What if President Roosevelt had announced that he was seeking to open a “peace process” with the imperial Japanese government?
The Arab and Muslim war against Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East is now a century old.
To politicians, journalists and pundits in the West, there is only one way to resolve the conflict: for Israel and her enemies to negotiate outstanding issues—-mutual recognition, borders, and displaced refugees.
The narrative is so-oft repeated that op-ed writers must have the wording committed to memory by now: two independent states, living side by side in peace, with Jerusalem as their shared capital.
This narrative has led nowhere. The conflict continues unabated.
Jewish Claim to Sovereignty
Jews have lived in the Land of Israel for over 3,500 years. The Jews are the only existing people who have ever exercised sovereign rule in the area, although for a great part of their tenure, they lived as subjects of foreign powers.
After the Romans defeated the Jewish inhabitants in the first and second centuries, they renamed the land Syria-Palaestina, now referred to by many as Palestine.
Exploitive Roman and later Ottoman rule left the Land of Israel ecologically damaged, desolate, impoverished and sparsely populated.
Jews began to return to Palestine in numbers with the First Aliyah that commenced in 1881. What often goes unrecognized is that not only Jews, but also large numbers of Arabs moved to Palestine from surrounding regions.
The Jews came for religious and later nationalistic reasons, and also to escape from oppressive anti-Jewish societies in Europe and the Middle East, especially Yemen. Later, Arabs came to Palestine seeking new job opportunities in agriculture, land reclamation, housing and industry. These job opportunities were the result of the vigorous economic activity in the Jewish sector, as Jews established new communities.
The result is that today two peoples claim rights to the same land. In the span of human history, there is nothing unusual about this. According to some sources, there are today scores of territorial disputes around the world.
Both Jews and Arabs have historically legitimate claims to the land. So why hasn’t the “two-peoples-living-side-by-side” narrative led to peace?
The answer: One side—-the Jews—-have had leaders willing to compromise, negotiate and make peace. The other side—-the Arabs—-have never had such leaders.
Arab society has always been dominated by Islam, a rigid religious and political system that opposes any non-Muslim sovereignty on land that has ever been under Muslim rule. Over the years, Arab leaders have cultivated this rigid rejectionism of Israel in myriad ways—through religious institutions, the media, civil society institutions and militias. In addition, violence and loss of life and property have hardened attitudes on both sides.
From a historian’s perspective, peaceful resolution of this sort of conflict is rare, possibly non-existent.
And yet, the international community insists that Israel make “painful concessions,” that is, negotiate a settlement with an enemy who has no interest in doing so. But although individual Arabs may support a negotiated settlement, no Palestinian entity has ever been willing to do so.
Over the years, the international community and Israel have proposed several resolutions to the conflict. The Palestinians have rejected all of them.
The proposals have included the Peel Commission partition plan of 1937, the 1947 United Nations partition plan, the Camp David proposals in 2000 and the Israeli offer of 2008 which ceded East Jerusalem and virtually all of the West Bank. For the past several years, the Palestinian Authority has refused even to meet face to face with Israeli leaders. The founding charter of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that rules Gaza, condemns all negotiation and calls for killing and expelling Jews.
In the midst of all this, Israel has had to contend with a hostile international community. This is a community that has several times forced Israeli military withdrawals after Israel had successfully neutralized Arab attacks. International leaders have condemned Israel for “refusing to make peace.” They have pressured Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. Such a withdrawal would lead to a devastating Arab terror war against Israeli civilians.
Time for a New Narrative
On May 15, 1948, Israel was attacked and invaded by the armed forces of five of its Arab neighbors. Although Israel emerged victorious from these attacks, it did so at a terrible cost. Fully one per cent of Jews in the new Jewish state died in the Arab attacks.
If the US were today invaded by hostile forces in Canada and Mexico, and lost a comparable number of its citizens, it would today be burying 3.5 million Americans.
Would Americans make peace with such an enemy?
A key question is: Can Israel turn to modern history to divine an alternative to the poisonous “living-side-by-side” narrative that has crowded out all other alternatives?
President Roosevelt’s Response to the Pearl Harbor Attack
Until the current Trump administration, the US has often been a harsh critic of Israel’s defense against Arab aggression.
