Prisoner of ‘the fanaticism of reason’

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After the failed Camp David summit of 2000, George Will pronounced then prime minister Ehud Barak “perhaps the most calamitous leader any democracy has ever had” for the way he had succeeded in “delegitimizing all previous [Israeli] positions….”

By that standard, our current Ehud is worse.

Prime Minister Olmert too is dead to the importance of national will and belief in the justice of one’s cause in the life of nations. In his “new year” interview with The Jerusalem Post, Olmert uttered nary a word about Israel’s “red lines,” paid passing lip service to Jewish “rights,” and mentioned only illegal Jewish outposts – no Palestinian failures to keep their promises (such as the murder of three Jews by PA security personnel in the last six weeks). Nor did he stress the limits of what he can do without bringing about a civil war more ruinous than any Arab terrorism.

In his most demoralizing comment, Olmert portrayed Israel as desperate for peace: He spoke of the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state unless it can realize the vision of two states for two peoples. He thus confirmed Yasser Arafat’s old boast that the “Arab womb” will prevail, and, with his demographic determinism, strengthened the Palestinians in their view that time is on their side.

Olmert is a prisoner of what Lee Harris in Suicide of Reason labels the “fanaticism of reason.” Instead of trying to shake Western leaders out of the fantasy that all societies are like their own and Islamic cultures share the same basic values, an Israeli prime minister adopts the fantasy. He acts as if peace is within Israel’s power to bring about, if only we make a generous enough offer.

Like Barak at Camp David, he begins negotiations by signaling his final position. After invoking the “hand of God” to describe Israel’s current constellation of friends on the international scene, Olmert reminds us that even our best friends foresee a final solution in which Israel returns to its 1967 borders and Jerusalem is divided. He does nothing to disabuse them of that notion or point out the dangers for Israel.

PERHAPS OLMERT doesn’t even see the dangers. Frighteningly, in the course of his Post interview he did not mention a single lesson learned from Oslo or the Gaza withdrawal. It apparently does not occur to him that Moshe Sharon, Hebrew University professor of Islamic history, is correct when he writes: “There is no way that the Arabs… can or will accept the permanent existence of a Jewish… state in the heart of what they regard as the Arab-Islamic homeland.”

Our prime minister asks us to trust that Mahmoud Abbas accepts Israel’s existence as a Jewish state “in his soul,” even though he can’t say so. (He also assures us that Hosni Mubarak and Vladimir Putin are “very impressive” men. After all, Putin has promised him never to harm Israel’s security, the sale of advanced anti-aircraft batteries and nuclear technology to Iran notwithstanding. Nor does Olmert mention the very impressive million-man army into which Mubarak has poured billions – an army which could never be conceivably employed against any foe other than Israel – even as Egypt wallows in horrific poverty.)

Even if the Abbas who, as late as Israel Independence Day of 2001, declared Israel’s creation to be “an unprecedented crime” and vowed never to “accept this injustice” has changed his spots, what does it matter if he cannot say so without signing his own death warrant? It is the Palestinian people with whom we would have to live in peace, not just their amiable president. Israeli intelligence reports daily that, were it not for the IDF’s presence, the West Bank would also fall to Hamas, which can never accept Israel’s existence.

ASKED WHETHER the Palestinians share his urgent desire for peace, Olmert replied that it’s not his job “to worry for the Palestinians.” Well, it most certainly is his job to worry about Palestinian intentions. In his focus on the treaty as the thing, he calls to mind Shimon Peres in the heady days of Oslo. Within days of the signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat, addressing an Arab audience, compared the accords to the treaty Muhammad entered into with the Quraysh tribe near Mecca, prior to wiping them out two years later.

Confronted with the evidence, Peres maintained his serious mien and responded: “I don’t care what the Palestinians say, only what’s in the treaties.” The same results await us today if we again ignore Palestinian and Arab intentions and what they say, including undiminished incitement against Israel and Jews.

