Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

The Israeli-Arab Paradox: Peace Sign(ing)s After War

Post-Oct. 7, Israelis are fighting mad – literally and figuratively. Any talk of a peace treaty with the Palestinians, not to mention a Palestinian State, seems to most Israelis to be further from reality than at any time in the past. But Israelis could be wrong about that – and the country’s own past is proof of that current illusion.

I recall my own reaction upon hearing of Egypt’s surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur 1973. I cursed Anwar Sadat out loud with the traditional Jewish invective: “yemakh shmo” (may his name be erased) – and I’m sure that most Israelis back then were using even “juicier” language. A sneak attack was bad enough – but on Yom Kippur??? How low could an enemy go?

The result of that very bloody battleground was the highest number of fatalities in any other Israeli war (still today). Four years later that “yemakh shmo” showed up in Jerusalem and relatively soon thereafter Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty, lasting to this day. The unthinkable had occurred.

Then in the late 1980s the Palestinian intifada broke out, causing havoc among Israeli society for a few years. Once again, Israel faced an enemy (the Palestinians, led by their evil nemesis Yasser Arafat) who stooped to suicide bombings and other travesties. Here too Israel eventually prevailed after much loss of life and even greater anger at their foe. The result? Within a few years the Oslo Accords were signed with the same Arafat, ostensibly to kickstart a full peace process. And if that weren’t enough, after another couple of years Israel signed a full peace treaty with the Kingdom of Jordan – a country it had been at war with since 1948.

So here we are in 2024 with Israel still fighting a brutal terrorist organization that managed to outdo previous Israeli enemies in its barbarism, as evidenced by Hamas’s atrocities on the Jewish holiday of Simhat Torah 2023. Could once again peace emerge from such a vengeful and existentially trying state of affairs? Israel’s history suggest that the answer might be (not: “will be”): yes!

There is no need here to repeat all the details of the comprehensive peace plan that the Biden Administration is putting forth along with the Saudis and other peace-with-Israel wannabees. Suffice to say that the plan is not “pie-in-the-sky” but rather based on the dawning reality on the part of many Arab countries (and parts of Israeli society) that the present impasse is unsustainable. On the Arab side, their economic modernization plans will be hard to put into full practice as long as the Palestinian issue remains a thorn in the side of their citizenry, not to mention the unwillingness of international investors to go “all in” when political instability is but another “explosion” away. As for Israel, where would the country be without the full military and diplomatic support of America and several major European countries? Israeli intransigence on the peace process could be disastrous for the country if such backing is lost (and with quixotic Trump as possibly the next president, no American support is guaranteed in light of his comments regarding NATO going it alone).

In human affairs, the “stars” occasionally align for the better (the opposite is true too). Or as the Hebrew expression puts it: may’az yo’tzei matok (“sweet can emerge from the bitter”). The Gaza war is one of those watersheds in human history (at least for the Middle East) where the stars are aligning. Of course, things could also go from bad to worse; there certainly is no inevitability about the eventual outcome of the post-war process – positive or negative. There are obviously too many intangibles to make any prediction. To mention just a few: Will this Israeli government collapse and a more centrist (peace process-oriented government) take its place? Will the Palestinian Authority be willing to really undergo significant reform, not only in its Israel/Jew-bashing but in internal affairs e.g., financial transparency, regular elections, etc? What sort of blanket security guarantees can the moderate Arab world and the U.S. offer Israel in return for agreeing to a Palestinian State? (On that score, see my recent post: What parts of the administered territories will Israel be able to keep and which to give up – and would the Israeli government be able to deal with almost certain violent pushback by extremist settlers?

In the end, actual and final peace with the Palestinians might not be attained. However, given past historical experiences, some sort of realistic start to the end-game process has a big chance of emerging from the current vortex of violence. As the aphorism goes: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does often rhyme…

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) presently serves as Academic Head of the Communications Department at the Peres Academic Center (Rehovot). Previously, he taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published five books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see:
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