It happens all the time: pose a few real questions about the conventional thinking that the present peace process is a great thing, and people invariably begin to become uncomfortable. They usually have little to answer, except for wishful thinking. With the security of millions at Jews at stake, we must have the courage to have an honest conversation.
Is withdrawal from the West Bank a good idea? We tried this approach three times already. Israel signed the Oslo Accords and relinquished control of parts of the West Bank. Instead of peace, we had an Intifada. Israel abandoned southern Lebanon, Hezbollah took over, and we had war number one. Then Sharon made his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. A Hamas terror regime seized power. Jewish communities huddled in bomb shelters for years as the world showed indifference, and we had war number two.
Things are not getting much better. According to an extensive report in the New York Times, Hezbollah has emerged stronger than ever, rearmed, spoiling for another fight. Hamas in Gaza is trying to do the same, using flotillas from Turkey to break the embargo, so it too can import arms. In Lebanon the UN was supposed to prevent more weapons from reaching the border area, but all the UN does is sit and watch. When Israel tries to make a move to prevent ships coming to Gaza, the world erupts in condemnation.
Why will the West Bank be different? Will Abbas keep his shaky hold on power? Isn’t Hamas waiting in the wings to dethrone him and extend Iranian influence to Israel’s heartland? Will missiles target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem instead of the small border town of Sderot?
Who says Abbas is really such a good guy? Last month a Palestinian court ruled that if an Arab sells land to a Jew, his punishment is death. What has Abbas done to root out the hatred of Israel? In the classrooms of the Palestinian Authority, pictures of suicide bombers hang on the wall as heroes. Maps show a Palestinian country from the Jordanian River to the Mediterranean Sea, replacing Israel.
Three times Israel has made major concessions in the quest for peace. First were the Oslo accords that proved a dismal failure. Then was Lebanon and finally Gaza. In each case Israeli politicians and international leaders said, “This will usher in peace, and if there is problem we can turn the clock back, reenter Arab controlled areas, and defend yourselves.” Each concession has eroded the military and strategic positions of Israel. It has become more diplomatically vulnerable. Only now that Israel is weaker has there been an initiative for boycotts and political isolation. We had one Intifada and two wars as a direct result of the perception that Israel is exhausted from years of conflict. In each case, instead of the international community siding with Israel, it condemns it.
Time and again we have learned, withdrawing from territory undermines Israeli security. It did not bring peace. That will only come when the Arabs give up the dreams they are teaching their children in their schools.
The capitulation of Netanyahu to President Obama over settlements has pushed Arabs to be more demanding. For years they negotiated despite Jewish construction. Now they have learned Israel can be pushed around and is willing to give when it receives nothing in return. It has only emboldened them to demand more.
It’s time for Israel to change the tone of the conversation. As long as Palestinians do not recognize the right of Jews to live in their homeland. As long as they instruct their children that their goal is the destruction of Israel. As long as Arabs who sell homes to Jews receive capital punishment, there is nothing to talk about.
Let’s have the courage to be honest. We have withdrawn. Each time it has only brought more bloodshed. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org