Olmert waxes lyrical about the suffering of Palestinian refugees, and even charges Israel with the responsibility for finding a “mechanism” to end their indignity. But he never mentions that the Palestinians have been treated differently from all 12 million other refugees since 1948, and that UNRWA exists not to solve the Palestinian refugee problem but to perpetuate it. Were the refugee camps not being maintained as a perpetual strike force against Israel, Saudi petro-billions would long ago have turned them into upscale housing projects. (That would be the same Saudis whose “peace plan” is said to augur a peaceful future, but who could not bring themselves to sit in the same room with Israelis at Annapolis or allow an Israeli reporter into a press conference.)

At the end of his Post interview, Olmert indicts himself. He quotes the response of President Bush (truly a friend of Israel’s) to those who fear that Annapolis will further endanger Israel: “That’s not what I hear from the people who represent Israel.”

Therein lies the problem. Just as Ehud Barak dragged a reluctant President Clinton to Camp David to save his faltering government, so does Olmert push Annapolis because the only thing he ultimately believes in is Ehud Olmert.

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on January 11 2008.

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14 Responses

  1. mycroft says:

    “Check the current IDF statistics and you will find that the largest willing participants in combat roles are the religious soldiers, who the majority happen to be right-wing and DO advocate a tougher line against the Arab enemy. ”

    Check the figures on percentages of residents who serve in the IDF-recently it was in the 70s and 80s for secular Israel -but down from historic highs but Jerudalem had a roughly 44% per cent figure and Bnei Brak a 14% figure.

    “Lacking religious faith, secular Israelis do not see things the way the Arutz Sheva people do. They are tired of fighting endless battles. They believe that a state will moderate the Palestinians because they will have a stake in peace”

    The real issue may be on the religious front between Messianic religious Zionism a la Rav Kook and non messianic religious zionism a la RYBS. If one sees the State of Israel as positive but nothing messianic relinquishing territories is not a big deal it is a military diplomatic issue-but if one believes that reishit smichat geulatenu that one is slowing the redemption by giving up territory then it is not really a military question but slowing the geula. Some non messianic religious chareidim just take the recent opportunity to knock Zionists but that is different matter.

  2. Ori says:

    L. Oberstein is right – many secular Israelis are tired of the endless battles. Unfortunately, the endless battles are not tired of Israelis. I think it is irrational to stay in Israel unless you’re willing to pay the price (I am not, I moved to the US).

    If you do decide to stay in Israel and don’t want to fight the endless wars, it is very tempting to go into denial and assume that is a peaceful solution. Unfortunately, with people who vote Hamas, that is unlikely.

  3. L Oberstein says:

    Politics in Israel is not a game, it is for real Bad decisions can have devastating long term effects. Olmert was all in favor of leaving Gaza and had good logical arguments on his side. I wonder if he still feels today that it was a wise decision. Lacking religious faith, secular Israelis do not see things the way the Arutz Sheva people do. They are tired of fighting endless battles. They believe that a state will moderate the Palestinians because they will have a stake in peace. Olmert may be very wrong and very much on the wrong track but he is not alone. He represents the mindset of a large segment of Israelis who want to give peace a chance. I think the settlers are not speaking the same language and that their arguments are falling on ears that will not hear.

  4. cvmay says:

    “Israelis are tired of fighting-certainly spokesmen for groups who in general do not serve in the IDF should not advocate a tougher line -as of course those a fortiori live in the diaspora”.
    If they are tired of fighting, might as well throw in the towel and move to Cyprus or the Silicon Valley, since a partner for peace has not be found yet (or ever!). Check the current IDF statistics and you will find that the largest willing participants in combat roles are the religious soldiers, who the majority happen to be right-wing and DO advocate a tougher line against the Arab enemy. This status of ‘ayin le kochah’ is the leftist tool of defeat with the media accomplice working hand in hand to foster the agenda of ‘occupation’, ‘Arab demographics’,
    ‘two states living peacefully’, ‘moderate Arab leaders (biggest farce of them all)’, etc. The road ahead is lined with danger, and chasdei hashem is needed more than ever!

  5. simairkodesh says:

    “Olmert portrayed Israel as desperate for peace: He spoke of the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state unless it can realize the vision of two states for two peoples”.
    In order for Olmert to prove his opinion, that “Israel’s existence as a Jewish State is at jeopardy”, he will allow 50,000 Arab refugees (moderate terrorists)to reside within Israel’s borders of 1948, this will multiply the Arab population.

