By Boris Shusteff
Barbara Tuchman, the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, and one of the best American historians, wrote in her book The March of Folly that "a phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests" (1). According to her, "self-interest is whatever conduces to the welfare or advantage of the body being governed; folly is a policy that in these terms is counter-productive"(1). Tuchman considered folly to be the most dangerous act of misgovernment and saw it as a "self-destructive act carried out despite the availability of a recognized and feasible alternative"(1).
It appears that after her victory in the Six Day War, Israel placed folly at the foundation of all her subsequent polices. This became especially obvious prior to the Yom Kippur War when the Israeli leaders completely misread the plans of the Arabs, and only the courage and selflessness of the Israeli soldiers saved the Jewish state.
Tuchman indicated in her book that one of the criteria for the misgovernment to be classified as folly is the necessity of the policy in question "to be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and it should persist beyond any one political lifetime"(1). The acts of the Israeli leaders starting from Menachem Begin and all the way through Ehud Barak easily fall into this category. All of the Israeli leaders have tried to pursue a policy of surrendering land, which Israel had won in bloody wars for survival, to their sworn enemies, in exchange for the Arabs' acceptance of the Jewish state. While a feasible alternative course of action - the immediate annexation of all gained territories - was available, it was not even considered.
This is especially strange since the lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) that returned to Israel's control have never formed an internationally recognized part of an Arab state. This is simply puzzling since the Jewish state did not arrive in the Middle East by chance. "It has come back. It has confounded persecution and outlived exile to become the only nation in the world that is governing itself in the same territory, under the same name, and with the same religion and same language as it did three thousand years ago"(2).
Perhaps the Israeli leaders were simply scared to see themselves as rulers of a big country? Perhaps the Galut mentality, instilled in the Jews for two millennia, did not allow them to picture their state as any bigger than a ghetto-sized entity? Perhaps the European-born Israeli leaders were unable to understand the logic of the Middle East?
After being deprived of military power for two thousand years the Jews simply forgot how all other states were created. They forgot that even the "bastion of democracy" - the United States - came into being through acquisition of the lands of others. As Barbara Tuchman put it, "Territory lost through the fortunes of war is a commonplace in history. What is Texas but a 267,339 square miles of Mexico settled by Americans and then forcibly declared independent"(2)?
It will be a task for future historians to try to find out why the Jewish state was so stubborn in pursuing these counter-productive policies. Maybe they will be able to understand why Israel rejected the facts and the logic of ongoing events in the search for peace - the nonexistent commodity of the Middle East. Maybe they will be able to explain why the Jewish state ignored the lessons of relations between Middle Eastern countries that demonstrated the complete uselessness of the peace agreements in this part of the world. (It is a well known fact that the war between Iran and Iraq started very soon after both countries signed a peace agreement. It is also worth noting that Kuwait was supporting Iraq during the whole course of the Iraq-Iran War, but this did not stop Saddam Hussein from "swallowing" this staunch and loyal supporter as soon as he deemed it appropriate).
The Israeli leaders are dealing with the realities of the Middle-East as if they do not exist. They are cutting off pieces of their homeland with the Arab scissors of hatred and belligerence, in the desire to fit a coffin-sized Jewish state into a "peaceful" Middle East. As has happened many times in Jewish history, the Jews are trying to create for themselves a separate world in which they can live and forget all the troubles that surround them, trying not to allow anyone from the outside to come in. They think that if they sign "peace agreements" with the Arabs and then lock themselves in a self-built ghetto, the Arabs will acquiesce to their presence and accept Israel's existence.
This approach is nothing but a clear exercise in perversion, a simple wooden-headedness, described by Tuchman in the following way:
"Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. It is epitomized in a historian's statement about Phillip II of Spain, the surpassing wooden-head of all sovereigns: "No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence" (1).
