For those who are home, and for those who are on the way. For those who support the historic and just return of the land of Israel to its people, forever loyal to their inheritance, and its restoration.
During July 2011—and now again in August—news reports in Israel have been telling us that Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), is fully committed to seeking statehood through the United Nations—or, maybe not. In the meantime, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after telling US President Obama that Israel will never negotiate a peace with the PA based on a pre-condition of pre-1967 borders, now says he will begin with exactly that pre-condition—or, maybe not. On one level, all of this illustrates regional diplomacy at its Middle East ‘best’; but on another level, it reveals a truth about how Israel reacts to Arab vacillation and pressure.
Today, we will look at that truth and explore what that truth teaches us about Israel’s options.
First, the backround: Israelis today seem to talk about two things. Polls show that we are divided over the creation of a new Arab ‘Palestine’; and second, we are concerned about Arab hatred towards Jews and Israel. As a result, our national reaction to the yes-no dance of regional diplomacy we read about is perfectly natural: we freeze.
The biological response to a threat is to stop, just as a deer freezes when caught by the glare of your car’s headlights on a dark road. So, too, this has been our national response to the threat of a Mahmoud Abbas celebrating a victory by holding up a plaster map showing a new Arab Palestine in place of our Israel—something he has already done. It is important to recognize that this ‘freeze’ response is normal because if we believe that it is abnormal, we will begin to make our decisions based on an error; and when you are threatened and under pressure, the last thing you want to do is to make decisions based on an erroneous assumption. You may not get a second chance. That first mistake—thinking that freezing is bad—could be the last mistake we make because it could lead us to act impulsively, and impulse decisions made under pressure do not usually create a positive outcome. In the current diplomatic situation we are staring at, bad decision-making could be disastrous.
The natural response mechanism to a threat is simple. You freeze, and then you go to some variation of ‘fight or flight’. If you want to see this in action, the next time you see two of Israel’s ubiquitous street cats facing off, watch how they behave. They spend a lot of time (noisily) freezing, then—mostly—they flee. Their worst-case scenario is, they fight. That deer caught on the road in your headlights also freezes, but unlike those street cats, it does not stay frozen long. It has to make a decision. Its options are limited: stand its ground and confront your 1200-kilo car approaching at perhaps 80 kph; attack your car; or jump off the road. It has less than 3 seconds to make its decision; then, its options collapse to zero. You hit the deer.
The same is true for us. Under threat, we are caught ‘in the headlights’, frozen. Like that deer, we hesitate. Like that deer, our options are limited: we can attack by annexing the West Bank and Golan; we can say, ‘no’ (or remain passive) and wait to confront the consequences of a UN vote for a new state; or, we can surrender immediately and sign whatever Abbas puts in front of us. There are other options, of course, but our choices are definitely limited.
Unfortunately, our nation is, ultimately, not like that deer in the headlights. The option of jumping off to the side is not open to us. There is no place to jump. Israelis know this—and that is why, perhaps, we remain frozen: the best choice is closed. There is no safe haven. Since whatever decision we make seems likely to lead to something unpleasant, we remain frozen.
But even if we lack a safe haven, there is still good news for us: we do have options. Our problem has never been a lack of options. Our problem is, we do not like the options we have. We want different options.
This is not a thought-process that leads to success. Instead, it is a thought-process every parent of a 4-year old has seen. Did you ever see a 4-year old decide he does not want to get dressed on the morning that you are rushed and under pressure? What does a smart parent do in this situation? You change the subject, and you talk about choices: ‘look, do you want the red socks this morning, or the blue?’
This works—except on that one morning when your child decides he does not like the options!
You know what happens next, right? Your personal family version of World War III.
Well, our nation is exactly like that child: red socks, blue socks; sign Abbas’ paper, wait for the UN: neither one of us likes the options.
Today, we learn several lessons from all of this:
1. It is normal to freeze when threatened. Don’t worry about it.
2. Like that deer on the highway, if you stay frozen too long, you lose.
3. Like your refusenik child, Israel does not have the luxury of saying, ‘no.’ The political cost will be too high. Besides, it’s too early for Israel to do that.
4. In conflict, it is not good when someone else tells you what your options are.
5. In conflict, when faced with bad options, change the options.
6. A winner always controls the choices. A loser does not.
7. Finally, always choose the option that gives you the most second choices.
Here is what these lessons teach us.
