Rael Jean Isaac
Politicians doubtless find it unfair when, after they have assumed office, they are confronted with their earlier promises or pronouncements on public issues that conflict with what they do after assuming power. Generally the public does not hold them too severely to their previous words, although on occasion a politician can pay dearly--George Bush, for example, who raised taxes after saying in the election campaign "Read my lips" when he promised no such thing.
But while Benjamin Netanyahu may feel that he should be cut the same slack as the average politician, the circumstances in Israel's case preclude this. That is because Netanyahu was not addressing the merits of this or that tax rate or tariff or foreign policy initiative,
In 1993, Netanyahu called the Oslo agreement "the abandonment of Zionism" and vowed to use every legitimate means "to foil the foolish process which threatens the very future of the state."
We do not expect a responsible political leader, once he assumes power, to adopt a course of action he himself believes will lead to national suicide. It might be argued that Netanyahu spoke those words in 1986, and can scarcely be held to opinions twelve years old, views developed prior to the Oslo accords, which supposedly indicated a sea-change in Palestinian Arab attitudes. But here is Netanyahu in September 1993, as Oslo was being celebrated by a country dizzy with the hopes for peace Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres promised them. Addressing Peres in the Knesset, he said: "You are much worse than [British Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain, because Chamberlain threatened the security and freedom of another nation, while you are threatening the security and freedom of your own." Netanyahu called the Oslo agreement "the abandonment of Zionism" and vowed to use every legitimate means available to a democratic opposition "to foil the foolish process which threatens the very future of the state."
Did Netanyahu change his mind as Oslo
unfolded? Here is Netanyahu in January 1994 (reported in the Jerusalem Post). Asserting that should it come to power, the Likud would not honor the Oslo accords, Netanyahu explained: "Under ordinary circumstances I believe agreements must be honored even if they had been contracted by a previous administration. However, any given agreement must be honored by both signatories. If one of the sides reneges on a given agreement the other cannot be bound by it." Since the PLO had "failed to amend the Palestinian covenant" --and this, said Netanyahu "was the basis for the whole accord, without which Israel would not have entered the deal, as is admitted by this present government"--and had reneged on the promise to adopt an anti-terror policy, "the agreement is in effect null and void."
And here is Netanyahu in 1995. He warned that under Oslo as "Israeli islands, isolated in a PLO sea, Jewish settlements will not last long." "What will happen," he asked, "when terrorists attack Israelis in Jerusalem and return to nearby PLO land? Or fire rockets from hills above Tel Aviv? The Israeli Army will have no right to enter the territory and root them out. This, believe it or not, is the 'internal' responsibility of Yasir Arafat." Worse still, continued Netanyahu, the PLO domain would inevitably be recognized as a new Arab state. "This is a mortal threat to Israel. A PLO state on the West Bank will strip the Jewish state of the defensive wall of the Judean and Samarian mountains won in the Six Day War, recreating a country 10 miles wide, open to invading armies from the east." The Rabin government, said Netanyahu, "is now betting the security of Israel on Yasir Arafat's promises. But his promises are worthless. He has violated every political commitment he has ever made."
On innumerable occasions, until he muted his rhetoric at the end of the election campaign in the spring of 1996, Netanyahu made these and even harsher statements about the Oslo accords. Indeed, such quotes could fill a book longer than Netanyahu's own A Place Among the Nations.
What, then, explains Netanyahu's dramatic shift on assuming power? After all, nothing has changed. Arafat, who according to Netanyahu himself "has violated every political commitment he has ever made," is still Israel's "peace partner." The Covenant is intact. Arafat's disinterest in curbing terror is intact (indeed he threatens "Israel-has-seen-nothing-yet" if his demands are not promptly met). If Israeli settlements were doomed to die once they became islands in an Arafat-controlled sea, why is Netanyahu planning, in the currently planned withdrawal, to make them precisely into such islands? If the threat of an Arab state in the hills of Judea and Samaria is a mortal one, why is Netanyahu bringing it to fruition?
Part of the explanation is not far to seek, and can be summed up in one word, "pressure." The word brings to mind external constraints and clearly the United States has ruthlessly been exerting pressure on Israel to continue withdrawals for more paper promises from
(Continued on p.7)
Outpost - 6 - July-August 1998