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February 19, 2016 5:42 am

Back to the Ghetto? Waxing Insane

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avatar by Martin Sherman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Photo: GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Photo: GPO.

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad – ancient proverb, misattributed to Euripides.

Q: What is the difference between the State of Israel and a lunatic asylum? 
A: In a lunatic asylum, the management is supposed to be sane

– a popular joke

The political discourse in Israel has gone haywire. Unless a semblance of sanity is somehow restored, it is difficult to see how to prevent the country careening off into an irretrievably disastrous abyss.

Rash of political gibberish 

As the increasing realization of the infeasibility and impracticality of the land-for-peace dogma permeates ever-wider circles in the Israeli polity, responses have become more and more bizarre – utterly detached from prevailing realities and equally devoid of any sustainable rationale.

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An exemplar of the mushrooming rash of political gibberish came from the harassed head of the opposition, Isaac “Buji” Herzog, who after assuring the public for years that it was possible to cut a two-state deal with Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, suddenly late last month, announced that it wasn’t – well, at least for now.

This week the Labor Party Convention (February 7) incorporated his abrupt volte-face into his party’s platform, much to the chagrin of his more obsessively dogmatic colleagues who excoriated him for his ideological betrayal and abandoning the holy grail of the Israeli Left’s political credo – albeit only temporarily.

But should anyone be tempted to attribute this seemingly dramatic shift in Herzog/ Labor’s position to some epiphanous flash of comprehension of Mideast realities, they would be sorely mistaken. For as Herzog went on to elaborate on what operational policy measures he envisions as flowing from his acknowledgment of the current infeasibility of the two-state approach, it soon became clear it was not really based on somber reassessment of the prevailing conditions; but rather on a wildly fanciful and impractical proposal, whose major purpose appears to be little more than to denigrate Benjamin Netanyahu.

Disturbingly misplaced ‘evenhandedness’

Last month at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, Herzog set out the details of his new political credo, which turned out to be little more than a hodge-podge of inconsistencies, self-contradictions and impracticalities. In an address heavily laced with large dollops of self-laudatory appraisals of how things would be much better, safer and more secure if only he were prime minister, Herzog allotted equal blame for the failure to advance the two state endeavor to his own democratically (re) elected premier Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, now nearing the 12th year of his four-year term.

In a disturbing display of misplaced (less charitable souls might even suggest, disloyal) “even-handedness,” Herzog condemned them both as “tired” and “afraid,” both constrained by their “respective extremists” and hence unable to fulfill the promise of the idyllic vision of two docile states, living side-byside in mutual respect, peace and prosperity.

In a staggeringly inappropriate comparison, Herzog attempted to draw a parallel between obdurate Palestinian rejectionism, and cautious Israeli concern for the safety of their citizens, outrageously suggesting that the two were mirror images of each other – as if on the Israeli side there was any equivalent of the Palestinian Judeocidal incitement, any Israeli equivalent of the scores of murderous attacks on innocent civilians, any Israeli equivalent of societal glorification of stabbings, car-rammings, shootings, any Israeli equivalent of expression of parental pride at the gory deeds of homicidal offspring.

‘Me Tarzan. Build big wall’ 

Significantly, although Herzog faults Netanyahu and Abbas equally for the failure of the two-state formula, he offers not a hint as to what he, himself, would have done to induce Abbas to become a more responsive amenable partner, had he not lost the March 2015 election.

Indeed, as Haaretz’s Ari Shavit pointed out in a largely Buji-philic article (January 28), there is little Buji could do that Bibi didn’t: “the Israeli public isn’t stupid. It understands that Palestine isn’t Egypt, Mahmoud Abbas isn’t Sadat and no diplomatic summit will solve the refugee problem, the Jerusalem problem, the Jewish state problem and the Hamas problem in two weeks. Even if… an Israeli Menachem Begin is found and even if Israeli generosity is found… there’s no Palestinian leadership or Palestinian body that could do what Egypt did in 1977.”

Thus, in an effort to distinguish his perversely named “Zionist Union” (which, in effect, has reverted to being the Labor Party) from the far-left Meretz, Herzog has given up the shabby pretense of trying to breathe life into the dying remains of the two-state concept.

But rather than declare it dead and concede that the two-state paradigm was always a preordained disaster, Herzog has opted for “cold storage” – pledging continued commitment to it, but leaving open the vexing details of how it might be resuscitated at some later indeterminate date.

As for the rest of his new approach, the bulk of it could be summed up – somewhat crudely, albeit not inaccurately – as “Me Tarzan. Me build big wall.” For despite the bellicose tone he adopted, all his proposed policy amounted to was an “aggressive retreat” to behind higher and more extensive walls – and the ghetto mentality they symbolize.

Puerile, pernicious and perilous 

Thus the catchphrase from the new Herzog proposal, “separation,” which is ominously reminiscent of previous misguided terms that have denoted misconceived notions, such as “disengagement” and “convergence,” the former a proven failure, the latter thankfully discarded given the failure of the former.

The cornerstone of the “separation” initiative is the construction of more and more walls, and the cessation of any Jewish construction in areas beyond them, hence in effect relinquishing any Jewish claims to such territory.

Thus, Herzog at the INSS conference: “In order to implement this plan of “separation” two things need to be done. The first is to complete the wall around the [large] settlement blocs…”

Then with naïve optimism he gushed: “The [large] settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty will be part of the permanent agreement,” reassuring us that “the separation wall will prevent terror attacks in these settlement blocs which will remain ours. The situation will be clear to all [“all” presumably being the international community – M.S.].”

