the nature of his peace platform, but in the deficiencies of his international diplomacy. He was unable to rally the Arab governments to his peace enterprise, and he did not build a solid and effective international foundation to sustain and internationally legitimise his peace deal.