It seems that today Ehud Barak has surpassed even Phillip II of Spain in his wooden-headedness. His preconceived fixed notion of a "peaceful Middle East" forces him to completely ignore the core values that were placed at the foundation of the Jewish state. In order to obtain a piece of paper with the word "Peace" scribbled on it, the Israeli leaders are sacrificing the reason for the creation of the Jewish state. Nobody argues that Israel would love to live in peace with her neighbors, but she cannot sell her Jewish soul for it. The Jews cannot accept this Faustian deal.
A peaceful Middle East is a utopia. A Middle East without the Jewish state is a fast-approaching reality. As Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel's Beiteinu party, said recently in an interview in Jerusalem: "The country [Israel] desperately needs cardinal changes, perhaps even a revolution. If this does not happen Israel in twenty years will simply disappear. We already today stand on the edge of abyss"(3).
It is hard to believe that the things were completely different thirty years ago. Barbara Tuchman wrote in the beginning of 1967:
"With all its problems, Israel has one commanding advantage - a sense of purpose: to survive. It is conscious of fulfilling destiny. It knows it must not go under now, that it must endure. Israelis may not have affluence but they have what affluence tends to smother: a motive. On the whole and for the present, the pace-setters of the nation have a knowledge why they are there and where they are going"(2).
Thirty three years after these words were written the pace-setters and the majority of Israelis have no knowledge whatsoever why they are there and where they are going. The problem is that the dedication of the masses has been lost and that materialism has displaced the idealism of the early days of the state. The problem is in the surrender of the Jewish and Zionist ideology. The fabric of the Israeli society has been emasculated of its motive - to provide a secure place on the Earth for the Jewish people.
Today the Israeli left is much more concerned with the well being of the Arabs then with the fate of the Jewish people. The Jews living in Yesha are second class citizens for the Israeli left. For them, these dedicated Zionists are the hindrance that prevents the "peace" from happening. They have convinced themselves that if the Jews from Yesha are expelled and if Israel rids herself of the lands of Yesha, the Arabs will resign themselves to a peaceful coexistence with the Jews.
Although the Arabs keep reminding the Jews that the situation is much more complicated, the Jews have somehow forgotten that the issue of the "land" is only a part of the problem. As recently as on May 1, Azmi al-Khawajah, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, wrote in Ramallah's newspaper Al Ayyam:
"Baraq, Peres, and Beilin should not forget that the issue of refugees is crucial to the Palestinian people. It has been the basis for the emergence of Palestinian resistance since the fifties and until now. The Palestinian resistance in the Gaza strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria has basically emerged from Palestinian refugee camps. Similar to the issues of territories and Jerusalem, the refugees issue cannot be ignored and an independent Palestinian state must be established with Jerusalem its capital"(4).
Those who think that Israel is gearing towards a quick "peace" should temper their expectations. They are dead wrong if they think that the Arabs will be satisfied only with land. The Arabs want more and they know very well that they will get everything since the precedent has already been established. The Arabs know that the Jews do not have red lines anymore. Therefore, it is only a matter of time for the next Israeli concession to happen.
The Arabs have no doubts that after Israel accepted the legitimacy of the PLO, the withdrawal from Yesha, the tacit agreement to allow the PLO to be present in Jerusalem, the Jewish state will agree to the "return of the refugees" in spite of Israel's official position today. Mounir Makdah, a Fatah official in the Ain Helwi camp near Sidon, shrugged off an interviewer's comment that Israel today refuses to allow the return of refugees saying, "Israel's refusals have been many from the Madrid conference until now. But of these there remain only memories" (5).
It is much easier to foresee that in twenty years only memories will remain of the Jewish state in the Middle East, than to expect that the wooden-headedness of the Israeli leaders can be overcome without drastic cardinal changes, perhaps even a revolution. [5/04/00.]
1. Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984.
2. Barbara Tuchman, Practicing History. Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1981.
3. "Novoe Russkoe Slovo", Interview with Avigdor Lieberman, 5/03/00.
4. The Zionist Organization of America's Israel News Connection (ZINC),
5. The Palestinian Presence in Lebanon: a Complex Chess Game. 5/01/00.
Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.