History has spoken--will we listen?
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 27, 2000
Rarely does history render a final verdict on the great issues of past.
Still it would be hard to find any takers today for a debate on whether Israel should have allied in the 50s with the Soviet bloc or with the United States, even though that issue once tore apart the Israeli kibbutz movement.
On those infrequent occasions when subsequent events settle an issue what happens to those proven wrong? After Stalin’s doctors’ plot was revealed and the Soviet Union had become the principal arms supplier of all the Arab countries bent on our destruction, did those who had seen Stalin as the great father figure beg forgiveness from all the friends and colleagues with whom they had ceased speaking? Or did they find new ways to justify themselves?
Today history is rendering an equally definitive judgment on the central question that has convulsed Israelis for the last seven years: Do the Palestinians seek the destruction of Israel or have they made a historical decision to live in peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state? And once again, once wonders how those who plighted their troth to the wrong side in that debate will deal with their past illusions.
It would be hard to overstate the trauma of the last month on those who had convinced themselves that peace in our times was close at hand. In the October 10 edition of The Jerusalem Report, lead columnist Hirsch Goodman confidently stated that peace had already been achieved, with only a few technical details to be worked out. The interpersonal relationships between Jews and Palestinians developed over the preceding seven years assured , according to Goodman, that another intifada was no longer a possibility.
By the time that column appeared another intifada was fully under way, trapping Jews both within and without the Green Line in their homes for days. Within days we witnessed two reservists literally pulled apart limb by limb by Palestinian mobs, and other mobs destroying Joseph’s Tomb and the ancient synagogue of Jericho with vicious glee. The army is now predicting cintinuation of the current fighting for the foreseeable future. Such is the chasm of perception Israelis have been forced to traverse in a matter of days.
The trauma of dashed hopes is exacerbated by the almost messianic longings invested in the Oslo process. Messianic movements develop out of intense despair with the present situation. To escape that despair, the movement’s followers convince themselves that history has entered a new period in which all the former rules no longer apply.
The Oslo process can only be understood against the backdrop of the first intifada. From the beginning, its supporters convinced themselves that it would work because they could not contemplate a continuation of the current situation. They treated the question, "What is the alternative?" as if it constituted some kind of proof that Oslo was a viable alternative.
Facts that conflicted with that messianic vision were willfully suppressed. We did not want to know about Arafat’s speeches in Arabic, in which he spoke openly of the Oslo process as just a step towards reconquest of all of Palestine, or of the ongoing incitement in the official Palestinian media, or of paramilitary summer camps for Palestinian teenagers, and so those stories were consigned to the back pages.
The only thing shocking about the recent broadcast of a Gaza iman's call for the slaughter of the Jews was the public's shock itself. Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) have been publishing reams of such material for years.
Journalists who viewed themselves as salesmen for Oslo chose not to confront the evidence that Arafat has done nothing to prepare the Palestinian street or the next generation for peace with Israel. (To the contrary, in his speeches and in the Palestinian Authority textbooks, he has fanned their dreams of ruling all of Palestine and of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians returning to our borders.) They preferred instead to spend weeks mocking Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s views on the transmigration of souls, a subject of no immediate practical consequence to a single Israeli.
Those who believed that the mastermind of the Ma’alot and Coastal Highway massacres had magically changed his spots, and that history had entered a new era, now find themselves in the same position as the followers of Shabbetai Tzvi after his conversion to Islam.
Yet even after Shabbetai Tzvi’s apostasy, there were those who developed elaborate theological doctrines to reconcile that apostasy with his messianic mission. And today there are many whose entire identity is so entwined with Oslo that they too cannot recognize what has happened. For them, the "peace process" is some disembodied god, only tangentially related to peace itself.
Thus we once heard terrorist victims described as "sacrifices for peace", as if Oslo were an angry Moloch demanding human offerings. And today, Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin angrily accuse Prime Minister Barak of taking unilateral steps to kill the "peace process." One wants to shout, "Have you noticed that we are at war. They are shooting at us as in fall 1996 and last spring. Don’t acts of war terminate the peace process?"
The greatest danger ahead, however, does not come from the unshakeable messianists. It is rather that those who today claim to have had their eyes opened wide, will quickly revert to previous casts of mind.
If we can muster no new sources of national will, in short order, we will find ourselves in the same situation that gave rise to Oslo in the first place. As the fighting drags on, month after month, we will go back to asking, "What’s the alternative?" and force ourselves to forget once again all that we have learned about our erstwhile "peace partners" since Camp David.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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