It is difficult to know which is worse – whether Herzog actually believes what he is saying or whether he does not, but says it anyway. For his prescription is at once puerile, pernicious and perilous. Indeed, one can only wonder whether he bothered to examine the map before making his puzzling and perturbing proposal.

Significantly, although he does mention Gush Etzion, Herzog does not stipulate what “settlement blocs” he has in mind. It seems, however, more than implausible that they would not include Ariel, with a population of 20,000 plus 10,000 students at its newly accredited university; Modi’in Illit (population around 60,000); Ma’aleh Adumim (population around 50,000) and Givat Ze’ev (population around 15,000), to name but a few.

‘Beam me up, Buji’?

It would be intriguing, therefore, to learn how Herzog envisions the contours of Israel’s final borders given his declarations of what, in his view, Israel is to retain and what it is not.

Some of the blocs lie a considerable distance east of the pre-1967 Green Line. Ariel for instance is about 20 km. beyond pre-1967 lines. How would permanently safe access be assured the residents of Ariel without annexing large swathes of land north and south of the road leading to it (Route 5, the trans-Samaria Highway), along which lie not only other significant Jewish communities – Elkana, Sha’arei Tikva and Barkan – but numerous Arab villages as well? How are these communities to be protected? Or will they suffer the same fate as those of Gush Katif? Will the Arab villages be included inside the wall, or not? If not, how will the “secure access” be wide enough to be “secure”? If they are, what will be the status of the inhabitants under Israeli sovereignty that Herzog pledged to apply to the areas inside the wall? And then there is Ma’aleh Adumin, separated from Jerusalem by the controversial area designated E1, which was the center of international uproar in 2012, when the Netanyahu government proposed building on it. If E1 is not annexed and secured within the wall, the 50,000 Jews in Ma’aleh Adumin would become isolated in an enclave, surrounded entirely by Palestinian territory, with no safe access to the capital and the rest of Israel.

Unless, of course, Herzog is counting on the invention of some Star Trek “beam-me-up” technology that can transport Israelis, instantaneously and effortless, from here to there, regardless of any intervening Arab-controlled territory…

Convoluted and contorted 

As for Gush Etzion, several trenchant questions arise. Herzog pledged to annex the Gush (bloc) to which he claims to have a personal connection, since one of the original settlements in it, Kibbutz Masuot Yitzhak, named after his grandfather, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, and after whom Herzog himself is reportedly named, was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948.

Yet it is not clear whether he intends to wall in the entire area, including 22 Jewish communities and numerous Arab villages, and almost 80,000 residents, or whether the intention is to wall in only the larger ones such as Beitar Illit (almost 50,000 people). If the former, what of the Arab villages within the wall, and what value is there to the wall if it does not separate Jew from Arab? If the latter, what will be the fate of the un-walled communities? That of the Jewish communities in Gaza? But whatever the intention, the resultant border will be a contorted and convoluted line, which in the most optimistic scenario will be between 700-km. and 800-km. long, composed of long narrow fingers which can easily be cut off, disrupting access to large Jewish settlements – indeed, almost inviting such disruption.

A divided Jerusalem 

The second part of Herzog’s “separation” initiative is to remove Israeli sovereignty from the Arab-populated areas of east Jerusalem and turn them over to the administration of the Palestinian Authority, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Jewish and Arab neighborhoods interlock almost like a jigsaw puzzle.

Herzog’s proposal has been excoriated by Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat who warned rightly that any admission that Israel could not maintain security within the present contours of Jerusalem would lead to a slippery slope that would eventually lead to the loss of sovereignty in the Old City and over the holy places, including the Western Wall.

But perhaps the most baffling aspect of Herzog’s proposal is why – in light of experience – anyone should believe that abandoning territory to the control of the Palestinian Authority would enhance Israeli security, especially for those immediately adjacent to it. After all, experience has proved precisely the opposite. Indeed, encasing the Arab neighborhoods behind walls and subjecting them to the dysfunctional, corrupt repressive regime of Abbas is only likely to inflame the situation further, especially as this is liable to be for a lengthy – and indeterminate – period with little respite in sight.

Why this is not self-evident is difficult to fathom.

Lessons of Gaza unlearned 

Herzog claims that what he is suggesting is not a repeat of the mistakes of the disengagement, which he – belatedly – acknowledges and from which he claims to have learned.

Thus, he declared, the IDF will remain deployed in areas beyond the security wall/ barrier until some, as yet unidentified, Palestinian- Arab, with sufficient authority to make a binding agreement, emerges from his still belligerent kinfolk.

But of course this is a mistake – a double mistake! Firstly, once Israel has declared that it has no claims to sovereignty beyond the security barrier, it will have no justification for deploying its military there. By its own admission, the IDF will be an occupying force in alien land (much like in south Lebanon), and hence Israelis should expect no security while it is deployed there. Pressure for it to withdraw will be immense, regardless of any agreement with the Palestinians.

Secondly, the IDF withdrew from Gaza because the mounting casualties were – mistakenly – considered too high a price to pay for defending the Jewish communities. With the major blocs tucked behind the security wall, inevitable mounting IDF casualties in the areas beyond it will soon generate public and international pressure to withdraw. And Israel will then be faced with the prospect of an impossibly grotesque frontier, very reminiscent of the indefensible pre-1967 “Auschwitz” lines, shorn, by its own hand, for all the hard-won benefits of the Six Day War.

Allow me, therefore, to conclude with the oft-quoted dictum frequently attributed to Albert Einstein: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Post.

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