The state of Israel and its citizens are confronted by the greatest peril in the nation's history. Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, seek to "wipe Israel off the map"—and Israel's longtime faithful defender, the United States, seems to have gone wobbly. On such an existential threat, there is a fundamental difference between the United States and Israel: Americans are in the bleachers; Israelis are on the playing field. As the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said, "We can't afford to err twice."
The situation is starkly clear—but not to a world so bored with the conflict, so used to quick fixes, so confused that it has succumbed to the most specious moral equivalency. It makes no distinction between the inexcusable, indiscriminateviolence of terrorism that deliberately targets the innocent and the very different, unavoidable defensive violence of theauthority responsible for protecting its citizens. It's the difference between the arsonist and the firefighter. Israel is expected to act as if it has to win the Moral Man of the Century award. It is not enough for it to be 10 percent more moral than other nations. It has to be 50 percent more—which means it would not survive.
It was the Six Day Arab-Israeli War in 1967 that transformed the image of the "plucky little Jewish state" whose people made the desert bloom into a cartoon of a brutal, aggressive collective called Israel. Despite the fact that Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser was about to attack (with 100,000 soldiers on the border and peacekeepers expelled), Israel received the odium for the pre-emptive strike in which it defeated the Arab armies (an eager Syria and a reluctant Jordan joined in). Israel then offered to return the territories it conquered in exchange for peace with its neighbors, only to be faced with the three no's from the Arab summit in Khartoum: no peace, no negotiation, no recognition.
In succeeding years, as the Arabs continued terrorism and invasion (the Yom Kippur War), it was the attackers who got the sympathy. The images on the world's TV screens were not of terrorists on the rampage but of armed Israelis responding to terrorism, and the explanatory word responding often got lost in the chaos. The repeated implication is that Israel is guilty of "disproportionate" response. Nobody ever bothers to explain how a country with a population of 7 million, concentrated in a narrow strip of land smaller than New Hampshire, in a sea of more than 100 million Arabs in states the size of the United States, could ever fight a war of equal attrition. Israel had to adopt the approach of a disproportionate military response to maximize the possibility of deterring further attacks.
The TV pictures are framed not in terms of the survival of Israel or the security of the state but of self-determination for the Palestinian Arabs, with Israel seen as the bully oppressing the underdog, the occupier dealing with the occupied. The question that emerges is: Why doesn't Israel do something for these people?
This marks the success of the Palestinians in shifting the ground of the debate. Though their goal is to destroy Israel, they suggest they are simply trying to secure the right of a small minority of dispossessed Palestinian Arabs. The focus has shifted from the right of Israel to survive to human rights, to Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and not the human rights of people under siege in their homeland for 60 years. The truly brutal reality is that Palestinian maps still do not show the State of Israel; for the Palestinians, the occupation began in 1948, and they refuse even to accept the formula of two states for two peoples since it would imply a state for the Jews. How else to comprehend the Palestinian rejection of Jerusalem as the sacred city of the Jews and the Western Wall as the Second Temple, questioning the core of the Jewish faith and the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, the destination of Moses?
That is why it was disturbing to read of President Obama's rationale for the formation of Israel as a result of the Holocaust without referring to the 3,000-year-old connection that the Jews have to the Holy Land. It is but a short step from this historically inaccurate perception to conceive of the Jews as the guilty party. It is revealing that when the president speaks about daily humiliation of Palestinian Arabs, he ignores that every Israeli is searched numerous times during the day, even on the way to weddings or bar mitzvahs; that Jewish schoolchildren have to be protected by perimeter fences and armed guards at the schoolhouse gates; that guards are required in shops, cafes, restaurant, movie theatres. Arab villagers, on the other hand, do not need to have guards at their shops, cafes, or restaurants, or for children on the way to school or on hiking and camping trips. Why? Because the Israelis do not target the innocent. The president could have acknowledged the suffering of Israeli victims of Arab terrorism "for more than 60 years" when he talked of the "suffering" and "pain" of Palestinians "for more than 60 years." Even more disturbing was the juxtaposition of his reference to the Holocaust, the deliberate murder of 6 million Jews for the fact that they were Jewish, and his assertion of Palestinian suffering in pursuit of a homeland.
