By David Isaac
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Israelis Cling to Faith in Peace Treaty,” reports that many Israeli officials “are finding solace in the view” that the peace pact with Egypt will hold despite the advent of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is startling given the September 2011 ransacking of the Israeli embassy by Egyptian rioters, the incessant calls by Brotherhood leaders to liberate the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and the vaporization of Israel’s natural-gas supply from Egypt.
Shmuel gave up on the Egypt-Israel treaty 35 years ago, right from its inception, and he publicly warned about its dangers throughout the years. A mere three months after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem, Shmuel wrote:
If there had not in the past three months been other sufficient indications, then Sadat’s angry refusal to make microscopic “concessions” in territory where Egypt has had no sovereignty, which is certainly not “sacred” and which is of no importance to Egyptian security — but which is important for an attack on Israel — are enough to demonstrate that this man does not envisage peace with Israel but (in the words of the Prime Minister) peace without Israel. (“From No-Man’s Land to ‘Sacred Soil,’” The Jerusalem Post, Feb. 28, 1978)
It seems Israeli officialdom is still playing catch-up. Why was Shmuel able to see the treaty for what it was while so many Israelis were not? Was he like a prophet of old, divinely gifted with second sight?
Shmuel would have been amused. The only difference between Shmuel and so many Israelis is that, unlike them, he didn’t replace thinking with wishful thinking. And, he listened. As Shmuel said in an episode of “Firing Line” (April 1, 1979):
I don’t think that the question is primarily one of an article in an agreement. I am looking at what is being said in the periphery of the agreement by Egyptian spokesmen. … Now as far as the intentions of Sadat are concerned, I believe what he says. You can’t ignore the fact that when you’ve had a peace process or negotiations going on for a whole year, that just as you’re about to sign the treaty, one side says, “I’m not signing unless I am given the right to go to war,” and then say you don’t take it seriously.
Representing the other side in this “Firing Line” debate was Prof. Shlomo Avineri of Hebrew University, who dismissed Shmuel’s example of what Egyptian spokesmen were saying as mere “rhetoric.”
Paying no mind to what the Arabs say continues today. Indeed, it’s necessary if the fiction of a peace treaty is to be maintained. The Wall Street Journal article mentioned above quotes Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national-security adviser, as saying, “I don’t think we should see a dramatic change in the strategic policy of Egypt in the future no matter who is elected and no matter how blunt the statements by this future president might be.” Not only is Mr. Eiland discounting past statements, he’s conveniently brushing off future ones as well.
Apparently, not listening is ingrained in Israeli culture. Shmuel illustrates this with a joke in “Deaf Ears in Jerusalem,” (The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 1979):
Ephraim Kishon some time ago placed his inimitable finger on one of the strange weaknesses of our society: people do not listen to what is being said to them. One example he offered ran roughly as follows: a man standing in a crowded bus stamps on his neighbour’s foot. The victim turns round angrily, only to encounter the conciliating smile of the culprit, who says very sweetly: “I did that on purpose.” The victim mutters, “Oh, that’s alright. No harm done.”
In “Time to Take Stock” (The Jerusalem Post, June 22, 1979), Shmuel wrote:
Sadat not only ensured for his nation the removal of Israel’s effective security belt — down to the last grain of sand and the last Jew — which would protect it in a future war, but, despite Begin’s protestations, he also in fact achieved (by the addendum to Clause Six of the Peace Treaty) adequate formal legitimization for joining a future all-Arab war against Israel, under whatever pretext may then be available to Egypt.
That war has yet to come. But Shmuel never pretended to know when. He just knew it would come. One could draw a parallel to Milton Friedman’s prediction in 1999 that the euro would fall apart within a decade. Friedman was off on the timing but he understood that yoking together countries with different languages and cultures – with economies running by very different rules – in a single currency wasn’t feasible. Now that the euro is on the ropes, Friedman looks prescient.
It’s noteworthy that Europe’s leaders seem to be doubling-down in the crisis, calling for stricter fiscal and monetary union. One can say Israel has already doubled-down, pursuing a land for peace paradigm despite failure after failure. But forging ahead regardless of past failures is easy if you don’t listen.