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Yitzhak Shamir’s Do-Nothing Legacy

The late prime minister’s fatal flaw was reluctance to act

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Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister in 1991.(Jennifer Law/AFP/Getty Images)

As is the case with the death of any major dignitary, the passing of Yitzhak Shamir elicited its share of encomia. They’re well-deserved: Humble and strong-willed, Shamir embodied the sort of leadership—anchored in ideals, uninterested in spoils—that is rarely in evidence in contemporary Israel, or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. No matter what you thought of his history with the Stern Gang or his hard-line politics, it was hard to consider Shamir and not be moved by his sense of stony dedication to his cause, the building and strengthening of the state of Israel.

But while we praise Shamir’s many good qualities, we should also pay special attention to one of his key flaws, a flaw that he’s passed along, like DNA, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That flaw is the belief that Israel’s best bet is to do absolutely nothing.

The New York Times obituary of Shamir neatly captured this belief when it quoted the late prime minister as saying that his plan for his second term in office was to “keep things as they are.” For Shamir, such caution wasn’t merely a political strategy; it was an existential philosophy. “With our long, bitter experience,” goes the rest of the quote cited in the Times, “we have to think twice before we do something.”

This inherent belief in inaction set Shamir apart from previous occupants of Israel’s top office, whether they were in the tradition of the Labor-left or shared Shamir’s own right-wing, Revisionist, Likudnik outlook. David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir were proactive state-builders and assertive in their foreign relations policies. Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin risked much to promote their peace initiatives, and Ariel Sharon, Shamir’s rival for Likud supremacy in the 1980s, orchestrated Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Shamir, on the other hand, was the Bartleby of the Knesset, replying to any proposal that came his way that he would simply prefer not to.

Until he could demur no more: In the spring of 1991, with President George H.W. Bush determined to convene a peace conference in Madrid, Shamir bet everything on his obduracy—and lost. Bush, popular in the wake of the Gulf War and just as strong-willed as his Israeli counterpart, forced Shamir to the negotiating table. Before too long, the Israeli electorate followed Bush’s lead and voted in a leader, Rabin, who knew how to seize opportunities and give peace a chance.

In his late years, Shamir was highly critical of Netanyahu for what he believed to be the latter’s excessive leniency toward the Palestinians. But the young Netanyahu had studied his elder well: More than any other Israeli prime minister since Shamir, he’d mastered the art of saying no. As opposition leader, he rejected the Saudi-led peace initiative. As prime minister, he rejected Hillary Clinton’s warning that the settlements were “unhelpful” to the peace process; stymied George Mitchell’s mediating efforts by insisting that the Palestinians not only recognize Israel’s right to exist, but also recognize its right to exist as a Jewish state (on the ridiculousness of this rhetorical device, see here); and butted heads with President Obama every chance he got. He has made no real efforts to promote negotiations with the Palestinians, no discernible large-scale moves to strengthen the settlement movement (with the exception of a few hilltops here and there), no big plays to radically alter anything. He did, as Sharon’s finance minister, speed up the ruinous Thatcherization of Israel’s economy, adhering to an aggressive neo-liberal agenda that left the lower and middle classes with less economic security than ever; but even that, Netanyahu’s most memorable policy as a leader, was nothing more than a faithful implementation of Likud’s traditional core economic policies.

Luckily for Netanyahu, doing nothing seems, in the short term, to serve Israel’s policies well. For now, the Israeli economy is strong (even if it is not just), and the Palestinian leadership is weak. But Netanyahu would do well to note Yitzhak Shamir’s true legacy: Without a sustainable vision for the future, without the courage to take risks, without working closely with the international community, there was only so far both he and the country he loved could go.

Yitzhak Shamir, Former Israeli Prime Minister, Dies at 96 [NYT]

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Saint_Etienne says:

Mr. Liebovitz, while I actually agree with your assessment of the late Yitzhak Shamir, I think you are very wrong on the side issue of Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state”. I have taken the trouble to read your 09 article on this subject and am still unimpressed by your argument on this topic. So – may I try to convince you of the opposite?

