The complex deal that has ended Gilad Schalit’s nightmare raises many difficult questions, not least its strategic wisdom. However, the agreement to bring Schalit home has brought clarity on one topic. It has answered the vehement critics of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who increasingly portray him as an obstacle to peace.
Taking their ideological cue from Britain’s infamous wartime appeaser Neville Chamberlain, they insist that simple Israeli capitulation will deliver peace. In brokering the Schalit deal, Netanyahu has demonstrated the same conviction with which he approaches peacemaking – that an agreement can only be reached when Israel’s security demands are taken seriously. Though this stance may be unpopular, like Chamberlain’s great adversary Winston Churchill, Netanyahu’s unfashionable approach will ultimately prove correct.
Chief among Netanyahu’s critics are the darlings of The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman.
Kristof recently warned that Netanyahu’s attitude toward settlements was leading Israel toward “national suicide.” In similarly simplistic fashion, Friedman suggested that a further settlement freeze would lay the foundations for peace talks. This kind of rabble-rousing satisfies a popular desire for a simple solution to the conflict. Who doesn’t want to believe that there is a quick and easy fix? But, as the Schalit deal has demonstrated, simple solutions are rarely the answer to complex problems.
In reality, even more building restrictions in the West Bank in the pursuit of peace would be as futile as the paper that Chamberlain enthusiastically waved to cheering crowds on his triumphant return from Munich in 1938. As Netanyahu convincingly argues, even the most dramatic Israeli concessions, when unilateral, are understood as signs of weakness and have been met with further violence. Hasty withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon temporarily satisfied the likes of Kristof and Friedman, but they subjected millions of Israeli citizens in both the North and South to the terror of rocket attacks – their own version of London’s wartime “Blitz.”
In reality, reciprocity in response to Israel’s security needs is the only basis for meaningful negotiations, whether to secure the return of a kidnapped soldier or to determine the borders of our country. I sat at the table with Netanyahu in late 2009, when a potential deal for Schalit was first presented to him. Then, the prime minister established strong red lines over the release of arch-terrorists and the return of murderers to the West Bank. These guidelines, supported by the security establishment, form the basis of the agreement that we see today, where Hamas has modified its demands. The deal still comes at a questionably high price, but Netanyahu’s security parameters have remained the backbone of negotiations.
The same security imperative rightly guides Netanyahu’s peace-making efforts. As he highlighted at the UN in September, the fundamental block to progress is Palestinian inflexibility over the most basic Israeli concerns. Israel’s understandable insistence over security guarantees in a future Palestinian state are considered “an affront” to Palestinian sovereignty. Even the most fundamental Israeli demand for mutual respect, that the Palestinian leadership recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, is constantly sidestepped by Mahmoud Abbas.
Of course, Netanyahu’s detractors prefer to ignore the elephant in the room – Hamas-controlled Gaza. After all, acknowledging that a large chunk of any future Palestinian state would be governed by terrorists hell-bent on Israel’s destruction would rather upset the child-like depiction of Netanyahu as the major obstacle to peace. This naive analysis ignores Chamberlain’s unwitting lesson that a piece of paper is not the same as peace itself.
Churchill famously said, “An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile hoping it will eat him last.” The never-ending demand for Israeli concessions only feeds this insatiable appetite. Just as Chamberlain’s appeasement brought war even closer for Britain, a half-baked peace in our region based on the capitulation of one side before the other will inevitably be torn violently apart.
The deal to attain Gilad Schalit’s release is rooted in basic security parameters, and Israel’s security requirements must also be the foundation of any future peace negotiations. When Palestinian leaders calm Israel’s security concerns, recognize Israel as the Jewish state and acknowledge that the future of their refugees does not lie in Israel, we will know that the crocodile is no longer hungry.
It is well worth remembering that Chamberlain returned from Munich a hero of peace. He was greeted by euphoric crowds and treated to a royal audience. At the time, Churchill was widely regarded as a difficult, belligerent war-monger, something of an unfashionable outsider. Yet his unpopular notion that true peace cannot be found in total submission was proven correct. There is every reason to believe that Netanyahu’s will be, too.
The writer served as bureau chief to Prime Minister Netanyahu and is currently a managing partner of Indigo Strategic Capital.