May 24th, 2011
03:04 PM ET

Netanyahu’s border war

Editor's Note: Shlomo Ben Ami is a former Israeli foreign minister who now serves as Vice President of the Toledo International Centre for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy. For more from Shlomo Ben Ami, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

By Shlomo Ben Ami

TEL AVIV – Binyamin Netanyahu’s furious rejection of U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposal to use the 1967 borders as the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute – frontiers that he called “utterly indefensible” – reflects not only the Israeli prime minister’s poor statesmanship, but also his antiquated military philosophy.

In an era of ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction, and in which the planned Palestinian state is supposed to be demilitarized, why is it so vital for Israel to see its army “sit along the Jordan River”?

If such a tripwire is really necessary, why shouldn’t a reliable international force carry out that task? And how can hundreds of isolated settlements spread amidst a hostile Palestinian population ever be considered a strategic asset?

Netanyahu should, perhaps, have studied the lessons of the 1973 Yom Kippur war on the Golan Heights before denouncing Obama’s idea.

When the war started, the first thing the Israeli army command sought was the evacuation of the area’s settlements, which Israel’s generals knew would quickly become an impossible burden, and an obstacle to maneuver, for their troops. Indeed, the last war that Israel won “elegantly” – in the way that Netanyahu imagines that wars should be won – began from the supposedly “indefensible” 1967 lines.

That is no accident. Israel’s occupation of Arab lands in that war, and its subsequent deployment of military forces amidst the Arab population of the West Bank and close to the powerful military machines of Egypt in the south and Syria in the north, exposed it to Palestinian terrorism from the east.

At the same time, occupation denied Israel’s army the advantage of a buffer – the demilitarized zones that were the key to the 1967 victory against both Egypt and Syria.

For borders to be defensible, they need first to be legitimate and internationally recognized.

But Netanyahu does not really trust “the gentiles” to supply that type of international recognition of Israel’s borders, not even when America is behind him, and not even when Israel today has the most powerful military capabilities in the Middle East.

The son of a renowned historian who served as the personal secretary of Zeev Jabotinski, the founder of the Zionist right, Netanyahu absorbed from childhood his father’s interpretation of Jewish history as a series of tragedies.

The lesson was simple: the gentiles cannot be relied upon, for Jewish history is one of betrayal and extermination at their hands. The only remedy to our fragile existence in the Diaspora lies in the return to the Biblical Land of Israel.

Our Arab neighbors should never be trusted; hence, as Jabotinski preached, the new Israeli nation must erect an Iron Wall of Jewish power to deter its enemies forever.

To be fair, such an existential philosophy was not the right’s monopoly. The legendary General Moshe Dayan, who was born in a socialist Kibbutz on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, was no less a skeptic about the chances of coexisting with the Arabs. A gifted orator, this is how he put it in a eulogy to a fallen soldier in 1956:

“Let us not be deterred from seeing the loathing that is inflaming and filling the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who live around us. Let us not avert our eyes lest our arms weaken….This is the fate of our generation, this is our life choice, to be prepared and armed, strong and determined, lest the sword be stricken from our fist and our lives cut down….We are a generation of settlers, and, without the steel helmet and the cannon’s fire, we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home.”

Yet the same Dayan, who in 1970 said that “the only peace negotiations are those where we settle the land and we build, and we settle, and from time to time we go to war,” was forced by cruel reality to admit that the best security to which Israel can aspire is that based on peace with its neighbors.

Eventually, he became the architect of a historic peace with Egypt. His book Are We Truly Condemned to Live by the Sword to Eternity? marked the transformation of the soldier into a statesman.

If Netanyahu is ever to lead a historic reconciliation with the Palestinian people, he should start by endorsing a courageous, almost post-Zionist insight reflected in Dayan’s 1956 eulogy. Fully aware of the bitter legacy of Palestinian disinheritance following the 1948 war, Dayan refused to blame the murderers. On the contrary, he understood their “burning hatred.”