I assume you do not dispute the “right to exist as a Jewish state” in itself. If so, do you not think the Palestinian (or other Arab) leaders could indulge Bibi’s supposedly
gratuitous demand? If the matter is but a rhetorical trifle, settled by Arafat decades ago, why didn’t they just say so much and called Bibi’s bluff? Instead, as far as I remember, they went into full apoplexic mode.

Perhaps because it’s not just an empty trifle, after all. I posit that while it took the majority of Israelis a very long time to arrive at a wholehearted endorsement of the “two states for two peoples” formula, the Palestinians (Arabs) haven’t arrived at it at all yet!

I’d love to read your response to this argument.


Turns out, the “right to exist as a Jewish state” demand is not even originally Bibi’s invention – it’s Olmert’s! See here:
So, I maintain with an even greater force, that the issue here is about much more than Bibi’s negotiating style – it’s about whether both sides will be negotiating about the same thing or not.

    liel_leibovitz says:

    Dear Saint Etienne,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m afraid, however, that I cannot state my point any clearer than I’d already stated it in that 2009 article: the whole point of a sovereign nation is that it is free to be whatever sort of nation it chooses to be, and shouldn’t depend on its neighbors’ approval. And so, while Israel was right to insist that its right to exist be recognized, its insistence that it be recognized as a Jewish state is an absurdity. I very much believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and celebrate the fact that it is a sovereign nation free to make such decisions by itself, without having to wait for Ramallah’s seal of approval. The Palestinian leadership, of course, could’ve followed your advice and indulged Bibi on this issue, but my guess is that they saw this move for what it so obviously is, another diversion practiced in bad faith. Finally, as for the two-state solution, I believe—and there’s sufficient polling to prove me right—that the majority of Palestinians did support this idea strongly, together with the majority of Israelis, for the better part of a decade from the mid 1990s onwards. However, with the peace process moribund as it is, many Palestinians are rejecting this formula, as are, sadly, many Israelis—some on the right, citing concern for the Land of Israel above the State of Israel, and some on the left, citing a desire for a binational state. I believe this to be a disaster, and have written about it in Tablet two years ago:

      Saint_Etienne says:

      I am very much in agreement with the last piece you cite. The new right-wing argument for a binational state is, alas, founded on two major errors: make-believe demographics and a blissful assumption that Gaza can be factored out of the equation. On the bright side, it shows that the right is not brain-dead, as some had feared, including myself.

      But returning to the original bone of contention, I think you let the Palestinian leadership off the hook way too easily. I am afraid that their persistent refusal to call the bluff indicates that the bluff is no bluff.

        Y.K. says:

        Saint_Etienne, Your (and Liel’s) characterization of the “new right-wing argument” is silly. Obviously they don’t intend to have a ‘binational state’. They want the current state with enlarged borders and population. Now, you may think this will lead to a binational state. Or that their demography is bunk**. You may even be right. That still only makes them wrong, not “arguing for a binational state”. This is as accurate as talking about “the Left’s new argument for destroying Israel”. One may believe the Left’s course will lead to that, but that’s obviously not what most Jewish Leftist want and not a fair characterization!

        ** Leaving aside the demography debate, note the implication of the argument that Gaza can’t be factored out, and think what it means to both the unilateral disengagement idea and the failed peace process idea.

          Saint_Etienne says:

          Hello, Y.K.. I’ll grant you the technical point: the right definitely doesn’t want a binational state. The people L. mentioned (Elitzur et al.) think they can manage to absorb the Arab population of Judea and Samaria into Israel and retain Israel’s current character.

          What I think is that they are terribly wrong. Such a measure, if attempted, will surely lead to a binational state within a generation or so. No need to get angry about that… (When labels are mandatory, I call myself “Right” as well, fyi).

          The demography, by the way, is only one reason why such a plan would backfire disastrously (Arnon Sofer argued the demographic case clearly). It might have been workable in the 1970’s or even the 1980’s but today – to think the Palestinians will gladly integrate into the Jewish state? You might as well bet on me getting the squeezed toothpaste back into the tube.