  6. Truly Reasonable says:

    Jacob-
    American Presidents, in practice, have bought into the idea. The theory has not otherwise had the effect intended, yet one PM after another has embraced it.

  7. Miriam Shear says:

    Any President,Secretary of State, Senator, Prime Minister that in any way advocates, supports, or encourages a “Palestinian” State, a relinquishing of Yerushalayim, land give aways in the West Bank, Gaza, or anywhere else Jews have conquered and settled is no friend of Israel. That includes Bush and Condi Rice. A true friend of Israel encourages the Arabs who possess 500 times the land mass of Israel to take in their Arab brethren instead of spending resources in attempts to destroy the Jewish State and kill Jews.

  8. Jacob Haller says:

    Truly Reasonable wrote

    “while those who possess true reason in the world recognize the generosity of the offers and give Israel credit for making them”

    Just curious; who recognized and extended credit to Israel following the offers to Arafat at Camp David in 2000?

  9. HILLEL says:

    The distinguished nineteenth century politician Lord Palmerston once said Britain had no permanent allies – only permanent interests.

    Ditto for the U.S.

  10. Truly Reasonable says:

    Anyone who thinks Bush puts America’s interests first is not playing with a full deck. There is plenty of reason for no candidate of even his own party associating himself with Bush. He has frittered away the prosperity and good name of the United States in the world that were his yerusha (ill-gotten in [Supreme] Court, of course )on January 20th 2001.

    As for Olmert, there is a theory that has been pursued by recent Prime Ministers (including that darling of the Right BB) that it doesn’t matter how much is offered to the Palestinians since they are incapable of accepting any offer while those who possess true reason in the world recognize the generosity of the offers and give Israel credit for making them.

  11. Adi says:

    I thought Bush was “a true friend of Israel” until last week. Some of the things he said last week are causing me to reassess that.
    Olmert is a rotten PM, and Bush certainly has been better than any other President in recent memory, but we need to be careful about idolizing him. We have to remember at the end of the day that any American president, no matter how “friendly” he seems to be to us, will always put America’s interests ahead of ours. Let’s not make blanket statements about world leaders- we should applaud them when they do right, and criticize them when they do wrong. Last week, Bush was pointed in the wrong direction –to ignore that fact and blame everything on Olmert (even though he is largely to blame) is a bad idea.

  12. Bob Miller says:

    If we could arrange a Bush foreign policy that would recognize the realities facing Israel, at the cost of ending his Hanukkah receptions at the White House, wouldn’t we do so? The net practical effect of our “close” relationship with his White House is not visible to ordinary people.

  13. Charles B. Hall says:

    “President Bush (truly a friend of Israel’s)”

    President Bush wants a Palestinian state, Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, divided Jerusalem, and a peace agreement based on promises rather than action. All this was in the Road Map, which long predated Olmert becoming PM. What is the rationale for such bitter criticism of Olmert accompanied by such praise for Bush? If anything, Bush’s position is more pro-Palestinian than Olmert!

  14. mycroft says:

    He quotes the response of President Bush (truly a friend of Israel’s) to those who fear that Annapolis will further endanger Israel: “That’s not what I hear from the people who represent Israel.”

    Therein lies the problem. Just as Ehud Barak dragged a reluctant President Clinton to Camp David to save his faltering government, so does Olmert push Annapolis because the only thing he ultimately believes in is Ehud Olmert

    President Bush has been consistent since near the beginning of his first term in promising a Palestinian state-he once promised one by 2005. No indication that it is Olmert dragging Bush into Annapolis-it is just the reverse. BTW it has been constant American policy for 4 decades that Yehudah and Shomron must be returned to Arab rule on peace. Look at the websites of the Tel Aviv US embassy and compare that to the GAZA VPP and the Jerusalem consulate. Jerusalem and Gaza have very similar postings as opposed to Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is located in West Jerusalem!!!
    More likely that Olmert can’t admit for domestic political reasons how much he is being pressured.

    Israelis are tired of fighting-certainly spokesmen for groups who in general do not serve in the IDF should not advocate a tougher line -as of course those a fortiori live in the diaspora.