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In the biblical saga of the exodus from Egypt, there is a great military mystery. We are told that when the Israelites left Goshen in Egypt, they had 600,000 men of fighting age in their ranks, and -- at least according to one reading of the text -- they were well armed (hamushim). That being the case, why did they behave in such a cowardly manner, shuddering as Pharaoh's army approached?
True, comments the great sage Ibn Ezra, the Egyptians had 600 chariots, but what are those when up against 600,000 fighting men? The medieval French rabbi Chezkuni makes the same point.
The mystery gets more mysterious just a few lines later. After crossing into the Sinai wilderness, a handful of Amalekite terrorists harass the Israelites. But how many Amalekites could there have been, given that they were living off roots and bugs in the desert with no manna? Yet even then, the Jews were unable to fight off the Amalekites without Divine intervention and supernatural assistance.
One explanation of why the Israelites had to spend 40 years in the desert is that they needed to be cured of their cowardice and defeatism. Military challenges and powerful Canaanite kingdoms awaited them in the campaign to conquer the Promised Land. The generation that had known exile and slavery was unable to cope with that. It was necessary to wait for the next generation, born in freedom, to tackle the task.
The generational changing of the guard we read about in the Bible has been recreated in modern Israel, but in the reverse direction.
The generation that had been raised in exile, suffering persecution and massacre, entered the Promised Land as military heroes, brilliant tacticians, and determined fighters. Yet within a short time they had been replaced with a new generation, one raised in freedom in their own sovereign state. This new generation lost the determination and courage of their fathers and grandfathers. It became infected with defeatism and cowardice; increasingly, it lost its willingness to resist and even to survive as a nation.
This generational change was not apparent until the emergence of the Oslo peace process. In Israel's early years, Israelis manifested the courage and valor of the Israelites of the Book of Joshua. Small militias of Jews defeated the combined military forces of the invading Arab armies in the 1948-9 War of Independence. Modern Israel fought terrorism with a policy of "Zero Tolerance" and in the Sinai campaign of 1956 easily defeated Egyptian forces.
A decade later Israelis crushed the combined military might of the Arab world and liberated Jerusalem. They again defeated those same forces in 1973, despite being caught in a surprise attack on Yom Kippur. And Israelis continued to demonstrate courage and resourcefulness in the war against Arab terror, most dramatically with the dramatic rescue at Entebbe.
But some time between 1978 and 1992 a great transformation took place. Despite the long track record of military successes, the new generation of Israelis lost its willingness to fight and resist. It convinced itself that capitulation and appeasement are the only paths to peace. It decided that self-abasement is the key ingredient to good relations with its neighbors.
Israelis elected leaders who hectored the new generation over their selfishness and bigotry, who insisted that the only reason peace had not yet emerged was that Israelis did not desire it enough.
In a Middle East in which the Arabs control territory nearly twice the size of the Unites States (including Alaska), the new breed of Israeli leaders insisted that the war was still going on because Israelis held too much land -- almost the size of New Jersey in total.
In a Middle East already containing 22 sovereign Arab states -- one of those states already controlling two-thirds of the land of Mandatory Palestine -- the new breed of political leader in Israel maintained that creation of a 23rd Arab state could solve the whole conflict.
Back when Israel was behind its 1949 "Green Line" borders, it was repeatedly attacked by Arab armies seeking its annihilation. But returning to those same borders (or something close to them), insist Israel's new leaders, will result in peace and tranquility.
From 1992 onward, Israeli leaders insisted that peace could be achieved by pretending that war did not exist. And the greatest need of all, urgent and important above all else, was that the new generation of Israelis forget all of human and Jewish history, lest they infer from history that the policy of Oslo appeasement would not work.
In many ways, the Hamas Putsch is the natural and inevitable outcome of 14 years of Israeli policy. It is not at all an exaggeration to say that Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin installed the Hamas Amalekites in power when they shook Arafat's hand on the White House lawn in 1993. It was there and then that they welcomed a Hamas army into the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. East Jerusalem was turned over to Hamas for all intents and purposes when Peres and Yossi Beilin sent their representatives (illegally) to meet with PLO terrorists in Oslo in the late1980's.
The Hamas Putsch was not a surprise development but rather the inevitable fruition of the doctrine of appeasement and capitulation that has been embraced by an entire generation of Israelis. The "Oslo approach" has failed at each and every step of the way, producing the opposite of the results its apologists insisted they would deliver.
Israeli goodwill measures produced escalated terrorism and suicide bombings. Israeli niceness was interpreted as weakness, and strengthened the most xenophobic forces and open Islamofascists among the Palestinians. Israeli flexibility and concessions triggered a worldwide campaign of anti-Semitism and demonization of Israel, especially in Europe. The Palestinians did not respond with flexibility and moderation, as the Oslo Camp had promised, but rather with open preparation for war. Israel has demonstrated since 1993 that the Jews are on the run, that the Jews have lost their will to survive. Palestinian Arabs drew the logical conclusion.
With each failure of the "Oslo approach," with each manifestation that Israel's appeasement was resulting in inflated Palestinian expectations from armed conflict with Israel and escalating Palestinian intransigence, Oslo defeatism metastasized further throughout the political system of Israel.
In the early 1980's, only the Israeli Communist party and its front groups were advocating an armed sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. By the late 1990's, this had become not only the platform of the Israeli Labor Party but also of the Likud. Even the "hawkish" wing of the Likud, led by Ariel Sharon, adopted what had been the Communist position.
The unilateral Israeli eviction of the settlers from Gaza resulted in a massive escalation in the firing of rockets and mortars into Jewish civilian areas in the Negev. Yet the lesson that Israel's political leaders have drawn from this is that more evictions of Jews, this time from the West Bank, are what is needed to restore calm.