          But I wonder what is the implication of the Gaza argument in you opinion? What does it mean for the “failed peace process idea”? About unilateral I can’t be bothered to ask – that horse is deader than mackerel, pardon my mixed metaphor.


          Y.K. says:

          I agree with you on that annexing the entire WB is unpractical, so I don’t think we need to discuss this much. I didn’t mean to be angry, and I’m sorry if I made this impression. The argument simply sounded to me as very wrong.

          I would point out though that this argument is not “technical” in Israeli political context. There’s a certain tradition in the Israeli Left of using alleged concessions by the Right as ‘precedents’ which somehow necessitate Israeli concessions. For example, Begin’s withdrawal from the Sinai somehow necessitated giving the entire Golan to Assad (nevermind Begin was the one annexing the Golan, or that Egypt isn’t Syria, [edit: Or that Syria itself never recognized the Mandate borders]), Madrid supposedly led to Oslo (nevermind it was a secret track, based on contacts predating Madrid), and so on and on.

          Second, as far as the implications I’m talking about – well, Gaza has for all practical purposes its own army, government and an open border with Egypt. If that counts as ‘being under Israel’s responsibility’, than every unilateral withdrawal can come under the same criticism. If so, than the main argument for unilateral withdrawal fails.

          Moreover, the biggest difference from a real peace accord is that the Palestinians have less responsibilities in this arrangement. It is difficult to see how even a Palestinian state would not be in a same position. Even if by fiat we could declare the Palestinians there to not count (why?), it is trivial for the Palestinians to force even the most dovish Israeli PM to retake the territories by being sufficiently nasty (And this is one of the nastier implications of the Left’s demographic argument – if Palestinian demographic can lead directly to one-state regardless of Israel’s position, then they have no incentive to compromise or honour any agreement). The biggest difference from the current position would be that Israel would be in a far worse [edit: demographical] position by then [The Palestinians would have no choice but to import some of their ‘refugees’, and that’s before talking about the political implications], making this demographical argument apply again.

          In short, unless one allows Israel a means to separate itself demographically (which I believe is possible – my opposition to the Left’s policies comes from different reasons), all solutions based on separation and intending to lead to a two-states outcome fail either directly or indirectly.

          Saint_Etienne says:

          Y.K., I am not sure I got an answer to my question. But never mind. Let me pose the more important one: what do you think is the best course for Israel to steer?

          And in particular – what do you think of “Lieberman’s plan”? I mean the plan, not the person!

          Y.K. says:

          I wrote too much, huh? Well, I’ll try to keep this short.

          First, Lieberman’s plan is unpractical. We can’t strip Israeli Arabs of their citizenship. (And if you look at the geography, additional problems arise – e.g. the founding of Harish for example is difficult to reconcile with his plan). Second, the Left’s plan is unpractical. Its end point is a viable contiguous Palestinian state over WB+G and a secure Israel. The first can’t happen even in the maximal version of these borders, the second is difficult as is and is incompatible with the first in this version. And you’re right we can’t annex the entire WB.

          My plan? Well, If I had my way, Jordan (with or without its current ruler) would annex certain areas in the WB, Israel the rest. Gaza could choose to join this state or be left adrift. This mostly solves the first problem (the resulting state would be viable, however it will be armed, and Gaza may be a thorn), and helps with the second (better borders, the precedent of territorial changes would serve as a deterrent vs aggression).

          Since that’s not going to happen, we’ll have to muddle along as is. There will inevitably be a war (Israel has one every decade), possibly even with Egypt. Israel should aim to win this one decisively, and maybe others will come to their senses and we’ll have something Israel can live with. Maybe (Probably) they won’t, and in that case we’ll have to continue to muddle along. Unlike the author, I don’t see a great urgency here. If I had a nickel for every time this was said for the last twenty years…

          Saint_Etienne says:

          So, the divergence between our views might not be as great as it seemed at first. But I wonder: what is the practical difference between your proposal and the usual two-state variety?

          In both cases you end up with the WB partitioned between Israel and an Arab state, only that in your scenario it’s a stronger state that commands also the other bank of the Jordan. Also, with Jordan and Palestine unified, Israel loses the option to play them off against each other.

