Israeli author Ari Shavit says that Israel has been able to gain international immunity for using force against Palestinians on several occasions, from the 1930s pre-state days to 2009, because it was seen as sincerely pursuing peace. The failed Camp David peace process “was a savior for war,” Shavit says. And Israel’s current government risks losing this shield because it has abandoned “the moral high ground” by abandoning the peace process.
Shavit laid out this realpolitik in a panel Wednesday night on the future of Israel at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Shavit is a celebrated figure in the American Jewish community because of his 2013 bestseller, My Promised Land, which presents Israel as a miraculous country that has done some bad things, and which was excerpted in The New Yorker and celebrated on Charlie Rose and Fresh Air.
In the Israel discussion Wednesday night, panelist Dan Senor said that Israeli policy on a two-state solution would be no different under Labor leader Isaac Herzog, who lost in the March election, than it is under rightwing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Shavit agreed and said that both Jewish left and right in Israel had failed through utopianism. The right has a utopian vision of a Greater Israel; the left has a “naive, utopian” concept of a peace process that could deliver a Palestinian state when this wasn’t possible– rather than offering Palestinians incremental changes on the ground.
Shavit went on to offer this bracing analysis of Israeli history:
Look at our history– and this is where I totally agree with Abe [Foxman]. The wisdom of Zionism, when it was wise– when it was serious and wise and moral– was to understand that we live in a cruel world, but we must always capture the moral high ground. Both are true. Because we need a deep alliance with the west and because we are Jews. We cannot just be about brute force. And this is what sadly I think some members of my government do not understand.
So we succeeded in the past because we adopted that.
In 1937 we adopted the [the Peel commission] partition plan, and… this is how we won the civil war of the ’30s.
In 1947 we adopted the [United Nations] partition plan, the Arabs rejected it, and this is why we won in ’47 [presumably the 1948 war].
In 2000 Ehud Barak goes to Bill Clinton’s peace summit– it’s considered a great failure? It was a failure for peace– it was a savior for war. We won the second intifada. Ariel Sharon was able to defend us against the second intifada because of the credit that Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton gave us in Camp David.
Ehud Olmert was not my hero and was able to do many things in order to defend us [former P.M. Olmert directed the Lebanon war of 2006 and Cast Lead against Gaza in 2008-09]… because of the credit he got because he was willing to go all the way for peace.
So capturing the moral high ground is essential for us. I think it is essential for us morally, and it is essential to our national security.
So I think that again, if we will understand that we were all wrong, we had this messianic idea of a greater Israel, we had the messianic idea of the perfect peace. Both were refuted [by] the harsh reality of the middle east…
By the way you [addressing Peter Beinart] had your messianic idea of democracy in the Middle East which you tried [reference to Beinart’s support for the Iraq war].
Let’s learn. Sometimes people talk about the future as if they had not read a paper in the last 20 years.
Shavit concluded the speech by saying that Israel must begin undertaking measures that signal its support for an eventual two-state solution, beginning with “a settlement freeze beyond the barrier” in portions of the West Bank, and by undertaking a “Marshall Plan” to give clean water to Gaza. Doing such things will not risk Israel’s security and will help Israel change its international image and “help us on campuses” and give Palestinians hope, he said.
His recommendations were met with loud applause from 500 people in the great hall at the 92nd Street Y.