Unfortunately, Israel today has a prime minister with the mentality of a platoon commander who nonetheless likes to cast himself as a latter day Churchill fighting the forces of evil bent on destroying the Third Jewish Temple.

Of course, a great leader must always have a sense of history. But, as the French philosopher Paul Valéry put it, history, “the science of things which are not repeated,” is also “the most dangerous product which the chemistry of the intellect has ever evolved,” especially when manipulated by politicians.

Menachem Begin, a hawkish predecessor of Netanyahu as prime minister, once had the insolence to say to the great historian Yaakov Talmon that, “when it comes to the twentieth century, I am more an expert than you are.”

Talmon responded with “The Fatherland is Imperiled,” a pivotal article whose conclusions are as relevant today as they were in 1981. Not until occupation ends, Israel lives within internationally recognized borders, and the Palestinians recover their dignity as a nation will the Jewish state’s existence be finally secured.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Shlomo Ben Ami.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011. You can read more from Shlomo Ben-Ami here.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    It would be senseless to compare Nethanyahu with Mosche Dayan, who became wiser the older he got and embraced a peaceful co-existence with the Arabs. We are in the year 2011 today and Mosche Dayan's existential concept of the State Israel 1956 was to arm itself and fight against anyone who contested their claims on settling down. Nethanyahu is wary of his Arab neighbours and trying to defend the occupied territories with hawkish fervour.

    May 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  2. jon

    The Islamic claim to Jerusalem is false !

    muhammad flew on a magical horse in one night from mecca the birth place of islam to a "Further Mosque" (which muslims claim located on the temple mount), and back therefore jerusalem is holy to muslims.
    There were no mosques in Jerusalem in 632 c.e. at the death of Muhammad... Jerusalem was a Christian-occupied city
    In the days of Muhammad, who died in 632 of the Common Era, Jerusalem was a Christian-occupied city within the Byzantine Empire. Jerusalem was captured by caliph Omar only in 638 c.e., six years after Muhammad's death.
    Throughout all this time there were only churches in Jerusalem, and a church stood on the Temple Mount, called the Church of Saint Mary of Justinian, built in the Byzantine architectural style
    (the mosques shapes you commonly see today are a copy of Byzantine architectural style Churches !, you didn't know that did ya?)
    'In the Book of Raids, early Muslim historian and biographer "Waqidi"(أبو عبد الله محمد بن عمر بن واقد ‏) described Muhammad's stay in the village of Jiranah a few miles outside Mecca. He wrote:
    The Prophet arrived in Jiranah on Thursday, and remained 13 nights. He then departed Jiranah after praying at the Al-Aqsa="Further Mosque" located on the shore of the river bed. The Prophet used to pray there whenever he came to Jiranah.'

    Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiya (AD 638-700), a close relative of Muhammad, have said, denigrating the notion that the prophet of Islam ever set foot on the Rock in Jerusalem; ‘these damned Syrians,' by which he means the Umayyads, ‘pretend that Allah put His foot on the Rock in Jerusalem, though one person ever put his foot on the rock, namely Abraham.'

    ... and it's kinda funny to me that the Quran doesn't mention the fakestinians or jerusalem even once ! ! !
    but the israelis many times !
    يَا قَوْمِ ادْخُلُوا الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِي كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَلَا تَرْتَدُّوا عَلَىٰ أَدْبَارِكُمْ فَتَنقَلِبُوا خَاسِرِينَ: "
    and now, my people (the Israelites), enter the Holy Land which Allah has destined for you.
    -Qur'an, Sura 5:21-
    -Qu'ran, Sura 17:104-

    "You can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all the time"
    bob marly.

    May 24, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Reply
  3. Anwar


    There is no Islamic claim as such to Jerusalem.

    Muslims, like the Jews and Christians, consider the city sacred due to their faith's connection to it - the al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. There is no exclusive claim by any faith to this city, and should not be.

    A return to localities that were homes to those Palestinians who fled or were driven away during Israel's founding doesn't constitute or can lead to Islam claiming Jerusalem for its own. Nor does Christianity or Judaism have such an exclusive right. Palestinians ask for what they lost based on historical events, and not on scripture.