          Am I missing something here?

          Y.K. says:

          Yes, I think you are missing a lot. I regret this has to be a long long post. I’ll also write another post regarding what might be deeper disagreements between us.

          First, You missed my criticism earlier. The two state solution as
          advance by the Israeli Left since 92-93 is literally impossible – for
          both sides. I wrote this criticism earlier, and I’m a bit annoyed you
          didn’t notice. I can write a much much longer version, but the relatively short summary is that:

          A) The land is simply too small to divide, so neither side can get an agreement which satisfies its core desires. The Palestinian state cannot be viable in even 100% of WB+G especially given the same demographic projects the Left relies on. _Every_ would-be Palestinian state (henceforth:PS) would therefor have to be aggressive towards Israel – if not “merely” because of popular opinion, that because of geographical reality. _Every_ criticism regarding “Bantustans” applies just as well to the PS. On the other hand, Israel could satisfy its core desires – but only by gutting said PS.

          B) Nearly all of the arguments the Left uses vs the current situation, apply to Israel after agreement violation. Ergo, any agreement is unenforceable by Israel if the Left is right.
          C) Public opinion is very dependent on the poller, and for some reason, people tend to ignore the really negative polls (like ). Suffice it to say it doesn’t take a majority to make an agreement impossible.

          My idea was to relax the zero-sum game and deal with Palestinian viability issue by enlarging the PS so it can make concessions regarding Israeli security in the WB. Since the PS is larger, Israel could care less about its other borders – which make some concessions more palatable (For example, the non-militarization demand can be replaced by demilitarization of just WB). I think enforcement would be much less difficult in spite of this – Their state would be larger but many parts of it very difficult to defend vs Israel. Also, most resettlement would have to happen in the East Bank.
          Getting public support is difficult – but by at least being something both sides can actually live with, it has a chance. I do agree with your observations, and the problems you noted were serious enough to make most people oppose this in the 80s. But now Saddam is dead, Syria is weak, and Saudi has no interest in directly provoking Israel. So I think this can be handled.
          I also happen to think this has no political chance whatsoever. So one-state is out, two-state is (IMHO) impossible as offered, and what I think may help won’t happen either. This leaves us with “Plan no. D” which essentially involves crushing the enemy and trying to get a good situation unilaterally. See ya in a couple decades.

          Saint_Etienne says:

          Hey there. Sorry I can’t address all your points – the posts would grow exponentially long. Please don’t be annoyed.

          I don’t quite understand your thinking so much of the “P is J (light)” idea – if you think it’s actually infeasible, why elaborate it so much?

          I’ll probably have to agree to your “Plan D” as sadly the only feasible option for now. But “crushing the enemy” to me seems like a rather dangerous illusion – haven’t we done it a few times already? And yet, each time the military success does not translate into political settlement. Coincidence? Treason? Or just willful ignorance of the larger picture?

          If you ask me, things will only really change once the Arab (not Palestinian) mindset shifts and this will not be because of our “crushing” anybody but because of larger changes in the world, some for the better, some for the worst (think: alternative energy, Muslim immigration to Europe, what happens once the West gets really annoyed?). Sharansky and Bush actually got it right (albeit Bush only paid lip service to the idea): democratization must precede real peace.

          To get back to our quibble, I think you get the Bantustan issue wrong – how exactly will a bona fide Palestinian state be considered a Bantustan? It might be demilitarized, but otherwise it’d be totally free. How’s a Bantustan? Care to elaborate?

          And to get even more back, to the L plan: “stripping” people of citizenship is a no-go, to be sure; but is making them choose either Israeli or PS citizenship with a bias towards PS a no-go? I think it’d be very possible if a PS ever becomes a reality. I’d like to know why you consider it impossible, especially since you wouldn’t stop at eliminating a whole state (Jordan) in your scheme.

          Another thing: we might be meaning different things by the “demographic argument”. What I refer to is that the present ratio of Jews to Arabs is, in my opinion, just barely sufficient to keep Israel Jewish. Take in more Arabs citizens (as Elitzur et al. propose) and the whole thing will implode. You might be referring to something else, more sinister or more vague.

