On Friday, Oct. 23, 1998, I sat in a London hotel room with Benzion Netanyahu, a world authority on Jewish history, as his son Binyamin, the prime minister of Israel, signed the Wye River accords. The professor, the patriarch of a family of hero sons, had been my guest lecturing to our students in Oxford on the Spanish Inquisition. It was clear that this famous defender of Greater Israel was pained by the prime minister’s actions in ceding land to Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and commented to me that, given the immense pressure from President Clinton, his son had no choice. Now, 11 years later, Binyamin Netanyahu is again prime minister and is under immense pressure, following his meetings with our president, to stop settlements and accede to a Palestinian state.
Truth regardless of consequences I first met Binyamin Netanyahu as Israel’s young deputy foreign minister when he accepted my invitation and electrified audiences of thousands of Oxford students, most of whom were openly hostile to him. Through that and future visits I discovered that Netanyahu is a Jew of immense pride and an orator of unequalled power. Contrary to the constant press billing of him as “a hardliner,” at Oxford he went out of his way to court the Arab and Jewish students who came to heckle him and managed to befriend more than a few. His message was consistent: The only hope for Middle East peace was Arab democratization. He cited the fact that in the history of the world no two democracies had ever gone to war against each other. If there was to be peace in the Middle East it would have to come not from Israel, a liberal democracy, making territorial concessions when it was already the size of a postage stamp, but from the Arab world liberating their citizens from political tyranny and from the Palestinians ceasing to teach their children that Israel is a cancer that must be eradicated.
So what changed at Wye? Well, with the sole exception of Yitzhak Shamir, every one of Israel’s most recent prime ministers has caved to incalculable American and international pressure to cede “land for peace.” In every instance the surrender was catastrophic, providing Israel with neither peace at home nor respect abroad. Menachem Begin allowed Jimmy Carter to bully him into the Camp David accords. Yet Carter today accuses Israel of apartheid and Egypt exports more anti-Semitism than almost any nation on Earth. The Oslo accords in particular, with its unleashing of unbridled terror, rank as the greatest self-inflicted wound by any nation in recent memory.
Does the world sympathize with Israel after all these concessions? Are you kidding? Israel is arguably the most despised nation on Earth, so hated that when the Iranian president says he’ll destroy it no other nation even has the decency to break off diplomatic relations. Netanyahu last week was reduced to supplicating the pope, whose Vatican enjoys full diplomatic relations with Iran, to condemn Ahmedinejad’s promise of another Holocaust.
Last June I watched candidate Obama address AIPAC and promise that he would get involved in the peace process “from the start of my administration.” But did that mean pressure on Israel from day one? This year I heard Rahm Emanuel say that the solution to Iran’s bellicosity lies in progress in Israel’s peace process with the Palestinians.
Come on, Rahm. Say it ain’t so. Surely you realize that it’s not Israeli intransigence that is responsible for the mess in the Middle East and that the fault lies with Arab leaders who have oppressed their people for more than half a century and have successfully scapegoated Israel as the source of Arab suffering.
And the only way around all this is for Netanyahu to marshal his considerable eloquence to resist American pressure to shrink Israel’s borders and put the focus back squarely where it belongs, on the need for the Arabs to demonstrate proper self-governance before a Palestinian state can even be contemplated.
He can begin by responding to Pope Benedict’s criticism of Israel’s security fence and recent war in Gaza. It’s a bit rich for a man who travels around in Fort-Knox-on-wheels to condemn Israel for taking similar action to protect its citizens. If Israel had Canada as a neighbor, it wouldn’t need a fence; just as if the pope only spoke to nuns, he would not need a traveling bunker. No doubt we Americans would prefer to forgo the intrusive security at our airports. But we submit to the inconveniences because we don’t take kindly to the sight of our citizens leaping from burning skyscrapers.
As for Gaza, the pope himself witnessed the demolished state of Berlin, Hamburg, and Dresden after World War II. But he would presumably not blame the demolition of Germany on the allies but on the German people who democratically elected a genocidal maniac as their leader and then dragged the world into history’s bloodiest war. He could have warned the residents of Gaza that in Hamas they similarly elected a terrorist organization, sworn to Israel’s destruction, as their leaders and that there are consequences to launching an incessant barrage of murderous rockets.
In our age some religious leaders make the mistake of believing that morality involves only love but never condemnation, an embrace of victims but never revulsion of their oppressors. My Christian brothers especially quote Jesus as saying, “Love your enemies,” as a teaching against hatred. Little do they focus on Jesus’ precision in saying “your enemies” rather than “God’s enemies.” Your enemy is the man who steals your parking space. God’s enemies are terrorists who murder His children.
Rather than perpetuating the myth of Arab victimhood, Western leaders, the pope included, should call on our Islamic brothers and sisters to restore Islam to its historical grandeur as a religion that once embraced the Jewish refugees of the Spanish Inquisition when they were expelled by Catholic princes who betrayed Christianity by preaching violence in God’s name.