By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
In 1949, following Israel’s War of Independence, which overcame an Arab military attempt to eradicate the reborn Jewish State, Prime Minister Ben Gurion was aware that appeasing rogue regimes would provide a tailwind to radicalism and terrorism. Therefore, he repulsed the aggressive US and global pressure to concede land acquired during a defensive war (“land-for-peace”) to Arab aggressors. Israel’s area was expanded by 50%, to 8,000sqm, and the liberated areas of Western Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Negev and the Triangle were resettled. Thus, Ben Gurion’s rejection of “land-for-peace” upgraded, dramatically, Israel’s posture of deterrence, and motivated the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs-of-Staff, General Omar Bradley, to recommend the upgrading of Israel’s stature to a major strategic ally of the US. That recommendation was rejected by the US State Department, the mentor of “land-for-peace.”
In May 1985, Israel concluded the Jibril Agreement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, releasing 1150 Palestinian terrorists in exchange for three Israeli prisoners. Many of the released terrorists planned and commanded the 1987-1991 wave of Palestinian terrorism (the First Intifada), which produced an unprecedented level of terrorism, especially suicide-bombing.
In September, 1993, the Israel-engineered Oslo Accord was signed in the White House, providing Palestinians more political freedom than experienced by them under British, Jordanian and Egyptian rule. Instead of “a new Middle East” (as enunciated by the late President Shimon Peres), the Oslo Process ushered in an unprecedented wave of terrorism, in general, and suicide-bombing, in particular, exacerbated monetary incentives to terrorists, as well as by an insidious infrastructure of hate education and incitement in the Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas-controlled k-12 education system, mosques, community centers and media. Furthermore, the Oslo Accord doomed Arabs in Judea and Samaria to be ruled by one of the most ruthless, intolerant Arab regimes.
In May 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak retreated, hastily, from Southern Lebanon, indicating that Israel could not sustain the average annual loss of 24 soldiers in Lebanon. It was perceived as a symptom of vacillation, which was reinforced by the July 2000 Camp David Summit between Barak, Arafat and Clinton, when Barak conceded unprecedented Israeli ground on the issues of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. These two Israeli retreats generated a robust tailwind to the September 2000 – February 2005 wave of Palestinian terrorism (the Second Intifada), which consumed the lives of over thousand Israelis (mostly civilians) and over 3,000 Palestinians, many of whom were killed by fellow-Palestinians.
In August 2005, Israel carried out, unilaterally, another “land-for-peace” operation, uprooting a critical Israeli military presence and 9,000 Israeli civilians from 25 Jewish settlements in northern Samaria and (mostly) Gaza. As expected, this fueled Palestinian terrorism, bolstered Palestinian firepower in Gaza, led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza, transformed southern Israel into a routine target for Palestinian missiles, incubated three wars (December 2008 – January 2009, November 2012 and July-August 2014), radicalized terrorism and diminished the prospects for peace.
The US is aware that terrorists bite the hand that feeds them. For example, in April and October 1983, 300 US Marines were killed by suicide car-bombs in the Marine Barracks and the US Embassy in Beirut, despite the brutal US pressure on Israel to desist from hot-pursuit of the PLO in Lebanon. On December 21, 1988, 270 passengers of PanAm-103 were murdered by a suicide-bomber, a week after the startling US recognition of the PLO on December 14. The August 27, 1998 blowing up of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania – 257 murdered and over 4,000 injured – occurred while US President Clinton leaned relentlessly and brutally on Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu to yield to Palestinian demands. The October 2000 murder of 17 sailors on the USS Cole, by suicide bombers, in the port of Aden, Yemen, took place at a time when both the US and Israel offered the Palestinian almost the entire store.
The concept of “land-for-peace” has underlined well-intentioned attempts to advance the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, ignoring the track record of all prior attempts – since the 1993 Oslo Accord - which failed to advance the cause of peace, while inflaming Palestinian terrorism.
These attempts have underestimated the significance of the systematic track record of Palestinian terrorism, subversion and violent incitement – mostly against fellow Palestinians/Arabs, as well as against Jews – dating back to the 1920s, well before the 1948 reestablishment of the Jewish State and the 1967 reestablishment of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
This well-documented track record identifies the cause of the conflict, and the trigger of Palestinian terrorism: the existence - not the size – of the Jewish State in an area, supposedly, divinely ordained to Muslim, Arab “believers.”
The “land-for-peace” attempts have made light of the collaboration of the Palestinian establishment with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Bloc, the Ayatollahs, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.
Moreover, they have also overlooked the Arab perception of the Palestinians, and mostly the PLO – which legally and effectively supersedes the Palestinian Authority – as the role model for sabotage, turmoil and terror in the Arab sphere. Hence, the enormously pro-Palestinian Arab talk, simultaneously with indifferent and negative Arab walk, reflecting awareness of the Palestinian trail of violence in Egypt (1950s), Syria (1966), Jordan (1968-1970), Lebanon (1970-1982), Kuwait (1990) and Iraq (1990s-2003).
Will Western policy-makers and peace negotiators finally learn from precedents by repeating, or avoiding, past critical and costly errors? Will they heed Winston Churchill’s warning, following Britain’s “land-for-peace” agreement with Nazi Germany: “an appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile - hoping it will eat him last”?