Jerusalem In the intifada that began in 2000, Palestinian terrorism killed more than 1,000 Israelis. As a portion of U.S. population, that would be 42,000, approaching the toll of America’s eight years in Vietnam. During the onslaught, which began 10 Septembers ago, Israeli parents sending two children to a school would put them on separate buses to decrease the chance that neither would return for dinner. Surely most Americans can imagine, even if their tone-deaf leaders cannot, how grating it is when those leaders lecture Israel on the need to take “risks for peace.”
During Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s July visit to Washington, Barack Obama praised him as “willing to take risks for peace.” There was a time when that meant swapping “land for peace” — Israel sacrificing something tangible and irrecoverable, strategic depth, in exchange for something intangible and perishable, promises of diplomatic normality.
Strategic depth matters in a nation where almost everyone is a soldier, so society cannot function for long with the nation fully mobilized. Also, before the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel within the borders established by the 1949 armistice was in one place just nine miles wide, a fact that moved George W. Bush to say: In Texas we have driveways that long. Israel exchanged a lot of land to achieve a chilly peace with Egypt, yielding the Sinai, which is almost three times larger than Israel and was 89 percent of the land captured in the process of repelling the 1967 aggression.
The intifada was launched by the late Yasser Arafat — terrorist and Nobel Peace Prize winner — after the July 2000 Camp David meeting, during which then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to cede control of all of Gaza and more than 90 percent of the West Bank, with small swaps of land to accommodate the growth of Jerusalem suburbs just across the 1949 armistice line.
Israelis are famously fractious, but the intifada produced among them a consensus that the most any government of theirs could offer without forfeiting domestic support is less than any Palestinian interlocutor would demand. Furthermore, the intifada was part of a pattern. As in 1936 and 1947, talk about partition prompted Arab violence.
In 1936, when the British administered Palestine, the Peel Commission concluded that there was “an irrepressible conflict” — a phrase coined by an American historian to describe the U.S. Civil War — “between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country.” And: “Neither of the two national ideals permits” a combination “in the service of a single state.” The commission recommended “a surgical operation” — partition. What followed was the Arab Revolt of 1936 to 1939.
On Nov. 29, 1947, the U.N. recommended a partition plan. Israel accepted the recommendation. On Nov. 30, Israel was attacked.
Palestine has a seemingly limitless capacity for eliciting nonsense from afar, as it did recently when Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron referred to Gaza as a “prison camp.” In a sense it is, but not in the sense Cameron intended. His implication was that Israel is the cruel imprisoner. Gaza’s actual misfortune is to be under the iron fist of Hamas, a terrorist organization.
In May, a flotilla launched from Turkey approached Gaza in order to provoke a confrontation with Israel, which, like Egypt, administers a blockade to prevent arms from reaching Hamas. The flotilla’s pretense was humanitarian relief for Gaza — where the infant mortality rate is lower and life expectancy is higher than in Turkey.
Israelis less than 50 years old have no memory of their nation within the 1967 borders set by the 1949 armistice that ended the War of Independence. The rest of the world seems to have no memory at all concerning the intersecting histories of Palestine and the Jewish people.
The creation of Israel did not involve the destruction of a Palestinian state, there having been no such state since the Romans arrived. And if the Jewish percentage of the world’s population were today what it was when the Romans ruled Palestine, there would be 200 million Jews. After a uniquely hazardous passage through two millennia without a homeland, there are 13 million Jews.
In the 62 years since this homeland was founded on one-sixth of 1 percent of the land of what is carelessly and inaccurately called “the Arab world,” Israelis have never known an hour of real peace. Patronizing American lectures on the reality of risks and the desirableness of peace, which once were merely fatuous, are now obscene.
— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. firstname.lastname@example.org