Last month I joined the Rabbinical Congress of Peace delegation to Capitol Hill which attempted to explain to U.S. lawmakers the futility and danger of the “land for peace” formula that has become almost a religion in Israel and the world over.

For years now it has been assumed that if Israel makes concessions, it must be due to some form of American pressure. The truth of the matter, however, is that the U.S. does not deserve the blame. Israel does..

This phenomenon was in evidence, for example, immediately after the Six-Day War. I was a student in Israel at the time, and I remember how Israelis, religious and non-religious alike, saw the nation’s lightning victory as ‘the hand of G-d.’

In fact, the entire world was stunned by the prowess of the Israeli military. No one in his right mind thought for a second that Israel would give back land that was captured in a war instigated by the Arabs – land that the Bible clearly described as belonging to the Jews in the first place. Israel could have settled all of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip and no one would have said a word.

But instead, on June 19, 1967, only a few days after the end of the war, the Israeli cabinet adopted a resolution proclaiming that in return for peace Israel would withdraw from the Sinai. There was even some talk of relinquishing Judea and Samaria, but this was left out of the official resolution.

Who pressured Israel to adopt such a resolution? Nobody did. But it was that resolution that opened a crack in the door, which in due course led to U.S. pressure, Arab pressure, European pressure, UN pressure.

Since then, the idea that peace between Israel and the Arabs is synonymous with Israel’s withdrawal from Judea, Samaria and Gaza has been accorded the status of Indisputable Truth. The precise details of that withdrawal are always subject to negotiation, but everyone agrees that the basis for any real chance of ‘peace’ is for Israel to withdraw.

Menachem Begin cemented that notion in people’s minds by agreeing to give Egypt the entire Sinai. Nobody forced him to. Nobody forced him to give back any of the Sinai. Israel at the time was not threatened by Egypt, which was not capable of waging another war against the Jewish state. But from the moment Anwar Sadat arrived in Jerusalem, Israeli leaders lost their heads and overreacted.

Since the signing of the Begin-Sadat treaty in 1979, Egypt time and again has violated the letter and the spirit of the agreement. Egyptian diplomats routinely instigate anti-Israel resolutions in international forums, while state-run Egyptian media are filled with hate and venom directed toward Jews and Israel. And the Egyptian government turns a blind eye as tunnels are built – under the very territory turned over by Israel – through which explosives are smuggled for terrorists to kill more Jews.

But Israeli leaders never learn. In 1993 Yasir Arafat and his fellow terrorists were dying a slow death in Tunis. In the wake of their support for Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the dissolution of the Soviet Union the following year, the Palestinians had lost much of the sympathy of the Arab world, as well as the financial and diplomatic cover long provided by their Russian benefactors. But the government of Yitzhak Rabin decided that peace, and the possibility of a ‘new Middle East,’ could come about only if Arafat and his gunmen were rescued by Israel.

So Rabin brought the PLO back from Tunis to set up shop on Israel’s borders, turning over to them Gaza and a large swatch of Judea and Samaria, and arming the killers of Jews with thousands of rifles and machine guns. It was a decision that would cost Israel more than 1,400 lives (and counting) over the ensuing years.

Who pressured Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres to bring back Arafat and his terrorists? Nobody did. 

But at least at this point Israel’s leaders have seen the folly of their ways, right? Wrong. Now comes Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan – the latest variation of the ineffective, indeed suicidal, “land for peace” formula.. 

Who is forcing Sharon to do it? Not only is nobody forcing him to do it, but the man flies to Washington to persuade the Bush administration to accept it.

From what we saw and heard in Washington, Israel’s best friends on Capitol Hill can’t understand why Sharon is capitulating to terror. I don’t think there has ever been as much support for Israel on Capitol Hill as there is now. It’s difficult to remember a time when an administration viewed Israel with as much sympathy and understanding as this one does. 

During President Bush’s years in office Sharon had a golden opportunity to wage a determined and sustained war against terror; instead, he went after Palestinian terror groups in fits and starts.

“Someone on your side failed big when it came to understanding the administration and Congress in Washington,” one congressman told us. “You missed a rare opportunity to leverage the centers of support in post-9/11 America,” said another.

What was particularly strange was listening to U.S. lawmakers as they tried to persuade us that Sharon was making a mistake by withdrawing from Gaza and agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The recurring message from Israel’s most consistent friends in Congress went something like this: For decades Israel – at least the Israel of the Six-Day War, of the Entebbe rescue, of the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor – provided a shining example of how to fight terror and stand up to enemies. Now, sadly, it has become a paradigm of surrender to terror and pressure.

It is impossible to understand Sharon, the leaders we met in Washington told us. After three years of blood-soaked terror, to declare concessions without anything tangible in return? To promote a unilateral withdrawal, which means rewarding the terror groups, without any political or security compensation?

“We fought for Israel here in America,” was how one representative put it, “and you in Israel surrendered. You don’t have any more red lines.”

Our friends in Washington feel that the Israeli officials in close contact with the Bush administration are novices who do not understand the system, who neglect the Washington power bases friendly to Israel.

“Israelis come to the U.S., to an administration waging war against terror, and speak of the fatigue of the Israeli public, of the need for unilateral concessions,” said a congressman from the Midwest. “Instead of forcefully demanding what Israel deserves, they knuckle under to Palestinian demands.”

Never, say these friends of Israel on Capitol Hill, has an Israeli government been so efficient at pulling the rug out from under the feet of its supporters and strengthening its opponents in the U.S. 

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