When it was announced that Bob Dylan was chosen as the recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature (a somewhat controversial choice), one of the first songs of his that came to my mind was the iconic Cold War area protest song “Masters of War.” And since that announcement came just a short while after the death of Israel’s eldest, and most distinguished politician in recent memory, Shimon Peres – and again, some new revelations and controversy came to light following his death, too – somehow (though one is dead and the other is alive) both legacies intertwined in my mind and made me think again about war and peace. And in particular, in this regard, about Israel’s leaders since independence in 1948.
The first one is, of course, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister (PM from here onwards), who was so instrumental in Israel coming into being, in the language of its Declaration of Independence – a most wonderful document, still – the War of Independence and the building of the Israeli Defense Forces (i.e. IDF), and so on and so forth. Growing up in Israel, I still remember him declaring that Israel seeks peace with its Arab neighbors, and will sit down with their leaders without any preconditions, anywhere anytime. He meant it, too, I believe. And when Israel captured some of the Sinai desert in 1956, and word came from Washington to get the hell out of there, he did so right away.
Following him, at least in my order of “Masters of War; Masters of Peace,” came Menachem Begin. He, who was the head of the Irgun; he, who was involved in and commanded plenty of operations, and fierce resistance to the British Mandate – the terrorist attack of the King David Hotel in 1946 comes first to mind – and he, who had been carrying the torch of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his philosophy of “Two Banks has the Jordan” (river). But when it came to peace with Egypt, he’d made a complete turnaround and did the right thing. He didn’t initiate it, but when push came to shove – by President Sadat of Egypt, and by the ‘Peace Now’ movement and forces in Israel, both among the citizenry and the army, and by the inevitable march of history – he did the right thing and made peace.
Later came Yitzhak Rabin, possibly the best example for the headline above, and the one who had paid the ultimate price. A protégé of Ben-Gurion, a Palmach & Haganah Commander and a builder of the IDF, who became its Chief of Staff and led its forces to its greatest victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, no one could accuse him of loving Israel’s Arabs neighbors too much. But again, he first initiated and signed the peace treaty with Jordan, and then, when time came to understand, and to realize the complexity of the situation in Israel with the Palestinians, the debt we owe them (for their Nakba, in which he’d played a major role, as described in Avi Shavit’s book My Promised Land), he chose peace over eternal war. And paid with his life for it.
Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier still, the commander of Sayeret Matkal, and the IDF Chief of Staff, was also a master of war, until he became a man of peace. When he became PM, he declared and even put forward a plan for a comprehensive peace, in which Israel was supposed to have given back most of the territories captured in 67, including the Golan Heights, in return for peace. One might say he was naïve, and faced resistance first and foremost within Israel and the IDF itself. He was later ready to do just the same thing in the Camp David negotiations with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat, but the folly of the latter, time constraints and other elements in the peace equation as well, worked against him.
Then came Ariel Sharon, believe it or not. He also became PM after being first a warrior and an IDF hero. He had led the settlement movement to an extent, and was the architect of the buildup of Jewish settlements in southern Gaza, Gush Katif as it was known, and in Northern Sinai previously. He, who fought the Arabs so viciously, was so extreme in his views of our never-ending war with them, had made a turnaround too, realizing his mistakes, and pulled Israel out of Gaza. It was later reveled, after he’d succumbed to his life-ending coma, that he had talked with his close confidants, and had begun to developed a plan of withdrawal from most of the West Bank, in order to make a lasting peace with the Palestinians, as he’d come (even if belatedly) to the realization of how crucial the demographic issue was, still is, to the future of the Israeli democracy, its Jewish dominancy and character.
Which brings me finally to our current PM, Benjamin Netanyahu. He is not a war hero (though he served honorably in the IFD in Sayeret Matkal), and most defiantly he is not a man of peace. Shimmy Peres, as we mentioned above, was also not a war hero, but worked tiredly under Ben-Gurion to establish Israel’s security capability, and to build its first nuclear reactor, but then in later years turned to making peace; i.e. the Oslo Accords. But what about PM Netanyahu, really? Will he finally realize, like the aforementioned leaders, his predecessors, the need for peace? The futility of constant war, and ruling over other people endlessly? Will he finally understand that his support of the settlement endeavor and movement leads to an Apartheid State, de facto, or to the end of Herzl’s Zionist dream of a secure, democratic home for the Jewish People? It remains to be seen, as this page hasn’t been written yet.
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Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, religion | Tagged: America, Arabs, Begin, Ben-Ggurion, Clinton, democracy, Gaza, Israel, Jerusalem, Jewish People, Mideast, Netanyahu, nuclear, Palestine, Peace, Promised Land, Rabin, settlements, Sharon, West Bank, Zionism |