Fundamentally Freund: Can Israel say ‘No’ to the US? Yes, we can!
Believe it or not, there are some things that are more important even than American goodwill. Survival, I dare say, is one of them.
Amid reports that US Secretary of State John Kerry is applying mounting pressure on Israel to make significant concessions to the Palestinians, there is an increasingly common refrain that has seeped into our political dialogue which needs to be exposed for the fallacy that it is.
Israel, we are told by various pundits and politicians, has no choice but to go along with American demands.
After all, our relationship with Washington is our greatest strategic asset and we cannot allow anything to get in its way. Hence, whatever America wants, the Jewish state must more or less accept.
Needless to say, such an approach is not only short-sighted and misguided – it is oblivious to history and perilous to our destiny. And the sooner we expose it for the misleading oversimplification that it is, the better off we will all be.
To begin with, Israel is not a vassal state, an American overseas territory or a serf that must cower before his feudal overlord.
We are a sovereign independent nation with our own national and security interests, and while we must surely take into account what our friends and allies have to say, we cannot and must not lose sight of our right and obligation to determine our own fate.
And regardless of how short our memories might be, the fact is that on numerous occasions Israel has defied and resisted, flouted and even disregarded American demands when it came to matters that went to the core of our very existence.
Take, for example, the Reagan plan.
On September 1, 1982, US President Ronald Reagan delivered a nationally-televised address in which he called for a “fresh start” in the Middle East peace process. He laid out a series of proposals which included a construction freeze on Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and a transition period leading to “self-government by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan.”
Astonishingly, the plan was drawn up in consultation with various Arab leaders, while Israel was kept in the dark until right before Reagan’s speech.
But Jerusalem reacted quickly and with resolve.
On September 2, then-prime minister Menachem Begin interrupted a vacation in Nahariya, returned to Jerusalem and convened a special cabinet meeting, which lasted for three hours.
Afterwards, the government issued a communique that was striking in its audacity. It contained a point-by-point rebuttal of Reagan’s speech, stating that, “The positions conveyed to the Prime Minister of Israel on behalf of the President of the United States consist of partial quotations from the Camp David Agreement or are nowhere mentioned in the agreement or contradict it entirely.”
It went on to state that, “the positions of the Government of the United States seriously deviate from the Camp David agreement, contradict it and could create a serious danger to Israel, its security and its future.”
And guess what? The sky did not fall in, the sun still rose the next morning, and Israel and the United States continued to be friends, even if there was tension in the relationship.
Several days later, Begin went even further, sending a personal letter to Reagan which should be required reading for every Israeli diplomat and statesman lacking a backbone.
With a mixture of grace and determination, Begin made clear to the leader of the Free World that as much as he valued the ties between Israel and the US, he would not compromise his core principles or Israel’s national interests.
“Dear Ron,” wrote Begin, “What some call the ‘West Bank,’ Mr. President, is Judea and Samaria; and this simple historic truth will never change. There are cynics who deride history. They may continue their derision as they wish, but I will stand by the truth,” he said.
“And the truth,” insisted Begin, “is that millennia ago there was a Jewish kingdom of Judea and Samaria where our kings knelt to God, where our prophets brought forth the vision of eternal peace, where we developed a rather rich civilization which we took with us, in our hearts and in our minds, on our long global trek for over 18 centuries; and, with it, we came back home.”
After spelling out his objections to Reagan’s peace plan, Begin concluded with a paragraph as piercing as it was heartfelt. “Mr. President,” he stated, “you and I chose for the last two years to call our countries ‘friends and allies.’ Such being the case, a friend does not weaken his friend, an ally does not put his ally in jeopardy. This would be the inevitable consequence,” Begin asserted, if the president’s proposals were to become reality.
“I believe they won’t,” the prime minister concluded, before quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest.”
Other Israeli leaders, both before and since, have stood up to American pressure and had the courage of their convictions, just as Begin did. Confident in the justness of Israel’s cause, Begin, Golda, Ben-Gurion and others were willing to buck Washington for the sake of Israel’s future.
So, I ask you, can Israel afford to say “no” to Kerry’s proposals? Of course! Or, to borrow a phrase from President Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign: “Yes we can!” Sure, there will be consequences, and strains in our bilateral relationship. But Israel has said “no” before and should not be afraid of doing so again. We cannot put our security at risk and forgo parts of our ancestral homeland, simply to win favor with the powers that be in the White House.
Israel must stand firm and reject any further withdrawals or retreats, regardless of what Mr. Kerry has to say. We cannot return to the 1967 borders or allow a hostile Palestinian entity to arise next door.
Believe it or not, there are some things that are more important even than American goodwill.
Survival, I dare say, is one of them.