Another Tack: The same sea (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By SARAH HONIG 07/20/12)
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One of US President Barack Obama’s few admitted regrets is his
inability to conjure up an instant resolution to our vexing dispute.
This seems a tad odd considering that during her recent whirlwind
visit to our troublesome midst, his Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton had waxed ecstatic about this being a time of “great change
and transformation in the region.” If things are so upbeat, why are
they so intractable? Both Obama and Clinton would be a lot less
frustrated and much wiser had they turned to the late Yitzhak Shamir
He was endlessly mocked by members of our chattering classes when he
stated outright that “the sea is the same sea and the Arabs are the
same Arabs.” He plainly harbored no illusions in a wishy-washy world
of wishful-thinking, where reality often becomes a most unwelcome
Political vogue decrees that disagreeable facts shouldn’t
inconsiderately interfere with uplifting fantasy, but Shamir didn’t
mind being denigrated as insular, intransigent and above all
With both his feet solidly on the ground, he had no patience for pipe-
dreams about a phenomenal sea change in the Arab mind-set. Continuity
appeared more plausible, especially given the depth and duration of
virulent Arab enmity toward the Jewish state. Hardhearted hate is
unlikely to wondrously dissipate overnight.
Shamir sounded this observation on more than one occasion and in a
variety of contexts, most notably on the eve of the 1991 Madrid
Conference to which he went unwillingly and in which he had no trace
Yet his reluctant participation in what he termed as the Madrid
charade suffices for many today to misrepresent him as the
trailblazer to what eventually culminated in the Oslo folly.
When Shamir took over from Menachem Begin as Israel’s seventh prime
minister in 1983, our ever-presumptuous trendsetters and omniscient
opinion-molders disdained him and scorned what they determined were
his unimaginative orientations and do-nothing proclivities.
They couldn’t stand him. He was anathema to them no matter how much
they now, after his death, expediently reinvent him, much as they
have been dishonestly skewing Begin’s legacy for decades.
But the truth is that Shamir was never cool and never aspired to be
popular. He aspired to do the right thing, a fact which in and of
itself made him different, an odd bird in a setting obsessed with the
façade but leery of the substance.
And if the right thing meant keeping mum, Shamir didn’t answer his
voluble detractors and didn’t get dragged into verbal bouts.
In an interview years ago, I asked him whether he didn’t think he was
thereby losing the battle for public opinion by default. He insisted
that “most of the time the least said is best.” It was
his “responsibility not to babble needlessly,” even if that cost him
And it doubtlessly did. By no means a spellbinding orator, he was
consciously devoid of charisma and never sought to correct what was
perhaps a fatal flaw for someone who found himself in the political
vortex. Unperturbed by PR, Shamir said things as he saw them, in
those few times when he did tersely comment on anything (always, as
befits a former underground fighter and top Mossad operative, without
divulging much of anything).
Referring to political deals, he quipped, “Did I ever recommend not
implementing them? What’s good should be implemented and what’s bad
shouldn’t.” Plain and simple, without embellishments. He was candid
enough to opine that “for the sake of Eretz Yisrael it’s permissible
With equal forthrightness, he told me on his return from Madrid
that “a vast sea divides Jews from Arabs. For starters, Jews
genuinely long for peace. The Arabs do not want peace. They crave our
defeat, which they call peace.”
Have all the tumultuous events of the more than two decades that had
elapsed since our conversation proven Shamir wrong? Hardly.
They reveal his insight as acute and unerring.
The sea remains the same sea and the Arabs hadn’t transformed from
what they were long before Oslo, disengagement, a couple of peace
contracts, numerous negotiation rounds, recurring wars or even
Unheedful of Shamir’s cautionary admonitions, we Israelis may have
honed our self-delusionary predilections, but – like it or not –
we’re still surrounded by implacable enemies.
Egypt is a compelling case in point. Shamir opposed Israel’s pullout
from Sinai. Despite his then-role as Knesset speaker, he
significantly abstained in the vote on the Camp David accords and
even more thunderingly on the subsequent vote to ratify the finalized
peace treaty in March 1979.
In the short haul, it may then have appeared that he was too stiff-
necked. Perhaps Israel couldn’t be seen, even for its own internal
reasons, as shunning what looked like a miraculous peace. Perhaps
there was no choice.
Nevertheless, as Shamir suspected, that epic concession opened the
floodgates to follow-up concessions. He did his darndest to stem the
tide. When he headed the second national unity coalition, Shamir
unhesitatingly fired his coalition partner and foreign minister
Shimon Peres. It was three years pre-Oslo, in 1990.
