Shamir to Netanyahu – History Comes Full Circle
JNS.org – As a decade of Likud government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to a close, Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria has become an unassailable fact. There is not only a broad consensus about it within Israeli society, it is also being recognized internationally — such as the recent American acknowledgement of the settlement enterprise.
Even the Arab world is starting to show signs of willingness to make peace with Israel without preconditioning a deal on the establishment of a Palestinian state, and it appears that plenty of Palestinians are starting to realize that their dream of a sovereign state is becoming unrealistic.
The Palestinian national movement is at a historic low point, whereas Israel is at a clear advantage and is holding the cards when it comes to shaping the future of the region in which we live. These conditions are much like those that existed when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister.
Shamir’s time in office is primarily remembered for the enormous aliyah from the former Soviet Union, followed by that from Ethiopia — both of which fundamentally changed the face of Israel and made a major contribution to strengthening the state. But Shamir saw his greatest achievement as “protecting the Land of Israel.” After he left the Prime Minister’s Office following Yitzhak Rabin’s victory in the 1992 election, Shamir was quoted as saying, “I didn’t withdraw from an inch of the Land of Israel.”
That is not something to be taken for granted. The First Intifada erupted in December 1987, under Shamir, and Israel initially found it difficult to cope with. But at the end of four years of clashes with the Palestinians, the Palestinians’ will to keep up the Intifada broke, and the wave of violence started to ebb. The PLO also lost status in the international community. During the Gulf War, then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat backed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and in doing so became a target of the wrath of most Arab leaders, who had lost any interest in or commitment to the PLO or the Palestinian problem.
Shamir came under criticism from the right on many occasions, and this — as well as the divisions in the right-wing camp — eventually led to his downfall. But when Shamir left the Prime Minister’s Office, Israel was in an advantageous position when it came to the Palestinian movement. The Israeli settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria — and in the Gaza Strip, at the time — became an established fact, whereas the Palestinians’ determination to confront Israel weakened significantly.
The Rabin government decided to try and take advantage of the PLO’s weakness to make it into a convenient partner for Israel. The Oslo Accords of 1993 brought the PLO back to life and gave it a hold on Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, as well as breathing life into the vision of two states for two peoples to which Israel and the international community were committed at the time.
This is the reality that Netanyahu inherited when he first became prime minister in 1996 and when he was elected prime minister for a second time in 2009. But a decade later, the reality on the ground is completely different, and to a large extent Israel is back where it was at the end of Shamir’s term. Today, only a few — even among the Palestinians — believe that the two-state solution is realistic, and Israel has the upper hand as it faces a split Palestinian leadership that lacks legitimacy both at home and abroad.
Under Shamir and under Netanyahu, a lot of the credit for the Palestinians’ downfall goes to the Palestinian leadership itself. The collapse of the dream of a Palestinian state is the result of the Palestinians’ failure to run their own affairs, whether under the PA or under Hamas. Radicalism, a pull toward violence, as well as rampant corruption were all a recipe for the failure.
But this reality is first and foremost the result of the policy that Shamir led and Netanyahu is leading now — a policy of creating facts on the ground that will be difficult to change. We are seeing history come full circle.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University. This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.