WASHINGTON, DC — Last week my wife and I met with our friend, Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s chief Middle East negotiator, at the White House.
Jason’s a busy man, and I’m grateful for both his friendship and his time. I have published columns before attesting to Jason’s extraordinary competence, high character, and humble demeanor — qualities which make him an ideal envoy for peace. Most of all, Jason is a Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name with his respectful words and actions.
At our meeting, I gave Jason a copy of the Hebrew book I Called and None Listened, a collection of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s speeches, essays, and letters about the Land of Israel and how peace in the Middle East might be achieved.
Jason is tasked with a herculean objective: to bring tranquility to the world’s most troubled region. It is a project that will demand every talent in his arsenal, and then some.
Joining him is our friend David Friedman as newly installed Ambassador to Israel.
Here is a duo in the field of American diplomacy unequaled in their dedication to American values and Israel’s security. How will they go about implementing the President’s sincere desire for a peace deal? How will they find the correct balance of pressure and incentive that might bring an end to conflict?
There were few issues about which the Lubavitcher Rebbe was more passionate than Israel. A man who spoke on Torah for hours at a time several times a week – always stoically and even-handedly – would suddenly transform when it came Israel. In his opposition to the belief that land concessions would bring peace, the Rebbe would alter his entire posture. He would become super-charged with passion, his voice would rise, his body language would surge. His language changed and he was prepared, for the first time, to voice strong challenges to those Israeli leaders compromising Israel’s security through territorial concessions.
The Rebbe’s followers treated him as something of a prophet. I’m not here to debate that point, and those who do not adhere to Chabad ideology would surely beg to differ. But his predictions about land-for-peace deals surely proved prescient.
In the late 1970’s, while Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin, and Anwar Sadat debated the return of Sinai in exchange for peace, the Rebbe predicted three outcomes for Israel forfeiting territory:
1. The world would develop an insatiable appetite for Jewish land. Rather than the return of Sinai satisfying the world’s lust for diminishing the Jewish state in size, the message to them would be that the Jews themselves had conceded to the claim that they were occupiers.
2. Jews would be attacked. The return of land would compromise Israel’s security and embolden its enemies to strike. Terrorism would increase rather than decrease.
3. Israel would be demonized. Rather than receiving a windfall of positive publicity and international goodwill for making peace, surrendering land would be used a PR baseball-bat to bludgeon Israel with deligitimization and international boycotts.
All three of the Rebbe’s predictions were unfortunately proven true. After Israel surrendered Sinai, pressure immediately began to build for Israel to return the Golan Heights and Gaza. Judea and Samaria followed in the crosshairs. Most importantly, Jerusalem was identified as the supreme example of Israeli occupation, and the eternal capital of the Jewish people became a city to which the Jews had little claim and would serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.
True, Israel has not had war with Egypt in nearly four decades. But it’s an extremely cold peace, similar to the cold war that Israel has with Syria, where there has similarly been no war for nearly four decades.
Still, Egypt remains one of the world’s largest exporters of official state-sponsored antisemitism, and its population is deeply hostile to Jews and Israel, according to all polls. In addition, Sinai today has become a mini-state dominated by ISIS with little to no Egyptian control. Israel has recently even remodeled entire sections of its military to deal with potential threats from the Sinai Peninsula.
True, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has changed course and has become a friend, perhaps even an ally of Israel. In light of Egypt’s recent history — which has been an especially volatile period of rapid regime change — we can only hope that this continues and peace will prevail.
But even if we applaud Israel’s courage to make peace with Egypt, why did it lead to Israel’s demonization?
It began with Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter. Scholars have pondered for decades as to how Begin, who had believed in the concept of “Greater Israel,” could have been the one to give away all of Sinai after Israel won it in a defensive war.
This question is especially potent when you consider the fact that Begin probably didn’t need an agreement. Egypt had, thank G-d, been crushed by Israel in three consecutive wars, and its inferiority to the Jewish state in conventional warfare was unquestionable. Like Syria, to whom Israel did not cede an inch of land, Egypt would have, in all likelihood, never renewed open hostilities with Israel. The consensus, though, is that Begin believed that the most important issue for Israel’s security was a good relationship with the President of the United States. And it was in that belief that he gave in to all of Carter’s demands.
How did that turn out? Carter became the single most hostile president to the Jewish state in American history. Begin’s capitulation left Carter not with admiration, but with contempt.
The same dynamic played out during the first prime ministership of Benjamin Netanyahu, when he withdrew from Hebron, the second holiest city in all of Israel — and the resting place of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca, and Leah. Netanyahu felt compelled to abide by the Oslo terms that had been negotiated by Yitzchak Rabin before him. But in doing so, he did nothing to change the continued contempt that President Clinton had always shown him. The very next year, President Clinton would send his own political consultants to work with the Israeli opposition that would ultimately defeat Netanyahu.
I had the privilege of hosting the Prime Minister’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, at Oxford and Cambridge to talk about his noted book, Origins of the Spanish Inquisition. As fortune would have it, I was with him around the period that his son signed the Wye River Memorandum in Maryland.
I will never forget the great scholar-warrior, who died in 2012, telling me that his son had been subjected to unbearable pressure, otherwise he would have never relinquished land vital to Israel.
Of course, Israel’s reward for the Oslo Accords was a slew of suicide bombings in 1995 and then a full-scale intifada at the turn of the millennium that would claim over a thousand Jewish lives.
Netanyahu’s government lost the subsequent election and was replaced by one under the helm of Ehud Barak. But when Netanyahu returned to power in 2009, he learned from his earlier mistakes, and has since never conceded land. He now continues as almost the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history.
Donald Trump has thusfar proved a staunch friend and protector of Israel, and his defense of Israel at the UN through his emissary, Ambassador Nikki Haley, has no parallel. His warmth toward Prime Minister Netanyahu at their recent meeting was emphatically recounted by Netanyahu at AIPAC.
Jason and David are American patriots and proud Jews. They know that three great principles of the Jewish faith are, first, that peace is life’s highest goal; second, that every human life is equal and of infinite value, Jew and Arab alike; third, God gave the Jewish people a tiny little sliver of land called Israel as an eternal birthright and homeland.
The great events of Jewish Biblical history and most of its holy sites are in Judea and Samaria — which Jordan, in an effort to erase Jewish history, renamed the West Bank, just as the Romans, two thousand years earlier, had called Judea by a new name, “Palaestina.”
We all want peace, but I would beg to remind those charged with achieving it of a lesson we have learned: surrendering land has not brought peace, but war.
The Palestinians are my brothers and sisters, and Jason Greenblatt’s recent mission to Mahmoud Abbas — which strongly encouraged economic development, self-sufficiency, and opportunity for the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria — was a noble and inspiring effort. The Palestinians deserve the same experience of human dignity and standard of living as do the people of Israel. It will not come, however, through their subjugation to the dictatorship of yet another Arab leader. Nor will it come through a land-for-peace framework that emboldens Israel’s enemies, compromises its security, and solidifies international enmity toward the Jewish state.
Far better for the Trump administration to work on its inspired idea of an outside-in approach, resolving to try and create peace between the Arab Gulf states and Israel, which will then demonstrate to the Palestinians that their hopes of Israel’s isolation and diplomatic capitulation are a thing of the past.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.