But the US should look to its own actions before criticizing Israel.
Here is what President Roosevelt said in his famous Infamy speech the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.
Roosevelt could have been talking about the Arab invasions of Israel in 1948.
In his speech to the American people, he did not detail the many American efforts to come to a negotiated settlement with Japan—-although there had been many such efforts prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Roosevelt did cite the ongoing negotiations with Japan. He told the American people, correctly, that Japan cynically used these negotiations as it secretly prepared for war against the US.
The analogy to the Palestinians in the Israeli-Arab conflict is striking: the Palestinian leadership has often turned to the Islamic concept of the hudna. The hudna is a phony truce in which Muslims pretend to make peace but instead use the peaceful interlude to strengthen their own forces until they are strong enough to defeat their enemy, in this case, the Jews. Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, was a master at this deceptive strategy.
The response of the American Congress and the American people to Roosevelt’s speech was electrifying. The speech was broadcast live on radio, with over 81% of the American people listening. Within half an hour, Congress voted to declare war on Japan, with every Representative (save one) voting for war. The reaction of the American public to Roosevelt’s call for victory was hugely positive.
British Response to German Aggression
What did Great Britain do when Germany launched a war in 1939 and then systematically invaded Britain’s neighbors? This is what British leader Winston Churchill said in May of 1940 as Britain went to war against Germany:
You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs—Victory in spite of all terror—Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.
Churchill could have been talking about the Arab invasions of Israel in 1948.
Churchill’s impassioned address to Britain became known as the “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech. It roused the British public to support the war against their enemy. Churchill followed with two additional speeches to the nation in which he again urged support for a campaign of victory. Today we admire Churchill’s leadership of a nation at war.
Peace Process or Victory?
In 1941, Japan’s brutal attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,400 US servicemen and civilians and laid waste to much of the US Pacific fleet. Japan also attacked a number of other US interests in the Pacific.
What if, rather than declaring war on Japan, and mobilizing for war, President Roosevelt had instead announced that he was seeking to open a “peace process” with the imperial Japanese government? What if the US were pressured by the world’s democracies to make “painful concessions” to Japan in order to end the US-Japan conflict?
Would peace have come?
By 1939 Germany had built a massive military machine, annexed Austria and part of Czechoslovakia, and started the Second World War by invading and brutalizing Poland. Soon afterwards, Germany attacked and occupied Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Imagine if Churchill had given a different speech in May of 1940. What if, instead of calling for victory against the Germans, he had advocated for a “peace process” with the fascist German government?
What if the remaining world democracies pressured Great Britain to make “painful concessions” to Germany in order to end the conflict?
Would peace have come?
Peace Treaties Don’t Bring Peace
In the early years of the Second World War, no one in his right mind would have suggested a “peace process” with German leader, Hitler or Japanese Emperor, Hirohito. Everyone at the time would have thought this to be suicidal.
The brutal Second World War proved that peace treaties don’t bring peace—-not lasting peace in any case.
Today Israel faces an enemy no less relentless, racist and brutal than the fascists of the 1940s.
And yet, perfectly rational people in the West pressure Israel to pursue a “peace process” with its Arab enemies. They promote the fantasy that Israeli concessions will cause Israel’s Arab enemies to give up their one hundred year war of annihilation against Israel and the Jews.
But if giving up Austria, Sudetenland and Poland did not halt the German march, but rather accelerated it——why would giving up the West Bank and Jerusalem halt the Arab march against Israel?
But are Israel’s Arab neighbors analogous to the fascists of the World War II era? History suggests they are. Evidence for this view is provided by several Nazi-Arab links: ties between the Nazis and major Arab states like Egypt and Iraq; the World War II alliance between the Palestinian leadership and Nazi Germany; and the plot hatched by Hitler and Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, to bring the Holocaust to North Africa, Palestine, and the rest of the Middle East. That plot would have succeeded had the Allies not defeated German forces in North Africa.
Instead of pursuing an endless and fruitless peace process with its enemies, Israel should take a different approach. Israel should act as Roosevelt and Churchill did when the US and Britain faced enemies that attempted to destroy them.
Israel should pursue a campaign of victory over its enemies.