By Ted Belman
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the political right accuses the left of pursuing a fantasy -- namely, that peace is possible. At the same time, however, the right suffers from what many consider its own fantasy: that Israel can defy the world, and particularly the U.S.
In addressing the right's "fantasy," the fact is that you can count the instances where Israeli prime ministers have defied the U.S. on the fingers of one hand.
Ben Gurion's declaration of statehood is one such example, as was his refusal to withdraw in the '48 war to the Partition line. He insisted instead on the Armistice lines. In part for his intransigence, he was punished with the creation of UNRWA.
Other instances of Israel bucking the United States include, perhaps, Eshkol's decision to pre-empt the Six-Day War and Begin's courageous decisions to bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak, and to push on to Beirut in the first Lebanese War.
Begin, uncharacteristically, gave up every inch of the Sinai, after much pressure and prodding. He even came to the conclusion that doing it was a good thing. The most important reason was because Egypt, then Israel's biggest Arab enemy, was prepared to break the Arab rejectionist front by making peace with Israel. This was considered a very big deal at the time.
Shamir was forced to participate in the Madrid Conference in 1991 and to negotiate indirectly with the PLO. He was also forced to put Jerusalem on the table. He may have given in since he desperately needed a U.S. loan guarantee on a $10-billion line of credit in order to finance the aliya of close to one million Jews, or nearly Jews, from Russia. There may have been pressures applied to him as well, as he was dealing with James Baker, who had no love for Jews.
Thanks to the pressure and threats that Shamir and therefore Israel were subject to, Rabin, when he became prime minister, opted to bypass the pressure and to secretly negotiate a deal directly with Arafat, the head of the PLO. What resulted was the Declaration of Principles in 1993 and the Interim Agreement in 1995, together known as the Oslo Accords. These agreements were favorable to Israel, as the U.S. was not in a position to support the Palestinian position. That is not to say that it wasn't a huge mistake to invite Arafat back into Judea and Samaria. It was.
After Rabin's assassination, Benjamin Netanyahu, in 1996, narrowly defeated Shimon Peres for the job of prime minister. He based his campaign on his rejection of the Oslo Accords or on his demand for reciprocity before Israel would act on them. Within two years, though, he betrayed his longstanding positions and signed the Wye Agreement, in which let the PA control 40% of the territories, as required by Oslo, without demanding reciprocity. Douglas Feith explains the significance of the agreement in "Wye and the Road to War," at Commentary.
It was a known fact that Pres. Clinton had promised to release Jonathan Pollard, but I doubt that this was why Netanyahu signed the agreement. He may have thought he had no choice but to continue the Oslo process, even in the face of Arafat's non-compliance. In any event, it contributed to his defeat at the hands of Ehud Barak in the elections one year later.
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