Talk is cheap. The right accuses the left of pursuing a fantasy, namely, that peace is possible. At the same time it suffers from what others consider a fantasy of its own, namely, that Israel can defy the World. While many on the right believe it is no fantasy and can be done, they represent a minority of Israelis only.
You can count the instances where Israeli prime ministers defied the US on the fingers of one hand. Ben Gurion’s declaration of Statehood is one such example, as was his refusal to withdraw in the ’48 war to the Partition line. He insisted instead on the Armistice lines. In part for his intransigence, he was punished with the creation of UNRWA. Eshkol’s decision to pre-empt the Six Day War and Begin’s courageous decisions to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, and to push on to Beirut in the first Lebanese War, were perhaps, others.
Begin, uncharacteristically gave up every inch of the Sinai, after much pressure and prodding. He even came to the conclusion that doing it was a good thing. The most important reason was that, Egypt, then Israel’s biggest Arab enemy, was prepared to break the Arab rejectionist front by making peace with Israel. This was considered a very big deal at the time.
Yitzhak Shamir was forced to participate in the Madrid Conference in 1991 and to negotiate indirectly with the PLO. He was also forced to put Jerusalem on the table. He may have given in because he desperately needed a US loan guarantee on a $10 billion line of credit in order to finance the aliya of close to one million Jews, or nearly-Jews, from Russia. There may have been pressures applied on him as well, as he was dealing with James Baker, who had no love for Jews.
It was due to the pressure and threats that he and by extension Israel was subject to, that Rabin, when he became Prime Minister, opted to by-pass the pressure and to secretly negotiate a deal directly with Arafat, the head of the PLO. What resulted was the Declaration of Principles in 1993 and the Interim Agreement in 1995, together known as the Oslo Accords. These agreements were favourable to Israel as US was not in a position to support the Palestinian position. That is not to say that it wasn’t a huge mistake to invite Arafat back into Judea and Samaria. It was.
After Rabin’s assassination, Benjamin Netanyahu narrowly defeated Shimon Peres for the job of Prime Minister. He based his campaign on his rejection of the Oslo Accords or, more accurately, on his demand for reciprocity before Israel acts on them. Within two years he betrayed his longstanding positions and signed the Wye Agreement in which he turned over control 40% of the territories to the PA as required by Oslo, without demanding reciprocity. Douglas Feith wrote “Wye and the Road to War” in Commentary magazine explaining the significance of the agreement.
It was a known fact that Pres Clinton had promised to release Jonathan Pollard but I doubt that this was why Netanyahu signed the agreement. He may have thought he had no choice but to continue the Oslo process even in the face of Arafat’s non-compliance. In any event, it contributed to his defeat at the hands of Ehud Barak in the elections one year later.
Due to a wave of devastating suicide bombings, Barak resigned in 2001 and Ariel Sharon, the noted war hero, replaced him as Prime Minister. For all his toughness and his defense of the settlement enterprise, expectations were that he would not succumb to pressure. His first task was to put an end to the killings and accordingly he announced:
“All of our efforts to attain a cease-fire have been torpedoed by the Palestinians. The fire did not cease, even for one day. The Cabinet has therefore instructed our security forces to take all necessary measures to bring full security to the citizens of Israel. We can rely only on ourselves. [The following sentence, significantly, was said in Hebrew only] And from this day forward, we will rely only on ourselves.”
But the thrust of Sharon’s remarks [here translated from Hebrew] were directed westward:
“We are currently in the midst of a complex and difficult diplomatic campaign. I turn to the western democracies, first and foremost the leader of the free world, the United States. Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938, when the enlightened democracies of Europe decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for the sake of a temporary, convenient solution. Don’t try to appease the Arabs at our expense. We will not accept this. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia.”
Some in Israel though Sharon’s remarks were over the top, but I for one, and I was not alone, was thrilled to read them. Reuven Koret wrote about the statement and what may have caused it:
“Israeli officials were uncharacteristically reticent to comment on Sharon’s remarks. Army Radio reported in the morning that they were unable to extract any quote from any government minister with whom they spoke.