It is extraordinary that a gullible world now regards Israel as rejectionist, yet it is Arab leaders who have rejected everything over the decades—rejected a partition of the land proposed by the Peel Commission in 1936; rejected the United Nations partition plan of 1947; rejected the Israeli offer after the 1967 Six Day War to return all the territories; rejected the major opportunity for peace after the Oslo agreement of 1993; rejected Ehud Barak's proposal for a Palestinian state and President Clinton's compromise proposals; rejected Ehud Olmert's even more generous proposal for a Palestinian state. Sadly, President Obama seems to have drawn a moral equivalent between those who have been prepared to live in peace and those who have chosen war in 1948, 1956, 1973, and 1982, with follow-on campaigns of terrorism after every loss.
Instead of embracing peace, Arab leaders converted the West Bank territory they came to control into a launching pad for suicide bombing, an Intifada that killed more than 1,000 Israelis and ultimately forced Israel to return to the West Bank at great cost and build a security fence against terrorist infiltration. This conduct turned upside down the priorities of the road map for peace, which stated that prior to Israeli concessions the Palestinians would be obliged to demonstrate a commitment to curbing terrorism, eschewing violence and its incitement. No chance, not least because one generation poisons the next.
The hatred of Jews is cultivated throughout the Arab Muslim world without drawing any rebuke from the moral arbiters who are so ready to condemn Israel for the smallest infraction. Hate permeates all points of Palestinian public communications—newspapers, videocassettes, sermons, books, the Internet, television, radio, and, most insidiously, the schoolrooms. The anti-Jewish campaign is so dishonest, so vicious, so persistent that it surpasses that of Nazi Germany in its heyday. New media cable networks like al Jazeera, al Manar, and al Arabiya make the campaign all-pervasive. And the United Nations? It has become a forum not for peace but for fomenting and focusing anti-Israeli propaganda, not for independent inquiry but for the indictment of Israel whenever it seeks to eliminate a terrorist sanctuary, not for enforcing agreements but providing a smokescreen for their violation.
Now comes President Obama to undermine a commitment made by the United States. To appreciate what is at stake, we have to look at the record. Israel of its own volition withdrew settlers and settlements from Gaza, though this evacuation was not required by the road map. The Bush administration acknowledged in return that settlement construction in the West Bank would be permitted within the existing construction line—not new settlement but building to cope with the growth of families. This understanding was confirmed by senior members of the National Security Council and in letters from the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser. Among other things, the letters said, "In the framework of the agreed principles on settlement activity, we will shortly make an effort to better delineate the settlement construction line in Judea and Samaria." Former Sharon aide Dov Weisglass wrote recently reaffirming "that the administration recognized Israel's right under the road map to development from within the existing construction line."
For years, Israel has relied on these understandings for developments of homes within the guidelines set down, without objection from the U.S. government and without denials when this policy was reported in the New York Times and in the Washington Post.
Repudiating these understandings is an extraordinary breach of the normal behavior of governments and stands in juxtaposition to U.S. demands that the Israeli government adhere to commitments made by its predecessors. Surely there could have been a much more constructive way in which the two governments could have reached an understanding rather than through a public confrontation after a speech in Cairo, of all places. Is it not understood that, far from advancing peace, these hard-line statements will serve only to harden the determination of the Palestinians not to make any compromises, as both sides must do? Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has already stated he will not even negotiate with the Israelis.
Israeli President Shimon Peres remains constructive. As someone who has long worked for accommodation, there is force in his argument that stubborn mindsets can be transcended only by an imaginative leap beyond tinkering with peace plans. He instances Egypt's President Anwar Sadat's dramatic peacemaking journey to Jerusalem, which diminished old fears and put an end to the history of suspicion. The turning point in Israel's relations with Jordan was when King Hussein visited the families of seven Israeli girls who had been murdered by a Jordanian soldier.
Peres believes that a regional peace, supported by the other Arab countries, would have the same transforming effect. He supports the Arab initiative, though he says that because "Israel did not take part in the wording of the Arab peace initiative, [it] therefore should not be expected to accept its every word."
Israelis are prepared to meet the Palestinians without preconditions. And the Palestinians? Ho, hum. Abbas intends to be passive and wait for the United States to force concessions from Israel.
The contrast could not be clearer.
An English wag was premature in declaring that "all the 'isms' are wasisms." In the 20th century, fascism came and went; communism came and went; socialism came and waned. But several isms inhabit the world today. Anti-Americanism is one; so, too, is anti-Zionism. These isms of hatred and destruction are graffiti on the walls of history.