Amos Oz: Have We Not Learned A Thing?

Published: Thu 21 Dec 2006 12:57 AM
Have We Not Learned A Thing?
Middle East News Service
[ Middle East News Service comments: Several Israel commentators have speculated that in the annals of history Israel’s worst mistake for 2006 would not be the Second Lebanon War but its total rejection of Syrian President Assad’s peace offers. Ami Isseroff of the self-described Zionist News Network described just what Israel was knocking back:
The Syrian government, in the persons of President Bashar Assad and Foreign minister Walid Moallem, has offered to begin unconditional peace negotiations. The old conditions that formed a barrier to negotiations, that the negotiations begin where they left off when they were broken off by Hafez Assad, is [no] longer in place. Moallem's offer was made in an interview with David Ignatius, published in the Washington Post. Moallem referred to the "noble cause" of peace between Syria and Israel, a dramatic change from the historic stand of Syria. Syria has led the "refusal" camp since 1977, blackening Egypt for making peace with Israel.
To paraphrase Ehud Barak, Assad has now exposed the Olmert-Peres-Government true face as a peace refusenik. A frank exposition of what was involved was provided by Ehud Asheri in his regular TV column on 18 December in Haaretz (Hebrew only – my translation):
‘Generations of Israelis have been brought up their entire life with the mantra of “Our hand is stretched out with a message of peace and good neighbourliness.” Another mantra has been “negotiations without any pre-conditions.” All these Israelis had to go through a rapid process of re-education yesterday. One after another, commentators and politicians (mainly from the Labour Party) reported for duty in the TV studios. In the best tradition of newspeak they turned the historic mantra upside down. Our hand is stretched out for peace but only to George W Bush. Our northern neighbour can go jump in the lake. With all due respect for negotiations without any preconditions we have some preconditions, ergo we are nobody’s suckers. If there was anyone who thought otherwise ([Labourite Ophir] Pines-Paz or [Meretz’s Yossi] Beilin?) s/he didn’t score an invitation to the studio.
‘No one can pick on the interviewers. “Why say no when you can say yes”, they asked. What can Israel lose? Why can’t we raise our demands while talking? Why not dispatch a secret envoy to find out if Assad is really serious. The interviewees were unwilling to listen. The conga line of creative excuses not to negotiate – it’s idle talk, nothing but idle talk - probably made the founding fathers turn in their graves. “We should not run amuck”(Minister Yitzhak Hertzog. “They cannot manipulate Hezbollah against us. Let them sober up first.” (Shimon Peres.) “Peace with Syria will not solve any problems” ([Former head of the Israeli National Security Council] Giora Eiland.) “We should not legitimise Assad”, ([former minister] Tzachi Hanegbi.)
‘OK. We have all figured out that Olmert cannot refuse Bush. Our political commentators put it neatly: “The reason can be summed up in one letter- W (Channel 2’s Udi Segal) . “It’s hard to escape the American bear hug” (Channel 1’s Ayala Hasson). So why did Hertzog carry on with “Assad must display confidence building steps” and why did Peres prattle on about “a priority for the Palestinian issue”? Let them get going with negotiations with Bush.’
One of those opposed to Israel stance is Amos Oz. It is no secret that I regard his reputation for a peacemaker in the west as being unwarranted. How much credit can one take for good work done two decades ago which has been followed with, being charitable, mediocre and equivocal writing on the subject? But nevertheless what he writes is to a large extent correct and with reputation may be taken up more seriously.
No doubt critics will slam him for mentioning Israel’s 2,700 casualties without mentioning the much larger losses on the other side. [From an Australian perspective one notes that recent comments about Vietnam mentioned both sides’ casualties.] Others will ask “what Syrian attack?” in response to his comment “in 1967, in wake of the Syrian attack” but I think they will miss the point of his main message. [I also advise critics to wait till the Hebrew original becomes available. This article is not available on the Hebrew website. The reference to 1967 could be an “improvement” or short cut made by the translator. (Their past track record does not fill me with confidence.)]
Recommended reading – Sol Salbe.]
Have we not learned a thing?
Rejecting Syrian peace overtures could lead to war, as was case in 1973
Amos Oz
Syrian President Bashar Assad is repeatedly calling on Israel to engage in peace talks. In recent days he added that he has no preconditions for entering such talks - Assad is not even demanding the return of the Golan Heights as a precondition.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave an extraordinary response to Assad's overture: Engaging in dialogue with Syria at this time would be "against the position of (US President) George Bush, Israel's greatest friend," who is not interested in a peace agreement between Israel and Syria . Thus, Israel is rejecting Syria's outstretched hand.
There were times when Israel still behaved as if it were an independent State rather than an American protégé, and when direct negotiations without preconditions were at the heart of Israel's Mideast policies. David Ben Gurion, Moshe Sharet, Levi Eshkol, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin all urged the Arab nations to sit with us at the negotiating table without any preconditions on either side. The various demands made by the two sides, as stated by Israel for years, could be clarified during the negotiation process itself. This is no longer the case.
In response to the Syrian proposal, it is now Israel that is stipulating a series of preconditions: Expel Hamas leadership from its territory; sever its ties with Hizbullah; disengage from Iran and cease military build up opposite the Golan Heights – Israel is demanding all this prior to engaging in talks.
And if Syria does indeed fulfill these preconditions in full, Israel would have no reason to negotiate with Syria over the future of the Golan Heights. In fact, Syria's acceptance of all Israel's preconditions would make peace with Syria unnecessary.
In 1967, in wake of the Syrian attack, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syrian hands. Since then, Syria has not ceased demanding that Israel return the Heights, while Israel has demanded peace, recognition and cessation of hostilities.
We've been there before
Now Israel is setting a precondition that Syria give it all it has, even before convening at the negotiating table. This is a baseless demand. Even more groundless is Israel's reasoning for rejecting the Syrian overture, namely, we must not engage in talks with Syria less we burden President Bush with his internal US debate regarding Middle Eastern affairs.
Why is Israel interfering in internal issues between American hawks and doves? Why should Israel have to delay a supreme national interest – peace with all its neighbors – in favor of pleasantness or unpleasantness in its relations with a foreign government?
Primarily, however, this is the first time an Israeli prime minister has admitted and has even boasted that the fate of an Israeli national priority lies in foreign hands.
On the eve of the Yom Kippur War former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat proposed a peace agreement with the Israeli government in exchange for the return of the Sinai. Golda Meir's destitute government ignored the proposal with similar arguments to those now being used by Olmert's cabinet to justify its refusal for engaging in talks with Syria.
A total of 2,700 Israeli soldiers were killed, and thousands were wounded in the Yom Kippur War, in wake of which Israel accepted the same proposal made by Sadat prior to the war: Land for peace.
Have we really not learned anything?
[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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