          C U

          Y.K. says:

          OK. Lets

          “I don’t quite understand your thinking so much of the “P is J
          (light)” idea – if you think it’s actually infeasible, why elaborate it
          so much?”
          Well, you did ask me what I thought could work… So I felt elaborating was only fair. And the other point was to criticize the current paradigm, which I don’t think can work, even if both leaderships were perfectly willing.

          “Coincidence? Treason? Or just willful ignorance of the larger picture?” Nah. I elided myself (perhaps too elliptically) earlier that I don’t think the other side will give up so soon. But these things do add up.

          “but is making them choose either Israeli or PS citizenship with a bias
          towards PS a no-go? I think it’d be very possible if a PS ever becomes a
          reality. I’d like to know why you consider it impossible, especially
          since you wouldn’t stop at eliminating a whole state (Jordan) in your

          Well, that state already has a Palestinian majority AFAIK. Somehow what would be apartheid here is perfectly fine several kilometers out east. Anyhow, polls give about a 90%+ choice of Israel amongst the Arab citizens in the Triangle – so L.’s plan achieves little at best as soon as they have a choice. Did I also mention it’s more difficult geographically than it seems? Especially since the government (which L. sits in) voted to establish a huge Haredi town (Harish) in the area? While being in the public L. is supposed to appeal to, I don’t find him particularly honest or compelling.

          “To get back to our quibble, I think you get the Bantustan issue wrong –
          how exactly will a bona fide Palestinian state be considered a
          Bantustan? It might be demilitarized”

          Just take the criticism vs Sharon’s alleged plan (pre disengagement? can’t recall), copy-paste changing a few names, and you got the idea. Our would-be state would be a disjointed entity, with no control of its airspace and fair amounts of its territory, and land far too small for the majority of its people, and an economy necessarily dependent on external entities.

          Another thing: we might be meaning different things by the
          “demographic argument”. What I refer to is that the present ratio of
          Jews to Arabs is, in my opinion, just barely sufficient to keep Israel
          Jewish. ”

          I guess we are. I’m thinking of a more Mearsheimer/A.B. Joshua/-like version of this (the Palestinians will become a sizable majority in the entire Mandate, at which point the intl. community will tire of Israel and will boycott it like South Africa leading to its downfall). The first part can be debated (it’s just demographic projections) – but I find the rest of the argument does not immediately follow, and it anyhow gives the other side an enormous incentive not to compromise on anything. If complete victory is so inevitable and so easy (one doesn’t have to blow oneself up, one has to sit at home and %$#@ while finding various excuses to stall/stop negotiations), there’s really no good reason to talk about 22% of the Mandate when one could have 100%. Or at least the 22% without any concessions like end-of-conflict.

          Y.K. says:

          On some other matters (stripped out of previous post because it was too long):

          First, I do not believe that Israel will achieve peace by a piece of paper alone (or even mostly). The rejection of Israel in the Arab world is principled (in its twisted way), and no agreement or international opinion will sway it***. Israel will achieve peace when her enemies both lose hope of destroying it and be aware that any war will cause penalties they fear off. At which point, one could haggle over the details.

          This _requires_ several things, amongst which is the rejection of 67 lines (both due to security reasons – no one would believe such a small state is invulnerable, and both to make it clear Israel will exact the one penalty which the Arabs worry about), ignoring the demographic argument (Did I mention already how incredibly amazingly destructive this line of reasoning is? It pretty much scuttles all chances of peace by itself since enough Arabs buy it to be convinced they don’t need to compromise), focusing more on permanent security moorings for Israel rather than short-term stuff like warning stations, _not_ accepting any so-called refugees to Israel (see for example Prof. Gavison criticism on the matter), etc. etc.

          Second, as I said, I don’t think the demographic argument is compelling. I think it’s destructive and very very silly. It involves world opinion caring about population statistics in borders they don’t recognize, and Israel somehow being paralyzed and unable to do anything about it. (Even in the event Israel does nothing and waits and the world really does get upset, Israel can always withdraw to more demographically comfortable borders. What does the Left expect to happen? Massive military expedition sent so that Israel does _not_ withdraw?).