Peres behaved like a law unto himself and pursued (not for the first
time) covert assignations with Jordan behind Shamir’s back, in
violation of every conceivable democratic principle. Shamir wouldn’t
countenance Peres’s insubordinate freelance negotiations. He
courageously risked an attempt to topple him, which indeed came, but
refused to give into Peres’s ultimatum (hatched with the notorious
However, in the long haul Peres had his way.
Shamir’s weak successor, Yitzhak Rabin, later fell for Peres’s
unauthorized fait accompli, the Osloite chimera. What began in Camp
David bore bitter fruit.
What have we to show today for all our sacrifices for an elusive,
apparently unattainable peace? If the shaky peace with Egypt isn’t
abrogated soon by its Muslim Brotherhood overlords, it will only be
because the new regime might be too busy confronting the old-guard
military establishment, reconvening the dissolved parliament,
solidifying its hold on power, settling outstanding scores, feeding
the teeming masses and paving the path to Shari’a law.
If and when it suits the religious radicals who now hold sway in
Cairo, they will redirect domestic tensions toward the universally
abhorred Israel. The paper on which the treaty with Egypt was signed
is as durable as the tactics/ whims of the new bosses.
Much as Obama, Clinton et al may kid themselves (and us), post-Arab
Spring Egypt is anti- Western and rabidly Judeophobic. As Shamir
always counseled us to note, nothing changes overwhelmingly
overnight. Deeply ingrained extremist dogmas don’t evaporate into
Contrary to Obama’s and Clinton’s rhetoric, the Muslim Brotherhood
hadn’t serendipitously morphed into a secular democratic force for
pragmatism, progress and pluralism.
We have already had an unappetizing foretaste.
The assault on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo last September hardly
grated against the grain of Egypt’s mainstream discourse. The
taunting yells of Khaybar left no doubt about what motivated the
mobs. As Muslims remember (and Jews forget) Khaybar was one of the
Jewish enclaves which Islam’s progenitor Muhammad attacked in
violation of treaty pledges. Jewish men were beheaded, women abducted
and children enslaved. That’s the ideal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s
rank and file.
Add to this such instances of ill-will as the sexual molestation of
an American newswoman accused – falsely as it happens – of the
unforgivable crime of being Jewish. Neither does it bode well that
newly elected president Mohamed Mursi agitated in his victory speech
for the release of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman – now imprisoned
in the US for masterminding the first World Trade Center bombing in
February 1993. Clearly in Mursi’s eyes that was no crime but a
All the above contribute to making our neighborhood more
unpredictable and downright scarier than ever before – not that it
ever was a paradigm of prudence. In the best of circumstances Egypt
was never as good as its word, its sincerity or lack thereof
For now, international opinion, stage-managed by Obama and Co.,
manages to somehow sashay past all aforementioned unpleasantness.
The syrupy story about the Arab multitudes yearning to be free is too
sweet to pass up even if it wasn’t quite true. But at least we here
should be clued in enough to pass up on the saccharine, admit the
truth and own up to the fact that Shamir was prescient and
We now face undeniably escalated danger from the largest Arab state,
Egypt. Muslim diehards may soon overrun Syria, with wobbly Lebanon
sure to be the next domino to fall.
There’s no telling what the future holds for the artificial
concoction that is Jordan (established on nearly 80 percent of the
original Palestine). But that’s nothing new. Jordan always teetered
unsteadily, a fact which further supports Shamir’s thesis that
fundamentals stay the same.
If anything, whatever was in Shamir’s day is all the more so now –
looming ever-more menacingly. Malice wasn’t banished. Indeed it was
reinforced – just as our last pre-Oslo premier prophetically warned
ahead of the Madrid pageant.
Paradoxically, his pro forma participation in that event triggered
his political defeat. Incredibly, Shamir’s patriotic credentials
couldn’t mitigate the fury of the Tehiya and fellow right-ofthe-
Likud factions. They brought Shamir down.
Then came a tragic chain of bad luck.
Rabbi Moshe Levinger of Hebron fielded his own ticket, ironically to
protest against National Camp divisiveness. The 3,000 votes he
attracted were too few to get him elected. Aguda’s disgruntled
Eliezer Mizrahi also ran on his own and garnered several hundred
Tehiya lacked fewer than 400 additional votes to surmount the then-
1.5% Knesset entry hurdle.
All the votes Levinger and almost-as-hawkish Mizrahi flushed down the
drain could have comfortably put Tehiya over the Knesset threshold
with two seats and a surplus to spare.
That would have denied Rabin his initial blocking majority. His Labor-
Meretz coalition would have never been formed. Oslo wouldn’t have
been born. Nearly all the woes that torment us today can be traced to
the proverbial loose horseshoe nail that cost Shamir the 1992
He was followed by a crew that made it its objective to persuade us
that however unchanging the sea may be, the Arabs are not the same
Arabs. We know how that turned out. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
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