by David Isaac, Shmuel Katz Blog
“here is good reason why the Israeli government should heed Defense Minister Barak’s advice and extend a settlement freeze. If nothing else, a freeze would prove that the obstacle to Middle East agreement isn’t the settlements … but the more basic refusal of the Palestinian leadership to accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty over any part of the land.” So writes Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Halevi believes that what the West wants, or even cares about, is Israel’s good behavior. In assuming this, he entirely misreads the West’s motives. Israel’s ability to prove that its pursuit of peace is genuine is irrelevant to the West’s calculations. Western policy, as Shmuel Katz writes, is “in fact governed by the principle of not ‘infuriating the Arabs,’ of appeasing and fawning upon them, of encouraging them to continue the flow of petrodollars …”
Put simply, the West is less interested in what Israel does than what the Saudis want. This policy principle expresses itself as Western pressure on Israel. In “Fruits of Myopia” (The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 14, 1980), Shmuel writes:
The policy of shrinking Israel has in itself … been a function of US political doctrine in … the perceived need to please and appease the Arabs. It has been pursued vigorously and relentlessly, and it remains the leitmotif of Washington’s policy to this day.
This approach has been there from the start. In “Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine” (Bantam Books, 1973), Shmuel writes:
At every critical phase in the conflict between Arabs and Israel, the pragmatic considerations have predominated. There is a heavy American economic stake in the oil of the Arab states. Already in 1948 it was described as the United States’ “greatest potential investment in a foreign country.” The spokesmen of the oil interests – warning of a non-existing Arab threat to cut off oil supplies – were largely influential in 1948 both in the American government’s formal withdrawal of support for the 1947 partition plan and in the United States’ subsequent pressure of the Zionist leaders to “postpone” the declaration of the Jewish state. It was those interests which, together with the British government (which supplied the Arabs with arms), achieved the imposition of an American embargo calculated to operate only against Israel. It is a matter of simple arithmetic that if in 1948 Israel’s birth and her survival had depended on the help of the United States, the country would not have come into existence at all. The declared Arab plan for a campaign of destruction of Jewish life in Palestine to rival those of the Mongol hordes and the Crusaders – that is, genocide – would then have gone into operation.
Fear that the Arabs might ‘turn off the oil tap’ isn’t the only motive that clouds the thinking of Western policy-makers. There is also the growing fear of Arab terror. As author Bat Ye’or writes in a recent column, the European Union has “wrapped itself in the flag of Palestinian justice, as though this would supply some protective system against the global jihad…” The West, she says, “grasps at the demise of tiny Israel as though at a lifebelt.”
A stark example of this type of behavior is the secret, ignoble deal in the 1970s, revealed only two years ago, that was made between the Italian government and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the PLO in which the two organizations agreed not to hit Italian targets in return for safe haven and free passage.
Western countries also have commercial interests to consider. They don’t want to upset Arab states, with their 350 million potential customers. And then there is continuing anti-Semitism. Shmuel, who was never a conspiracist, concluded that only that ancient hatred could explain American behavior in Jerusalem.
In “Moving the U.S. Embassy” (The Jerusalem Post, April 13, 1984), he wrote:
Indeed a close examination of U.S. policy since 1947 suggests that its willingness to go to absurd extremes against a Jewish sovereign presence in Jerusalem derives from a deeper passion. There can be little doubt that one of the strands of State Department doctrine on Jewish national restoration has been the historic “religious” prejudice, which cannot tolerate the notion of Jewish statehood at all and which recoils from the very idea of Jews actually ruling over the Holy City.
Oil interests and commercial greed, fear of the global jihad, and a sprinkling of some old-fashioned anti-Semitism – here are the motives that drive the West. Such “pragmatic considerations,” as Shmuel writes, determine the lions’ share of the West’s Mideast policy. The merits of such policies won’t be debated here. The point is that none require deep thinking about the justness of the respective sides in the Arab-Israel dispute, making what Israel does, in the end, beside the point.
This has not stopped Israelis, who continue to fall for Western rhetoric, (really the regurgitation of Arab propaganda) about Israel’s need to end the “occupation”, from believing therefore that Israel can show the West that, “no, it, too, genuinely seeks peace”. They would be wise to stop their ears, disabuse themselves of the misguided notion, and think clearly about what the West really cares about. Failure to do so will only lead to the same tragic policy mistakes that Israel has made in the past, perhaps the most egregious example being the actions of Israel’s leadership during the Yom Kippur War.
In “Reflections On A Resignation” (The Jerusalem Post, September 7, 1983), Shmuel describes what happened.
In that war, compounding the blunders of commission and omission in the defence establishment and the army before the war, the political leadership knowingly jeopardized the lives of hundreds of front-line soldiers. They declined to call up the reserves even when they knew that the Egyptians and the Syrians were poised for the attack, and refused to accede to Chief-of-Staff David Elazar’s appeal for a pre-emptive air-strike.
They took these decisions in order to demonstrate to the “world,” beyond any possible shadow of doubt, that it was the Arabs, with swords visibly unsheathed, and not an obviously unprepared Israel, who were the aggressors; and thus to win sympathy and support. The sacrifice they made met with a uniform European response: complete indifference. In Israel’s darkest hour during that war, Europe’s governments, with the exception of Portugal, refused to allow U.S. planes carrying supplies to the IDF to land in their territory, even for refueling. (Not to mention Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s statement after the war, justifying the Arab aggression.)
… grievous was the blunder of the Golda Meir government in paying a horrendous advance price to please a European morality which had long ceased to exist.
The Golda Meir government rested its decision on an absurd assumption – that what the West seeks is proof that Israel is in the right. Israel seems not to learn and continues to act on the dangerously false assumption that its actions are what drive Western attitudes. It freezes settlements, removes checkpoints, destroys thriving communities – each concession spawning new demands for still further concessions.
So long as Israel clings to its misunderstanding of Western motives, it will continue to sacrifice its sons, its sovereignty and its strength in vain.