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Ship of Fools 2

By       Message Uri Avnery     Permalink
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THE EXPRESSION "Ship of Fools" was used by a Swiss theologian 515 years ago as the title of a book harshly criticizing the Catholic church of his day. Its licentiousness, he foresaw, would lead to disaster. And indeed, shortly afterwards a monk named Martin Luther split the church and set in motion the great Reformation.

I used this phrase in the 70s to define the era between the two wars -- the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, six years spent by Israel in a state of foolish euphoria. "We never had it so good."

The present era deserves the title "Ship of Fools 2."

THE DEFINING slogan of "Ship of Fools 1" was coined by Moshe Dayan, who served as first officer on its bridge, at the right hand of the captain, Golda Meir.

Dayan, then the idol of Israel and an international sex-symbol, declared: "If I have to choose between Sharm al-Sheikh without peace or peace without Sharm al-Sheikh, I choose Sharm al-Sheikh."

In retrospect, that sounds like sheer madness. Who, today, remembers Ophira, as we called Sharm at the time? Only the Israelis who go there to idle on hammocks in the sun, pampered by the staff of Egyptian hotels. And, of course, the families of the soldiers who died on Yom Kippur.

"Ship of Fools 1" set sail for its fateful voyage on the morrow of the Six-day War, when the new Hebrew Empire extended from the summit of Mount Hermon to the shining sea of Ras Muhammad, south of Sharm. The astounding six-day victory of the Israeli army over three Arab armies, after weeks of nerve-wracking anxiety, looked like a miracle. A deluge of victory songs, victory albums and victory speeches flooded the country. The intoxication swept all sectors of the public, from the top leaders to the last (Jewish) citizen. It addled the brains, perverted logic and precluded any reasonable discussion.

The intoxication did not spare academic luminaries or army generals. Ariel Sharon declared that his troops could reach Tripoli, the Libyan capital, within a week. This seemed almost self-evident.

For those who were not here, or were too young to remember: In the country there was an atmosphere of supreme self-confidence, which led to complete carelessness. "Everything will be OK." The economy was flourishing. The first settlements were taking root. There was no pressure on Israel to return the territories it had just conquered ("Liberated Territory Will Not Be Returned"). The Arab League met in Khartoum and did Israel an immense favor by declaring the Three No's -- No peace with Israel, No recognition of Israel, No negotiations with Israel. Plucky little Israel attracted the sympathy of the world. It was good to be an Israeli then and to flash your Israeli passport at any border crossing.

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This week, Aluf Ben of Haaretz drew our attention to a recording just released by the President Nixon Library. The president used to have all his conversations secretly taped, and much of this material has now been released. This includes a recording of his meeting with Golda Meir in the first half of 1973 -- a few months before the Yom Kippur War.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger revealed to Golda that the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, was ready to make peace with Israel in return for Sinai. Golda treated the proposal with disdain and told Nixon that the Egyptians had no chance against Israel -- and therefore would not dare to attack.

(I found that particularly striking, because at the same time I told the Knesset that the Egyptians would start a war even if they had no chance of winning. I had reached this conclusion after meeting a number of important Egyptians, who thoroughly convinced me that Egypt just could not tolerate the status quo in which the Israeli occupation of a part of their land was frozen. They told me that Egypt was ready to pay a heavy price just to unfreeze the situation and to get things moving.)

Golda did not understand that. She was a tough but primitive woman, insensitive to the feelings of others, and did not dream of returning territory for peace. About the Palestinians she did not waste much thought ("There is no such thing as a Palestinian people!") Moshe Dayan laid the foundations for an eternal occupation. In the middle of 1973 the two looked around them and could detect no cloud -- not event the tiniest one -- on the horizon.

Aluf Ben sees similarities between the Golda-Nixon meeting and the Netanyahu-Obama talks. I agree.

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TODAY WE are in a very similar situation. Here we are sailing again on a Ship of Fools, jolly and light-hearted.

We never had it so good. Our economic situation is splendid. So is our security situation. So is our political situation.

The world-wide economic crisis has not touched us. In several areas, our exports are booming. Just now we were told that our commerce with India is about to expand hugely, and with China, too, we are doing nicely. The polls show that most Israelis are satisfied with their personal economic situation and expect an even rosier future. That's far from what US and European citizens are feeling. A person whose economic situation is good does not crave change and does not make a revolution.

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