First, Israel should be proactive at the UN and in the public arena. Remaining silent in the face of an Arab political attack at the UN is a form of turning the other cheek; and as Jews know from history, the Jew who turns the other cheek gets slapped twice. We cannot afford that. To wait is to lose. The deer that hesitates gets hit by the car. Israel has to declare repeatedly and often—privately and/or in public-- that any unilateral action by Abbas is a complete and absolute abrogation of all UN agreements ever undertaken between Arab and Jew. It has been agreed repeatedly that all decisions in the Arab-Israel conflict are to be resolved by mutual consent—this has been the mantra since 1948, and it is the foundation of the beloved (but horrible) Oslo Accords. This understanding has been the one reality both Arab and Jew have always agreed to. But now, if Abbas unilaterally abrogates this understanding, he is not only setting back future negotiations, he is also rejecting 63 years of agreements, and destroying forever the (horrible) Oslo Accords that everyone loves. If Abbas does this, Israel can no longer trust anything he says. Abbas is, in essence, slamming the door. He therefore—no matter what he says—must now accept full and sole responsibility for breaking all peace-building agreements that have been previously made. Israel should warn that the PA misleads when it declares—as it did this past week—that a unilaterally declared state will aid peace negotiations. It will not. Instead, it will destroy 63 years of working (sometimes painfully) towards consensus. Abbas has a choice, Israel must say, and every choice has a consequence: if Abbas acts to break every historical agreement made between Arab and Jew, then Israel will not remain silent. At the very moment that the first country name is called out at the UN, to begin that final vote for ‘recommending’ a Palestine state—a General Assembly vote that follows a Security Council veto is not legally binding, which means that Abbas is throwing everything away for a piece of paper-- Israel will annex the entire West Bank and Golan area, and create by fiat two Arab cantons. These cantons will be built like their Swiss paradigms. Each of these two cantons will be subject to Israel sovereign rule, but will otherwise be independent, just like their Swiss counterparts. Each canton will have its own police force, government, and courts. Each canton will be responsible for its own health care, public education, welfare, economies and tax collection. There will be no more than two such Arab cantons, and each canton will have one elected seat in the Israel Knesset. Each canton will negotiate with Israel its own agreements, subject to mutual acceptance. Arabs who live in the West Bank and Golan but outside canton boundaries will be members of the closest canton, but subject to IDF rules, since they will be living on Jewish land as undocumented aliens. Such residents, however, will have representation through the officials elected by their canton and receive from their assigned canton all benefits canton residents are entitled to.
If anyone complains about this, and calls Israel apartheid, then Israel’s response should be immediate and firm: if Switzerland is not an apartheid state, then Israel is not an apartheid state. It does not matter that Switzerland and Israel do not use the canton structure in the same way— Switzerland does not live with Israel’s political realities. This arrangement is better than the pre-vote status quo. If UN nations want Israel to look favourably upon a Palestinian state, they would do well to back off accusing Israel with emotionally charged accusations which contribute nothing constructive to the dialogue. Such accusations do not show goodwill. Israel wishes to conform to UN ideals, but Israel firmly asserts that it is against the most basic of UN ideals to demand that a sovereign member state give up land to a terrorist organization (Hamas-Fatah) dedicated to destroying that sovereign state. For Israel to cede land under these circumstances is absolutely contrary to paragraph one of Article one, Chapter one—the very beginning-- of the UN Charter; and the UN has no right to abrogate its founding document in order to act with prejudice against a member state.
There’s more to this, of course, but this is a starting point. Such an action at this time could give Israel more options after a UN vote, not less. More important, it makes Israel an actor in this play, not a passive observer. In this drama, the passive one will be the victim. Of that, there is no question. Only actors will have a chance to win. Therefore, Israel must act—and she must do so now, before September.
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I visited Hevron in November 2000 after the outbreak of the Rosh Hashanah War to see what could be done to assist in the face of the growing daily attacks on the community. After returning to work for the community in the summer of 2001, a bond and a love was forged that grows to this day. My wife Melody and I merited to be married at Ma'arat HaMachpela and now host visitors from throughout the world every Shabbat as well as during the week. Our goal, "Time to come Home!"