Foundation Blog
Foreign Policy Oslo/Peace Process

Some Principles of Statecraft: How To Think About “Annapolis”

The Camp David formula “land for peace,” the basis of the forthcoming Annapolis Summit, is rooted in an erroneous and fatal assumption. That certain Arab leaders agree to negotiate with Israel on the basis of this formula has induced politicians in Israel and abroad to regard such Arabs as “moderates.” This assumption stands in striking contrast to principles of statecraft enunciated by Prince Metternich, the great 19th century Austrian statesman on whom Henry Kissinger wrote his doctoral dissertation.

According to Metternich, “to base one’s conduct in an important undertaking on faith in the moderation of one of the contracting parties is asking for trouble … to build on air, to gamble the future on one throw.” This faith animated Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, the architects of the disastrous Oslo or Israel-PLO Agreement of 1993. The same faith animates Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on “reciprocity” when dealing with Arab leaders. It was this historically unfounded faith that led him to sign the Wye River Memorandum, which surrendered large areas of Judea and Samaria to Yasser Arafat—a major step toward an Arab Palestinian state.

As Metternich saw, to expect the leaders of a dictatorship (such as the Fatah- or Hamas-led Palestinian Authority) to be moderate is like asking them to destroy the foundation of their existence. What follows (with parenthetic comments) are related Metternichean principles of statecraft:

(1) Any plan conceived in moderate terms must fail when the circumstances are set in the extreme. In any situation where each of the possible lines of action involves difficulty, the strongest line is the best. (Notice how the United States constantly asks Israel to exercise “self-restraint” or moderation vis-a-vis its enemies, be it Hamas or Fatah. Moderation is not a virtue when fighting for your survival.)

(2) Compromise is the easy refuge of irresolute or unprincipled men. Of course compromise is appropriate when dealing with temporary and partial interests. But a nation’s survival is not a matter of compromise. (Nations have permanent strategic interests, for example, territorial depth. Israel’s control of the Golan Heights does not threaten Syria, Syrian control of the Golan would threaten Israel if only because Syria is a military dictatorship.)

(3) Nations with democratic forms of government are not for that reason the natural allies of each other or the implacable foes of dictatorships. (This crucial principle was demonstrated at Camp David in 1978 and will be operating at the projected Annapolis Summit.)

(4) In this age of publicity the first concern of government must be this: not only to be right, but, even more important, to see that everything is called by its right name. (This principle has been constantly violated by Israeli governments steeped as they have been in the mendacious “peace process.” Indeed, as a former Israeli ambassador and adviser to Shimon Peres told me in three decades ago, “We can’t lie as well as the Arabs.”)

(5) Weaker states can ill-afford merely to react to events; they must also try to initiate them. (The contrary was taught by the late Professor Yehoshafat Harkabi, head of Israel’s “War College” and reputed mentor of Mr. Peres. It is in this light that we should understand Israel’s policy of self-restraint toward Arab Palestinian terrorists. No less than Ariel Sharon once said that “self-restraint is strength”—a possibly sensible attitude when applied to individuals but absurd when applied to nation like Israel struggling against an enemy religiously committed to Israel’s annihilation.)

(6) We must rely for the execution of our plans on ourselves alone and on such means as we possess. (Israeli governments repeatedly violate this principle by relying excessively—I repeat excessively—on the United States. The eminent Bernard Lewis warned that when the U.S. serves as the “honest broker,” Arab and Israelis negotiators end up negotiating with the U.S. The result is predictable: Israel is called upon to make “confidence building gestures” like releasing hundreds of Arab terrorists and ceding Jewish land for nothing.)

(7) When called upon to handle important matters, the statesman must tackle them vigorously. For this to happen it is necessary that the course decided upon should not only be clear in the eyes of the Cabinet, but should also be made clear in the eyes of the public.

This principle has been violated again and again by virtually every Israel government. No wonder: the cabinet consists of rival political parties incapable of pursuing a coherent, long-range, and resolute national strategy. In fact, the average duration of an Israeli government is less than two years!

What indeed are we to say of a system of government that enabled Likud leader Ariel Sharon to become Labor’s surrogate prime minister by adopting Labor’s policy of “unilateral disengagement” which he had campagned against in the January 2003 election?

Hence I ask: where are the pundits with candor and courage enough to say that every few years the people of Israel exercise their political freedom and then relapse into servitude? Where are the lovers of Am Yisrael that will enlighten the people and liberate them from the democratically elected despotism leading this deeply confused country to Munich 2?

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