Reportedly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been preparing to unveil new Israeli diplomatic initiatives – including the possibility of further territorial withdrawals from Judea and Samaria and even the recognition of a provisional Palestinian state – before last week’s bombshell announcement of a Hamas-Fatah rapprochement.
Even without this latest development, such concessions would have been the wrong moves at the wrong time, for a variety of reasons. Indeed, these initiatives are throwbacks to the unique Israeli policy of preemptive surrender that has been the bane of Israelis for almost two decades.
In the face of relentless intransigence from an enemy who refuses to negotiate, much less to concede anything, Israel’s prime ministers (since the Oslo process began) have felt a compelling need to bypass negotiations and gradually yield to their adversaries everything they seek. It was an error that led to thousands of deaths and injuries through terror and caused the downfall of the first Netanyahu government, and it is as bizarre as it sounds.
Certainly with the Arab world in turmoil, Israel should be focused on preparing to engage a new and changed neighborhood. While Westerners hope, perhaps naively, for the emergence of democratizing forces in the Arab world, it is as likely – if not more likely – that radical Islamic forces will seize control in several countries, including Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and perhaps even Syria.
And with Lebanon already in the throes of its own radical Muslims, Gaza tyrannized by a Hamas that is eager to expand its influence into Israel’s heartland, Europe finally responding to the Islamic onslaught that is overwhelming its culture and undermining its stability, and the United States reeling under economic woes that will dominate the coming presidential election campaign, the further weakening of Israel’s strategic posture serves no rational purpose.
In fact, Israel is currently an oasis of stability in a region that is erupting like a volcano. Even with the recent upswing in Arab terror, Israel’s military presence in the Arab cities of Judea and Samaria has effectively clamped down on the enemy’s violent tendencies. The security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority has also helped, though based on past results that might be a temporary and strategic lull that garners the Arabs plaudits, money, training and weaponry, all to be deployed, potentially, in a future conflict.
The Oslo debacle should have imparted several valuable lessons to Israel, among them: do not delegate your security to the enemy; concessions of whatever nature simply whet the appetite for more concessions; do not expect any concessions to win you favorable world publicity beyond one news cycle; and the maximum concessions one makes at any stage simply serve as the starting point for the next round of concessions.
Certainly the present uncertainty of the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty should give pause to those who would put their trust in pieces of paper signed by unelected autocrats with unclear futures.
The fear of the declaration of a Palestinian state in the fall is overblown, especially if Israel counters with unilateral actions of its own that put facts on the ground and strengthen its strategic position, and not that of the enemy. Israel has the stronger hand, and will have it for the foreseeable future; it just has to play it intelligently.
The secular mindset, however, persists in analyzing the conflict through a purely secular lens, and cannot even entertain, and certainly not embrace, the reality that the Middle East is roiling because of religious conflict (not a dispute over land and nationalism) and that Israel’s foes perceive the conflict as religious, and not secular, in nature.
Nonetheless, there are broader reasons why these “peace” efforts are so misguided. It is bad enough that Israel’s leaders are again considering the further surrender of the biblical heartland of Israel promised by God to our forefathers and their Jewish descendants for eternity. It is even worse that they endorse unthinkingly and uncritically the historical narrative advanced by their enemies.
For starters, try to name a “Palestinian” thinker from the 12th century, or a writer from the 13th century, or an artist from the 14th century, or a poet from the 15th century, or a builder from the 16th century, or a scholar from the 17th century, or a merchant from the 18th centuryor a judge from the 19th century. The Palestinians are a 20th century fabrication – and not even an early 20th century fabrication.
For much of the first half of the 20th century, the Jews of the land of Israel were derided by their neighbors as Palestinians, while the Arab inhabitants of the land had no national identity. Palestinian Arab nationalism arose simply as a counterweight to Jewish nationalism. Its sole objective was to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. As such, it is unsurprising that the “Palestinians” rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1947 – their goal was to thwart the Jewish state, which partition endorsed.
Seen from this perspective, it is even less surprising that after the 1948 War of Independence, there was no indigenous Palestinian national movement in the territories that fell under Arab control. Jordan annexed Judea and Samaria and Egypt annexed Gaza. There was no reason for either country to be solicitous of a Palestinian national movement – it did not exist, either in the world of politics or the world of ideas. When Golda Meir famously stated that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” she was right. But even she did not fully realize how right she was.
Rav Zvi Tau, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Hamor and one of the leading disciples of HaRav Zvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l, writes in his classic For the Faith of Our Times (Le’emunat Eetainu, Volume I) that today’s “Palestinians” are remarkably similar to their namesakes, the Philistines of biblical times. (Of course, there is no biological or historical relationship. It is ironic that the name “Palestine” was slapped onto the land of Israel by the conquering Romans in the second century CE in their effort to eradicate any Jewish presence in the land. The Palestinians have simply adopted the Roman legacy for their own purposes.)
