Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Israel Will Only Get a Peace Treaty If
Palestinians See it as Worthwhile and Honorable
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 1, 2015
The Map on the Wall
A FORMER cabinet
minister, an intelligent person (nonetheless) asked me the other day:
"Let's assume that your plan is realized. A Palestinian state will come
into being side by side with Israel. Even some kind of federation. Then,
in a few years, a violently anti-Israel party will come to power there and
annul all the treaties. What then?"
My simple answer was: "Israel
will always be powerful enough to forestall any threat."
true, but that is not the real answer. The real answer lies in the lessons
HISTORY SHOWS us that there are (at least) two
kinds of peace agreements. One kind, the stupid one, is based on power.
The other, the intelligent, is based on common interest.
notorious of the first kind is the Treaty of Versailles that followed
World War I.
It was signed four years before I was born, but as a
child I was an eye-witness to its results.
It was a "dictated"
peace. After four years of fighting, with millions of victims, the victors
wanted to inflict the maximum of damage on the vanquished.
parts of Germany were separated from the Fatherland and turned over to the
victors East and West. Huge indemnities were levied on Germany, which was
already totally exhausted by the war.
Perhaps worst of all was the
"war guilt" clause. The origins of the war were manifold and complicated.
A Serbian patriot killed the Austrian heir to the throne. Austria answered
with a harsh ultimatum. The Russian Czarist Empire, which saw itself as
the protector of all Slavs, declared a general mobilization to frighten
the Austrians off. The Russians were allied with the French. To prevent an
invasion from both sides, the Germans, who allied to the Austrians,
invaded France. The idea was to knock the French out before the cumbersome
Russian mobilization was completed. Fearing a German victory, Great
Britain rushed to the aid of the French.
Indeed. But the victors compelled the Germans to sign a clause that
indicted them as solely responsible for the outbreak of the war.
WHEN I went to school in Germany, there hung before my eyes a map of
Germany. It showed the present borders of the Reich (as it was still
called), and around it a prominent red line that showed the prewar
This map hung in every class in every school in Germany.
From earliest childhood on, every German boy and girl was daily reminded
of the great injustice done to the Fatherland, when large chunks were torn
Worse, every German child was taught that his or her
father had fought valiantly for four whole years against a vastly superior
enemy and surrendered only from sheer exhaustion. Germany had played only
a minor role in the events that led to the war, yet the whole blame for
the war was laid on it. So were huge "reparations" that ruined the German
The humiliation of signing such an unjust treaty was a
permanent sting, and became the battle-cry of Adolf Hitler's new
National-Socialist party. The politicians who had signed the document were
History has blamed the leaders of the victorious
allies for their stupidity in dictating these terms, especially after the
far-sighted American president, Woodrow Wilson, had warned against it.
Probably they had no choice. The terrible war had bred intense
hatred, and peoples were thirsting for revenge. They paid for it dearly
when Germany, under the leadership of Hitler, started World War II.
THE OPPOSITE example is provided by the Peace of Vienna of 1815,
almost a hundred years earlier.
Napoleon's troops had overrun
large parts of Europe. Unlike Hitler's Germany, Napoleon's France brought
with it a civilizing message, but its troops also committed many
atrocities. When France was exhausted and broke down, the victorious
allies could easily have imposed on it the same punitive and humiliating
terms imposed by their successors a century later. They did not.
Instead of treating France as a vanquished foe, they invited it to
the table. Napoleon's ex-foreign minister, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand,
was welcomed as one of the leaders to shape the future of Europe.
The leading spirit of the Congress of Vienna was Klemens von Metternich,
ably assisted by the British Lord Castlereagh. France was allowed to
recuperate within a short time.
One of the great admirers of
Metternich and his colleagues is Henry Kissinger. Unfortunately he did the
opposite when he himself became the US Foreign Minister.
"Concert of Nations" created by the Peace of Vienna established a solid
system that kept Europe peaceful for almost a hundred years, with a few
exceptions (like the Franco-Prussian war of 1870). The spirit of its
founders shines today as an example of wisdom.
WORLD WAR II,
the most terrible of all, could have ended with a second Versailles
treaty. It did not.
After Germany's Unconditional Surrender, no
peace treaty was signed at all. After the awful atrocities of the Nazis,
no generous treaty was possible. Germany was divided, but instead of
paying huge indemnities, it – incredibly – received huge sums of money
from the victors, so it could rebuild itself in record time. It did lose a
lot of territory, but a few decades later Germany became the leading power
in a united Europe. Any major war in Europe is now unthinkable.
Winston Churchill and his partners had obviously learned the lesson of
Versailles. They disproved the popular saying that nobody learns anything
Even the new State of Israel behaved with a lot of
wisdom – as far as Germany was concerned. The chimnies of Auschwitz had
hardly stopped smoking when Israel, under the leadership of David
Ben-Gurion, signed a treaty with Germany. Sadly, Ben-Gurion did not
display the same wisdom facing the Arab world.
There was the
moment of Oslo, when everything was possible. Martin Buber once told me:
"There is a right moment for a historic act.
The moment before it is
wrong. The moment after it is wrong. But for one moment it is right."
Unfortunately, Yitzhak Rabin did not recognize that. I doubt if he knew
much about world history.
WHAT IS the lesson?
Kissinger put it well in one of his
books, before he became a war criminal.
It is this: Peace will hold only if all
sides profit from it. Peace will not hold if one major side is left out.
At the moment of victory, the victor believes that his power is
eternal. He can impose his terms and humiliate the enemy. But history
shows that power changes, the strong of today may be the weak of tomorrow.
The weak may become strong and take revenge.
That is the lesson
Israel should absorb. Today we are strong, and
the Arab world is in shambles. It will not always be so.
peace treaty with Palestine and the Arab world will hold if it is wise and
generous. Wise enough so the Palestinian people, or at least a great
majority, will come to the conclusion that it is both worthwhile and
honorable to keep it.
It is always good to have a strong army.
Just in case. But history shows that it is
neither strong armies nor an abundance of weapons that guarantees peace.
It is the goodwill of all sides, based on self-interest.
And the wisdom of politicians – a rare ingredient, indeed.
Share this article with your facebook friends