    The night-journey of Prophet Muhammad to Jerusalem is allegorical.

    Your saying that mosque shapes are copies of Byzantine structures is simplistic and inaccurate. The Byzantines were not the first to use the dome, and neither were the Muslims. Each though contributed to it uniquely. Surely the beauty of the Taj mahal, a mausoleum rather than a mosque but nevertheless built by a Muslim emperor, or for that matter the Badshahi mosque in Lahore, counts for something.

    The last quote doesn't belong to Marley, but to Lincoln.

    May 25, 2011 at 12:17 am | Reply
    • jon

      Quoting sites on the internet is poiintless, because, since when has the internet told the whole story from all sides. I think watching recorded documentaries would tell a better story and prove the facts on the ground better than the one sided internet. Those refugees left because the Arab leaders told them to leave so they would not be harmed while they massacre the Jews "infesting the land". That was from Nassers own biography. Furthermore, in 1974 Abu Mazen in an interview stated that same facts as Nasser did but changed his tune last Monday in the New York Times op ed. I feel for your issues with Israel, but let me be clear as to the rules of WAR: To the victor go the spoiles!!! The Arabs and Israeli's went to war several times over the last 70 years and the Arabs lost nearly everytime. Don't give me this, only with help from the U.S. garbage. The Arabs had plenty of help from the Soviets and now Chinese, which most people seem to never mention when speaking of the Palestinian sob story. Never in history has a nation ever given land for peace. The fact that Israel has done this with Egypt for peace was unprecidented and opened the door for where we are today. The Palestinians should have settled this issue in 2000 and most of them regret they didn't. This world has always been anti-semetic as proven through the thousands of years the Jews have been murdered and persecuted. You cry over less than 100 years that but give no sympathy for what the Jews have endured. You do not agree with the fact that Palestine was a name the Romans gave the land after the Jewish uprising in 70 a.d. You state that the Palestinians are the origional inhabitants of the land which is not true either, they emegrated from arabia, hence the term sunni. The origional cannanites and philistians were conqured and wiped out 3000 plus years ago. You do not even believe that there was a Temple in Jerusalem and that it was destoryed be the Romans after the Jewish uprising in 70 a.d!!! The internet is full of propaganda and lies that fuel these historical rewrites. Is Israel wrong? Yes!!! Are the Arabs wrong? Yes!!! As I stated before, in WAR, TO THE VICTOR GO THE SPOILES!!! Accept it and take what the victors give you in exchange for peace and stability, so you can save your society and culture from turning into the Caninites and Philistines!!! Remember this one stone cold fact, had it been the Arabs that won, the Jews would not have been so LUCKY!!!

      May 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  4. Anwar

    I didn't quote any sites from the Internet. Nor did I state or challenge on how Palestinians came to be named thus, or that there was no temple in Jerusalem. And I am not even Arab.
    Going through the rest of your response I get the feeling that it is some standard reply that you blow out whenever you are challenged on the facts you state.
    Calm down.

    May 25, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Reply
    • jon

      Your right I make that the standard reply plus or minur a few changes because those are the facts o the ground and people like you deny it and choose to create your own facts from historcial events bcause the facts do not suit your agenda.

      May 25, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Reply
      • Anwar

        I questioned and clarified upon a few points that you made in your original post, which you did not take up in any way in subsequent posts, either to disagree or fact-check upon yourself.
        Facts, by the way, come from historical events as well as from those on the ground...
        All along I have tried to look at the position from both sides, trying not to impose a particular slant. In other words, no insistence on an undivided (or divided) Jerusalem, exclusive or contrived origin of mosque architecture, etc.
        You have on the other hand used strong language and claimed brazenly about victors having the right to all spoils and so on. Seems to me that you're the one with the agenda. Also, your manner is rather shrill.
        I am done with this thread now because you cannot make the effort to be articulate and resort to tired and one-sided rationale and manner.

        May 26, 2011 at 12:44 am |

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