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The Chamberlainization of Israeli politics

Through ongoing attrition by the Arabs and capitulation by the Jews, what once were unthinkable concessions have become perceived policy imperatives.


We regard the agreement signed last night... as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again... a British prime minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.

- Neville Chamberlain, 1938, in wake of signature of the Munich Agreement with Hitler

You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.

- Winston Churchill, 1938, in wake of signature of the Munich Agreement with Hitler

In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners... all are losers.... We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and goodwill... even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.

- Neville Chamberlain, 1938

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength... to wage war against a monstrous tyranny.... You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory; victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

- Winston Churchill, 1940

Since the late 1960s, following the sweeping military victory of the Six Day War, Israeli politics has been undergoing a malignant metamorphosis. Its progression was gradual, barely perceptible, until the early 1990s, when the metamorphosis mutated into a massive metastasis.


From vaunted virtue to vilified vice
The result has been a stunning sea-change, which has transformed the conduct of the political discourse, the substance of accepted/ acceptable political perceptions, and the assessment of existing/desired political outcomes, making them all virtually unrecognizable relative to those that prevailed decades ago.

The 1993 Oslo Accords, in which Israel agreed to accept the terrorist PLO as a legitimate negotiating partner, was a dramatic discontinuity in the evolution of Zionism.

Indeed, it soon saw a profound transformation of political processes in Israel, in which everything that came after it was qualitatively different - often diametrically opposed - to what came before.

As I noted in my column "Religion of retreat" (June 26, 2014): "Not only did the [Oslo process] grossly distort the founding ethos of Zionism, it inverted its essence and [reversed] the thrust of Zionism's fundamental principles. What was once vaunted as virtue became vilified as vice - and vice versa.

Thus, it ushered in the previously taboo of Palestinian statehood as an acceptable, even preferred, mainstream policy option.

To justify this ideo-intellectual somersault, its architects began spawning an approach - or rather, a syndrome - that elevated surrender of homeland and abandonment of kin as the loftiest of enlightened values, while denigrating any sign of assertive endorsement of Jewish identity or solidarity as "ethnocratic racism."

From defiant ‘David' to compliant ‘Goliath'
Now, almost a quarter-century after the fatal concoction of the noxious Oslowian brew that culminated in the so-called Declaration of Principles (aka Oslo I) on the White House lawn in September 1993, Israel is a vastly different place - not only in terms of outer physical appearance, but in terms of inner spiritual vigor. There appears to be an inverse relationship between the height and opulence of the myriad towering high-rises, springing up in cities all around the country, and the level of national pride and self-esteem Israel conducts itself with in the international arena.

Paradoxically, as the external signs of material success multiply, there seems to be a diminishing belief in the nation's ability to determine its destiny. The greater the economic prosperity and technological advancement, the less its apparent will to exercise its rights as a sovereign state.

Increasingly, Israel seems to see itself (and allows others to see it) less and less as a diminutive but daringly defiant "David," and more and more as a compliant "Goliath," susceptible to pressure, acquiescing to ever-more outrageous demands, plainly detrimental to its national interest, in a frantic effort to avoid appearing intransigent.

But of course, complying with such demands is inevitably counterproductive, for it only whets appetites for further and more far-reaching demands - and heightens impatient expectations that they be complied with, forthwith.

Slippery slope...
In the first volume of his epic series on the Second World War, Winston Churchill, traced the tragic chain of events the Chamberlain government's policy of appeasement had wrought just prior to the German invasion of Poland: "Look back and see what we had successively accepted or thrown away: a Germany disarmed by solemn treaty; a Germany rearmed in violation of a solemn treaty; air superiority or even air parity cast away; the Rhineland forcibly occupied and the Siegfried Line built or building; the Berlin- Rome Axis established; Austria devoured and digested by the Reich; Czechoslovakia deserted and ruined by the Munich Pact, its fortress line in German hands, its mighty arsenal of Skoda henceforward making munitions for the German armies... the services of 35 Czech divisions against the still unripened German Army cast away... all gone with the wind."

He lamented the folly and the inevitable consequences of this policy: "... if you will not fight when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival..." Sternly, he warned of the "wrong judgments formed by well-meaning and capable people," who, "however honorable their motives," would be "blameworthy before history" for facilitating the tragedy he correctly foresaw, resulting from their futile attempts to assuage dictators by accommodating their demands.

Pernicious parallel
Israeli political leaders would do well to heed the lesson to be learned from the catastrophic consequences that continued concession and capitulation culminated in, for a similar process has afflicted Israeli policy in its struggle to contend with its tyrannical Arab adversaries.

This pernicious parallel is thrown into stark relief by Yitzhak Rabin's final address to the Knesset (October 5, 1995), barely a month before his assassination. In the address, in which he sought parliamentary ratification of the Oslo II Agreement, he laid out his vision for the permanent agreement with the Palestinians.

Repudiating the now well-known Obama prescription, he asserted categorically, "We will not return to the June 4, 1967, lines."

