The problem with being an intellectual is that you rarely have your ideas tested in the real world. But sitting on the sidelines enables you to use extreme rhetoric to advance crackpot notions that, when embraced all too frequently, end up heaping tragedy upon humanity.
It is not surprising, then, that 800 Israelis—with prominent intellectuals leading the charge—have “discovered” the road to peace between the Arabs and Israelis. They alone have found the path to peace that has eluded so many for so long.
They are asking the European parliaments to pass a resolution that would call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with “Israeli recognition of Palestine and Palestinian recognition of Israel.” The letter went on to denounce the “political deadlock and ongoing occupation and settlement, which leads to conflict with the Palestinians and torpedoes any possibility of an agreement.”
This is all too reminiscent of the American intellectuals’ movement to bring about unilateral disarmament in the early 1960s. Harold Brown, President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense, revealed where such policy would have ended up. As Brown, himself a strong advocate of arms control and disarmament, stated after three years in office: he finally understood the Soviets. When we build missiles, they build missiles. When we stop building missiles, they build missiles.
If the Israelis have learned anything over the years, it is that when they make concessions, the Arabs up the ante. More Arab and Israeli blood has been spilled since the 1993 Oslo Accords than beforehand. Israel’s unilateral 2005 withdrawal from Gaza has only led to the creation of a terror state on its borders and death raining from the sky on its southern cities.
The Palestinian Intifadas and the random violence of terrorism incited by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have decimated the Israeli peace movement. So, these intellectuals, holding to an ideal devoid of current experience, can no longer appeal to their countrymen. Taking formidable strategic risks for peace no longer makes any sense in the face of the grim reality of day-to-day incitement followed by daily acts of brutality.
Moreover, these intellectuals are faced with a political climate that the Arab terror has moved to the right, a climate that also increasingly sustains the religious Zionism of the settler movement, which is buttressed by its growing population rate.
Unable to convince their countrymen that strategic risks for peace are worth it, the intellectuals have appealed to the international community in what should be considered an act of treachery, because it bypasses Israel’s democratic process and seeks to influence the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Intellectuals imbibe the elixir of their own lofty hubris. They believe they know what is best.
But they actually know little, because they have refused to learn from experience. The very idea that recognition of a Palestinian state by the members of the European community will advance the peace process is an embrace of the absurd. The idea that even a return to the 1967 armistice line, what Abba Eban called the “Auschwitz borders,” would result in peace is wishful thinking.
What will come of this? It will push Israel deeper into a corner, harden the resolve of the far right, and give incentive to Palestinian intransigence and incitement. All these intellectuals have done is to attempt to enhance their own status in the international community at the price of the real, complicated, and pragmatic quest for peace.
Harold Brown was an idealist, but as Secretary of Defense, he eventually learned and accepted that idealism needs to be tempered by the reality of experience. The 800 Israelis who are demanding European recognition of a Palestinian state have learned nothing except that their fame will garner them attention, and most likely, it is the need to be seen as part of the process that motivates this egotistical exercise that will result not in peace, but in more violence.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the news and public-policy group Haym Salomon Center.