          Saint_Etienne says:

          Sorry for double post….

          Hello, Y.K.. I’ll grant you the technical point: the right definitely
          doesn’t want a binational state. The people L. mentioned (Elitzur et
          al.) think they can manage to absorb the Arab population of Judea and
          Samaria into Israel and retain Israel’s current character.

          What I think is that they are terribly wrong. Such a measure, if
          attempted, will surely lead to a binational state within a generation or
          so. No need to get angry about that… (When labels are mandatory, I
          call myself “Right” as well, fyi).

          The demography, by the way, is only one reason why such a plan would
          backfire disastrously (Arnon Sofer argued the demographic case clearly).
          It might have been workable in the 1970’s or even the 1980’s but today –
          to think the Palestinians will gladly integrate into the Jewish state?
          You might as well bet on me getting the squeezed toothpaste back into
          the tube.

          But I wonder what is the implication of the Gaza argument in you
          opinion? What does it mean for the “failed peace process idea”? About
          unilateral I can’t be bothered to ask – that horse is deader than
          mackerel, pardon my mixed metaphor.


      wishnitz says:

      Dear Mr. Leibovitz- your comments show your colors- a left wing ideologue to the core. Just look at your critique of the so-called “Thatcherite economic policies that ruined Israel’s economy” Yup- and the nations in Europe that followed your left policies are prosperous, debt free and with full employment. What a belly laugh! It is just those “Thatcherite policies’ that saved Great Britain and now are responsible for Israel’ good economy.
      Thank the good Lord that the people of Israel have realized that the policies of doing nothing are a lot safer and realistic than the ruinous policies of doing something, anything- just to appease the West and the United Nations- friends of Israel, of course! Another belly laugh!
      It just so happens that every time Israel did “something” it got worse- see leaving Lebanon, Gaza, Palestinian self governemnt. The only time it worked was the Egyptian peace treaty and we will see how long that will last. Dear Mr. Leibovitz, let the peoplel of Israel decide their own future- they have already shown what they think of your ideas.

And we will remember the one flaw of Liel L. – a person who thinks he knows what he doesn’t, who assumes a critical pose over things he has no real comprehension, who confounds what was, who ignores the construct of ‘shev v’al ta’aseh’, who has not the tools to allow him to comment on such matters. Should Shamir have then retaliated for the Iraqi missiles or done nothing? He expanded Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, brought immigrants from Ethiopia and previously had overseen the immigration of Russia’s Jews, stood up to Baker & Bush, encouraged Jewish/Hebrew education and more. May I suggest this book I helped edit: “”For the Sake of Zion”: Vision and Faith ; Addresses and Speeches of Yitzhak Shamir”, Beit Yair, 1993. Don’t allow Liel L. to influence you.

    liel_leibovitz says:

    Mr. Medad,

    Always a pleasure to hear from you, and thank you for your comment. As for Shamir’s stance throughout the first Gulf War, he did, arguably, the one and only thing he could’ve done, as rejecting the American plea that Israel stay put would have strongly jeopardized Israel’s national interests and would have most likely led to a significant loss of American foreign aid. I see little point in praising Shamir for following this inevitable path and not succumbing to madness. And while he did stand up to Baker and Bush—stubbornly and without much tact or grace—he eventually had to bow down and travel to Madrid, a major blow to his foreign policy. The Israeli electorate, put off by Shamir’s intransigence, eventually robbed the Likud of 8 mandates, awarding the party 32 seats in the Knesset while giving Labor, which campaigned largely on the promise of an invigorated peace process, 44 seats. That, too, is an indelible part of Shamir’s legacy. But as I stated in my piece, I do have much respect for the late prime minister’s character and his commitment, and look forward to reading the collection you mention myself.

