The death of a frog

Mar 17, 2011

As the parable of the amphibian goes, will Israel reach the lethal boiling point where it has made one concession too many?



“…if you place [a frog]… in a pot of tepid water…, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor …and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.”
– Daniel Quinn, The Story of B  

For anyone concerned with the fate of the nation-state of the Jews, there is a grave caveat in this citation from a well-known American author. It is a caveat that will be ignored only at great peril, and one that is becoming increasingly pertinent – especially in the light the ever-more perceptible signs of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s readiness to embrace measures that he promised to eschew (such as a renewed building freeze); and the growing friction between him and ministers in his government (such as Moshe Ya’alon and Silvan Shalom) who are insisting that he in fact honor the promises he made.

In recent years, Israel has back-pedaled repeatedly on positions it has taken, continuously “adapting” to situations that expose it to ever-greater security risks and consenting to circumstances that would have seemed inconceivable in the not-too-distant past.

An appropriate point of departure to illustrate the severity of this disturbing phenomenon, and to gauge just how drastically Israel has allowed its positions to be eroded with the passage of time, is Yitzhak Rabin’s last address to the Knesset. On October 5, 1995, exactly one month before his assassination, Rabin sought Knesset ratification of the Oslo II agreements (or to give their full title “The Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”) that were signed two weeks previously.

Restoring public awareness of this erosion – and the comprehension of its significance – is crucial, particularly since the median age of the Israeli population is just over 28. This means that roughly half of all Israelis were not yet in their teens in the “Oslo period” and thus have no real personal recollection of the events that took place during those fateful days – other than what was provided by the misleading and distorted coverage in a biased press, both at home and abroad.

IT SHOULD be recalled that the positions that Rabin presented at that time were considered by many to be extremely – even excessively – concessionary. Indeed they generated such acrimonious controversy that they split the Israeli public into two bitterly rivalrous factions. A large proportion of the population – roughly half – saw them as total capitulation to Arab pressures, and as wholesale abandonment of the principles of Zionism and all it stood for.

Many cautioned that they were a perilous prescription that would endanger Israel’s security, indeed even its very survival. It is thus highly significant that Rabin, who a year previously was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, rejected the “two-state” formula, dismissed the possibility of a return to the 1967 borders and endorsed the preservation – indeed the expansion – of “settlements”.

This is clearly reflected in the following citations from his 1995 address: Rabin’s vision of the permanent solution explicitly excluded the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. According to his view, the final-status Palestinian entity should “… be an entity which is less than a state [sic] and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority.”

Regarding the final frontiers of the country, he was unequivocal: “The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.”

As for what was to be included with those permanent borders, he prescribed that – at minimum – four elements should be ensured: (a) a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty as the nation’s capital (b) the Jordan Valley as Israel’s security border (c) the incorporation of existing settlements across the 1967 “Green-Line” into the sovereign territory of Israel and (d) the establishment of new settlement bloc across the Green Line like those later destroyed in the Gaza disengagement.

Rabin set out the permanent changes to 1967 lines that he envisioned in the following manner: “And these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution: First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev – as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty… The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.

Changes which will include the addition of [the settlements] Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the ‘Green Line’ prior to the Six Day War.

The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif [sic].”

NO LESS noteworthy – especially in light of the current furor over the “building freeze”– was Rabin’s position on the issue of construction in the trans-Green Line settlements. Before the Knesset and public he declared: “…we committed…ourselves before the Knesset, not to uproot a single settlement in the framework of the interim agreement, and not to hinder building for natural growth.”

This then was Rabin final parliamentary address to the nation; this is how he perceived the significance of the Oslo Accords and how they presented to the Israeli public.

Yet today if Israel were to adhere meticulously to Rabin’s prescription – a prescription for which, it should be recalled, he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize – it would be dismissed as unreasonable and unrealistic extremism.

Moreover, despite the drastic erosion of its demands, Israel is still accused – not only but its adversaries but also by those professing friendship – of excessive intransigence, and an unwillingness to compromise, that allegedly undermine any possibility of reaching a resolution of the conflict. It is still being pressured to agree to more and more concessions, each more far-reaching than previous one, not to reach a permanent agreement, but merely to coax the Palestinians into returning to the negotiating table.

SO BACK to our parable of the luckless amphibian that relaxed when the waters were tepid, adapted when they became hotter, and died when they began to boil.

Given the ongoing attrition in Israeli positions over the last decade and half, its continual acquiescence to expose itself to ever-escalating risks, and the accumulating string of concessions agreed to, the trenchant question that must be raised is: When will the lethal boiling point be reached?

The writer is academic director of the Jerusalem Summit and lectures in security studies at Tel Aviv University. He is also an Israeli Schusterman scholar at USC and HUC.