And in spite of hopes that the Hamas Putsch might at long last wake Israelis up to the folly of their overnment's policies these past 13 years, acting Prime Minister Olmert's first two responses to the Hamas victory were to turn over 200 million shekels in tax revenues to the Hamas and then to send mounted police in to evict Jews from their homes in the settlement of Amona.
In the coming Knesset elections in Israel, all three major parties are advocating the same basic strategic position: eviction of Jewish settlers from most of the West Bank without Arab quid pro quo, turning the other cheek when rockets land in Jewish areas, and continued support for a Palestinian state.
Indeed, buried in the Israeli election news is the fact that Israeli voters have just lost their only ballot option to vote against the Oslo "peace process" and against the pursuit of peace through appeasement and self-abasement. The last holdout, the only party in the last parliament not promoting peace through appeasement, had been the Ichud Leumi party, itself a coalition of several smaller factions.
The National Religious Party (NRP) or MAFDAL had been paying rhetorical lip service to opposing Oslo, although few believe it was really opposed. After all, the NRP had sat in Israeli government coalitions of both Labor and Likud that implemented earlier Oslo appeasements without batting an eyelash. One wag suggested that if Israel's government finally decided to move Israel back to its 1949 borders, the only concern of the NRP would be that the withdrawal not take place on the Sabbath.
As a coalition partner, the NRP never had any problem abandoning its nominal opposition to Oslo in exchange for fiscal handouts to its party institutions and schools. The merging of Ichud Leumi with the NRP means, first of all, that the new party is abandoning the chance of retaining the votes of secularist Israeli voters opposed to Oslo -- people repulsed by the NRP. In addition, any voter, of any level of religiosity, who casts a vote for this new party out of anti-Oslo conviction must know that there is a distinct chance of seeing his own vote perverted. How long will it take for the new party to sell out and cash in its Knesset support for some funds (dare I say pork?) handed over to NRP institutions?
The worse the failures of the Oslo process, the fewer the electoral possibilities for Israelis to oppose it.
One fundamental plank in the Oslo peace process is to provide the Hamas entity with a "safe corridor" that links the Gaza Strip with the West Bank. Israel would be prohibited from stopping the movement of weapons, explosives, and terrorists along this "safe corridor." The Americans and the EU have been pressuring Israel to allow the operations of the "safe corridor" to begin immediately.
Now that there is no Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip, there are also no obstacles to the massive importing of state-of-the-art advanced weapons into the area via Egypt. These likely include shoulder-fired missiles. There will be no more Kassams for Hamas, those pieces of junk held together by chewing gum and glue.
The emerging Hamas terrorist army will have 21st-century hi-tech weapons. And the "safe corridor" will ensure that these also reach the West Bank. Shoulder missiles that can knock down civilian planes will be in the hands of Hamas terrorists positioned in areas over which planes fly when landing at and taking off from Ben Gurion Airport.
The most amazing thing is that the Israeli political establishment has learned absolutely nothing from previous cases of implementation of "safe corridors." Israel's will not be the first. The most infamous is probably the"Polish Corridor" that Hitler demanded in 1939.
When Poland was reconstituted after World War I, Danzig remained a free city and parts of East Prussia remained under German rule. After Hitler took power, ethnic Germans in Danzig formed a Nazi party and took control of the city. Following Hitler's success in cowing the West, winning all his demands at Munich, and then destroying Czechoslovakia, the next item on the Nazi agenda was a "safe corridor" between Germany proper and Danzig/East Prussia through Poland. Hitler was sure the West would again acquiesce and appease.
But Poland dug in its heels and refused the demand for a safe corridor. Poland understood that the notion of a safe corridor represented the end of Polish sovereignty on its own territory -- that it was little more than a tactic to divide Poland and make it more vulnerable to invasion. With Hitler's forces grouping in the West and the Red Army poised to conquer Poland from the East, Poland, friendless and poorly armed, still chose war rather than surrender to the demand for a "Polish Corridor."
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, with the Red Army following. After Poland's defeat, Danzig and the Polish Corridor, as well as much other territory in western Poland, were annexed to Germany. (After World War II, the entire German population of East Prussia and Danzig was expelled by Poland.)
In recent years we have been hearing cries from the Israeli Left that the forthcoming "Palestinian state" must be provided with territorial "continuity." The only problem is that one look at the map shows that if a Palestinian state were to have territorial continuity, the Jewish state would lose its territorial continuity.
This in fact is the point of the demand for a "safe corridor," which would simply be the first step toward constraining Israeli sovereignty, armed aggression against Israel, and territorial dismemberment. The Polish government of 1939 understood that the "Polish Corridor" would amount to a first step on the path to self-annihilation and refused German demands. The Israeli political establishment has far less backbone and common sense.
The "corridor" is not the only manifestation of the refusal of the Israeli elite to learn from history. Since the Hamas Putsch, we have been hearing arguments about how Abu Mazen will stay on as Palestinian president while Hamas "only" controls the Palestinian parliament. Supposedly this could mean that Abu Mazen will keep Hamas restrained.
Speaking of historical precedents, this strongly resembles similar predictions made when Hitler took power and Paul von Hindenberg was Reich president. Von Hindenberg will keep Hitler restrained, was the accepted wisdom and media spin of that day.
Of course, within a year von Hindenberg was dead and Hitler had seized all presidential powers. But don't bother telling any of that to Israel's leaders. They still prefer life in a fantasy bubble to learning from history.
This article appeared February 22, 2006 in The Jewish Press
Steven Plaut is a professor at Haifa University. His book "The Scout" is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
This article appeared February 22, 2006 in The Jewish Press
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