      Liel, thank you for providing proof of my point in being bothered by your critique stance. In 1992, Shamir lost because the other candidate, someone named Yitzhak Rabin, portrayed himself as “Mr. Security”, this before Barak, when a teenaged girl, Helena Rapp, was knifed to death in Bat Yam and the electorate was seeking someone more “cruel”, who would deal with Arab terror in a strenuous fashion. Even Wikipedia has this: “Videos of the rioting that took place in Bat Yam were featured in Labor Party electoral ads which blamed the deteriorating security situation on the Likud government”. It was his lack of intransigence not a desire for peace. You have it completely backwards! And with the running also of Ze’evi’s Moledet party and the self-destructive implosion of the nationalist right, with Rabbi Levinger/Daniella Weiss breaking off from Techiya and others, causing 90,000+ votes of anti-peace voters to be lost, Labor got in. You have no idea of what you are writing. You have a political/ideological agenda, that’s all.

        liel_leibovitz says:

        Here’s a report, from the Baltimore Sun (, dated 1992, featuring Mr. Security at his most fierce:

        He campaigned on the promise that he would reverse the intransigence of the current government and come to a quick agreement with Palestinians to allow them autonomy in the occupied territories. He would end much — though not all — of the settlement in those areas, settlement that has been nurtured by Mr. Shamir’s government.He is moved not from concern for Arab human rights but for Jewish control of its own state.”I don’t want to include 1.7 million Arabs in the state of Israel,” he told voters.He promised to take the money spent trying to settle those lands and plow it back into Israel’s crying domestic needs.
        There are many more like it. As I myself remember well — I was 16 at the time, and, for the first time, paid very close attention to the campaign and its machinations, Rabin did run on his strong security record (no Israeli politician had ever done otherwise), but the major theme of the campaign — the reason, to quote Labor’s campaign slogan, that Israel was waiting for Rabin — was to end Shamir’s intransigence and bring about some sort of resolution with the Palestinians.

          (a) yes, his campaign was originally dovish but the victory was due to a portrayal switch: Shamir was weak on security; Rabin was the soldier. If not for the terror incident, Rabin would have lost; (b) you ignore the actual analysis of the voting result – the right-of-center had the plurality but too many seats were lost so Labor got in. (c) if you rely on documents, what do you then make of Rabin’s last Knesset speech on October 5, 1995 where he presented his peace vision – dovish or hawkish? Here:

          We view the permanent
          solution in the framework of State of Israel which will include most of
          the area of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British
          Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to
          most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West

          We would like this to be an entity
          which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives
          of the Palestinians under its authority. 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

          And these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution:

          A. First and foremost, united
          Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev — as
          the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the
          rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to
          freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according
          to the customs of their faiths.

          B. The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.

          C. Changes which will include the
          addition of 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.

          D. The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif.

          This is as good a rebuttal of Liel, beside me, that I found: Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Legacy, Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought”, “Israel Hayom”, July 1, 2012

Michael Widlanski says:

Yitzhak Shamir was, aside from David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s longest serving prime minister. Shamir put his life on the line for his people many times and in many ways. He deserves a proper obituary based on fact, not the factless and tactless screed compiled by Liel Leibovitz, a specialist in “the ontology of electric games” who pays no attention to minor things such as history. TABLET owes its readers an apology for sending them to study Shamir’s life by reading the obituary in The New York Times. As someone who was a reporter at NYT, I can testify that it is hardly a paper of record and objectivity when it comes to israel and to rightist politicians like Shamir. Yes, Shamir was not perfect, but no leader is, and a fair assessment of his career would have balanced his successes and failures through the prism of the years he served and the years served by his successors. For example, Shamir’s government successfully integrated hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants in a short period time, without major economic dislocation. Sounds like a big achievement. TABLET and Liebovitz wrote and headlined that Shamir was a “do-nothing” prime minister in a “say-nothing” article. Liebovitz may be too young and too unread to remember that the Shamir era was much more successful than the “do-something, anything” period of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres that ushered in the most violent decade of terror death in Israel’s history, thanks to the Oslo Accords. Compared to that, doing nothing or doing no harm is better. Doctors know this: if you have a sick patient, don’t kill her or him by trying to save them with radical and untested therapies. Rather than pick apart the TABLET-Liebovitz treatment of Shamir, perhaps it is better to offer my own obituary to Yitzhak Shamir, who I interviewed many times as a reporter.
The Life of Yitzhak Shamir By Michael Widlanski
Yitzhak Shamir, who died Saturday night at age 96, resembled Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, in some ways. Aside from Ben-Gurion, Shamir served longer as Israel’s prime minister than any other man or woman in Israel’s history—three terms totaling more than seven years, and it is clear that many Israelis trusted him because he was a straight talker without any burning personal ambitions. Both Shamir and Ben-Gurion cast a big shadow though they were short, physically. Both had a no-nonsense attitude toward protecting Israel, not relying on promises from the UN or international alliances. In recent years, Shamir was ill, but he certainly would have poked fun at the talk of “An Arab Spring.” He saw the internal forces of Arab tribalism and authoritarianism as unchanging features of the landscape like sands in the desert “The sea is the sea, and the Arabs are the Arabs,” he would say. As a Mossad agent and earlier as a leader of the pre-1948 LEHI underground force, Shamir never shied away from putting his life on the line or taking the lives of those he saw threatening his people. But he was never bloodthirsty, nor did he ever brag about his deeds. Later, he was a rare politician who did not talk of himself. He ordered Israeli commandos on a deep operation in Tunisia, where they liquidated Khalil al-Wazir, head of the PLO’s terror wing who had murdered scores of people. Al-Wazir was known to Arabs by his nickname “Abu-Jihad”—father of the holy war. The commandos did not harm his family, and Shamir never bragged about his part. “I just heard about it on the radio,” he tersely to reporters who asked him about it. Prime Minister Shamir led Israel to the Madrid peace talks in 1991and subsequent bilateral negotiations in Washington in 1992 with several Arab states, though he believed the talks would not lead to any breakthroughs. His view proved correct, but in 1992, Israel voted for the team of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres (who got support from Bush and James Baker) who promised that peace was just around the corner. Rabin-Peres led Israel to the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat’s PLO—culminating in the bloodiest terror decade in Israel’s history. Shamir had a dim view of big conferences, flashy slogans and bright lights. Unlike many politicians, he did not enjoy diplomatic fanfare. He felt countries got together when they saw mutual interest. Shamir said this might happen when the Arabs saw that peace and stability were not just good for Israel but good for the Arabs too. Today many of the Arab states see that a strong Israel is actually also an Arab interest, especially against an aggressive Iran, but this realization—among the Arabs and among some of the pro-Arab Western policy makers—may have come too late.

Dr. Michael Widlanski served as an advisor to Israeli negotiating teams in 1991-92 and as Strategic Affairs Advisor to Israel’s Ministry of Public Security. He is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, just published by Threshold/Simon & Schuster.

yevka says:

Shamir to his great infamy will always be remembered as Mister NO.

Y.K. says:

What utter nonsense. Shamir brought in both the Ethiopian and Russian aliyahs. Both required strong actions by the PM (the latter required various policies to encourage them to go to Israel and not the US for example). On the foreign policy front, Shamir opposed the Left’s policies and strongly supported the settlment movement, built new settlements and was willing to confront the US over it. Moreover, Israel had greatly expanded it’s foreign relations under him.

Now, Liel may not like it, but it’s a policy so saying he did nothing is simply untrue. Nor does the occasional buckling to pressure (which is greatly exagerrated – the Iraqi case was in our interests, Shamir didn’t buckle over settlement, and Madrid led to nowhere and could not have done otherwise) makes a policy disappear.

This leaves us with the coda of the article – which is every bit as patently false as the rest of it. Shamir himself went very far in Israeli politics – the longest serving PM (save for Ben Gurion) at the time – and was very close to winning the 1992 election as well. Israel has changed and learnt from bitter experience – so Nethanyahu is expected to have little problem in any future elections in part _because_ of his foreign policy positions – as the author must know. And the country? It did much better under Shamir than under (for example) his successor. If anything, perhaps the better lesson to Nethanyahu is not to annoy the hawks too much – every rightwing government that fell was because of them. And, of course, not to indulge in “New Middle East” fantasies…


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Yitzhak Shamir’s Do-Nothing Legacy

The late prime minister’s fatal flaw was reluctance to act

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