Rejecting the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state, he declared: "The permanent solution will include a Palestinian entity which will be an entity which is less than a state."

Rabin then went on to detail some of "the main changes... which we envision and want in the permanent solution."

On Jerusalem: "First and foremost, a united Jerusalem, including both Ma'aleh Adumim and Givat Ze'ev - as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty."

On the Jordan Valley: "The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest sense of that term."

On settlements: "Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Betar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the Green Line prior to the Six Day War."

And perhaps most significantly: "The establishment of [new] blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the ones in Gush Katif" - the latter subsequently destroyed by Ariel Sharon's 2005 Gaza disengagement.

Once unthinkable concessions; today policy imperatives

As I have pointed out in previous columns (see for example, "A hijacked ‘heritage,'" October 17, 2013) in which I referred to this address, it is remarkable for a number reasons.

First, as mentioned, it was made just prior to his assassination, and as such was his last public prescription for a permanent resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians.

Moreover, not only was it delivered after he had been awarded the Nobel Peace prize and hailed internationally as a "valiant warrior for peace," it conveyed to the Israeli public the outcome they should expect at the culmination of the Oslo process. Finally, it should be recalled that, at the time, this Oslo-compliant position articulated by Rabin was considered a radical lurch leftward, entailing concessions not only unthinkable prior to his 1992 election, but totally incompatible with the platform he had presented to the voter.

Yet despite all this; despite fact that the Oslo formula as presented by Rabin was considered by much of the electorate as excessively - indeed, unacceptably - concessionary; despite the fact that it was only ratified in the Knesset by the vote of a soon-to-be convicted drug-smuggling fraudster (then- MK Gonen Segev), if, in the present political climate, it was embraced verbatim by Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, they would be dismissed as unreasonable, unrealistic rejectionists.

Thus, by an ongoing process of attrition by the Arabs on the one hand, and capitulation by the Jews on the other, what once were unthinkable concessions became perceived policy imperatives for any conceivable configuration of a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians.

Uselessness of unctuousness
Predictably, the Oslo-complicit concessions did little to advance the cause of peace or assuage Palestinian grievances. Far-reaching offers, acquiescing to virtually all Palestinians demands, by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert were rejected or ignored, only precipitating more violent conflagrations.

Further conciliatory gestures by Netanyahu - his acceptance of Palestinian statehood, the construction freeze in Judea-Samaria, the unrequited release of convicted terrorists - were to no avail - either in advancing substantive accords with the Palestinians or in obviating his image as a rejectionist with the international community.

Last week, The Jerusalem Post's Sarah Honig, with her usual eloquence and perceptiveness, provided a scathing indictment of the self-obstructive - even self-destructive - obsequiousness that has taken hold of many in the Israeli political establishment, willing to imperil themselves, their people and their country, in a desperate endeavor to avoid angering others.

Focusing on the domestic censure of Netanyahu's acceptance of the offer to address a joint session of Congress to convey his grave misgivings as to the dangers entailed in the emerging agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, she commented bitterly: "You can take the Jew out of the Diaspora, but not all the Diaspora out of all Jews. Israel's Left and its media mouthpieces are prime examples.

To hear them, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unpardonably angered the nobleman from the Oval Office. It was Netanyahu's duty to obediently... self-destruct to appease his boss."

It seems Chamberlain is alive and well in influential political circles in Israel.

Selling surrender as strategy
Astonishingly, undeterred by Arab intransigence, the Israeli adherents of the Chamberlainesque policy of political appeasement and territorial withdrawal have now come up with an even more radical proposal in their obsessive and futile pursuit of an unattainable peace accord.

Although many on the Israeli Left have despaired of reaching such an accord through bilateral contacts with the Palestinians, they have now embraced a new and more perilous paradigm - originally named the Saudi Peace Plan, now known as the Arab Peace Initiative.

The initiative is, in effect, a document of surrender to the Arabs, which in erases all the accomplishments of the 1967 Six Day War and even some of the 1948 War of Independence.

It contravenes every single element of Rabin's previously cited prescription. It demands: (a) Israel return to the 1967 lines - with or without insignificant land swaps (b) the division of Jerusalem, (c) the evacuation of the Golan, and (d) a "just settlement" of the Palestinian refugee "problem."

In short, it is a transparent blueprint for the staged annihilation of the Jewish state, which makes the fact that almost 200 senior security experts have embraced it - together with the ridiculous notion of a "regional solution" - as a "strategic initiative," all the more distressing. But more on the Arab Peace Initiative and the "regional solution" in coming weeks.

Historians will be baffled
Allow me to conclude with one more excerpt from Churchill. He warned that "if mortal catastrophe should overtake the British Nation and the British Empire, historians a thousand years hence will still be baffled by the mystery of our affairs. They will never understand how it was that a victorious nation, with everything in hand, suffered themselves to be brought low, and to cast away all that they had gained by measureless sacrifice and absolute victory."

The same goes for Israel.

Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (


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