Interestingly, they are not mentioned as one of the seventy nations that descended from Noach, though they do figure in that account (Genesis 10): “And Egypt begat Ludim, and Anamim and Patrusim and Casluchim whence the Philistines came forth ” All the other nations are designated by the phrase “yalad” – begat – whereas the Philistines “yatz’u misham” – came forth. What is the difference?
Rashi comments (10:14) that the Patrusim and Casluchim swapped wives – illicit even in the ancient world – and those relations spawned the Philistines. In other words, the Philistines did not have a normal identity or origin. They did not have to exist as a nation, and they had no place among the seventy nations. They had no real existence or culture, nor did they contribute anything to civilization. They had only one purpose – they were a pseudo-nation that existed only to challenge the Jewish right to the land of Israel.
Indeed, the Philistines fulfilled their role with a vengeance, challenging Abraham, Isaac, Joshua and the Judges, and the first Jewish monarch, King Saul, until they were vanquished by King David.
In effect, the Philistines were an obstruction to the national destiny of Israel, but they existed in order to enable David’s kingdom to flourish. As Rav Kook explained, every human development has to be coaxed into existence, including the sovereignty of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. To ensure that we remain focused on the national objective of Torah – building a model and moral state that is a beacon of God’s morality to mankind – we were provided with a nemesis to guarantee that Jewish national aspirations would never lose sight of the ultimate goal and squander our resources in frivolous endeavors.
Because of the Philistines, we were constantly under siege, and our national identity incessantly challenged. Once Jewish sovereignty was established and fully grounded, and reached its climax in the kingship of David and Solomon, the Philistines, their historical function complete, disappeared.
In that milieu, a Palestinian people arose – to goad us, to provoke us, to induce in our people a willingness to sacrifice for the land of Israel, one of God’s gifts to the Jewish people and one that is only acquired through suffering.
It is nearly twenty years since the Oslo futility (and more than sixty since Israel’s independence). The Palestinians have received billions of dollars in international aid – and have still not liquidated even one refugee camp. They still have no indicia of real nationhood and almost no industry except terror. They only came into the world when the Jewish national home was realized, and their entry onto the world stage was through airplane hijackings, kidnappings, threats, murder and terror, which they have since refined via the use of suicide bombers, lynchings and slitting the throats of infants sleeping in their cribs.
For all the glowing reports of world organizations, they are ill equipped for statehood but quite ready to continue their war against Israel from even better circumstances.
In the song of Ha‘azinu (Deuteronomy 32:21), Moses chastises the Jewish people – in God’s name – for their future disloyalty: “They provoked Me with a non-god (b‘lo el) so I shall provoke them with a non-people (b‘lo am).”
Israel is surrounded by nations that have identities and culture, some of short duration and others of longer duration, but within the borders of the land of Israel, the Jews are threatened by a group without any real national identity – a group that is not even seriously reckoned as a nation by other Arab countries.
From the moment we entered the land of Israel in Abraham’s time until the monarchy of David, the Philistines served their function as a divine rod to ensure we did not lose sight of the goals of the Jewish national home. Without bearing any historical or actual connection, it is nevertheless eerie that today’s Palestinians will never be satisfied with any Israeli concession and do not even deign to make a counteroffer in negotiations – when they even deign to negotiate. Their entire existence is as a counterweight to our aspirations; sadly, but for their intransigence, Israel likely would have surrendered all its vital interests long ago.
The Philistines tormented the Jewish inhabitants of the land of Israel, who nonetheless persevered and finally triumphed in David’s time through faith, courage, loyalty to Torah and recognition of the fundamentals of Jewish life.
It is illogical for Israel to contemplate new concessions that will destabilize its own polity at a time when the entire Middle East is racked with instability. From a political perspective, it is foolhardy to deflect the world’s attention from the revolutions in the Arab world by resurrecting the hoary myth that the fate of the Palestinians is critical to Mideast stability; clearly it is unrelated.
It is the height of imprudence to tread down a path that will lead to a retreat to the cease-fire lines in 1948, knowing full well that will only elicit more Arab terror designed to force an acceptance of the return of Arab refugees, a bi-national state, and the disappearance of the State of Israel.
But from a spiritual perspective, ignoring the nature of the enemy while accepting their narrative as real, substantive and equivalent to our claim, based on divine right, testifies to a faltering spirit and a lack of knowledge about Jewish history, identity and destiny.
If we think small, others think small things about us. If we want the world to perceive the conflict as an argument over a few acres of land, then we will always stand convicted as petty thieves who are persecuting a poor and deprived people after we threw them off their land. And in due course, Israel will be pressured to compromise even with Hamas, on grounds of “justice” and the tripe that “you can’t choose your enemies.”
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey. He is the author, most recently, of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.