Twenty-four years ago this month, then-defense minister Yitzhak Rabin appointed me military governor of the West Bank. In two years in that post, I learned that reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians is both feasible and necessary.
In 1988, after I had retired from military service, Rabin and then-foreign minister Shimon Peres asked me to lead the first secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Since then, I have dedicated most of my energies to promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace.
In this effort, I have enjoyed the cooperation of American Jewish groups that shared my commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians. I considered the stances of these organizations to be in line with the positions of the Zionist peace camp in Israel.
Recently, however, I have come to feel that we no longer share the same convictions, that our paths have diverged. Some American Jewish organizations that are at the forefront of pushing for peace have begun adopting positions that contradict Israel’s most basic security needs and that ultimately are at odds with the goal of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
We have seen dovish Jewish organizations advocate including Hamas in a Palestinian unity government (and support the idea of offering American aid to such a government), fight against the swift enactment of tough sanctions against Iran and vehemently oppose military action against the Islamic Republic — action that may eventually prove to be necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Certainly, I do not consider a military operation to be the preferred option. It is the very last resort. But we cannot afford to be complacent about the nature of the threat we face.
Iran is ruled by a despotic theocracy, with a horrendous record of human rights abuses. This regime is fueled by a fanatical ideology of hatred: Hatred of the West, of its culture, of democratic values. Hatred of Jews and their state. Hatred of Muslims who believe in peace and democracy.
The Iranian regime has one main ambition: to turn Iran into a superpower, leading more than a billion Muslims all over the world. Developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, controlling the corridors for oil and gas, undermining moderate governments in the Middle East — these are the Islamic Republic’s means of establishing hegemony.
A permanent-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be a devastating blow to the Iranian regime’s hateful ideology. If Palestinians reach an accord with the “godless Zionists,” why should the average Iranian in Tehran or Isfahan hate Israel? This is why the Iranian regime does everything in its power to impede progress between Israelis and Palestinians.
Hamas is the main tool that the ayatollahs use to disrupt the peace process. Iran has sent large sums of money and huge amounts of explosives, arms and ammunition to Hamas. Thanks to this generous support, Hamas was able to conquer Gaza in June 2007.
Between Hamas — which represents a minority of Palestinian society, according to all available polls and studies — and the Palestinian majority, there is an unbridgeable divide. This divide is not primarily about Israel. Instead, it concerns the character of a future Palestinian state: Will it be a Taliban-like state or a modern, democratic one? Will there be a cinema in Nablus? Will folklore festivals be permitted in Qalqilya? Will the beach in Gaza be open simultaneously to men and women? There is no compromise between these two visions for Palestinian society. That is why reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah fail time and again.
Moreover, a Palestinian government that includes Hamas will never accept an agreement with Israel based on the Clinton parameters for peace. Hamas would force any unity government to adopt negotiating positions that would be unacceptable to even the most dovish Israelis.
But Gaza is not the only front in Iran’s offensive. The soft, naïve attitude of the Western democracies toward Iran has enabled the ayatollahs to reap more achievements. Just as Hamas took over Gaza, Hezbollah has tightened its hold over Lebanon. Iraq, meanwhile, is moving gradually into the Iranian orbit. Who will be Iran’s next target?
The Islamist-fascist regime in Tehran must be stopped, not hugged. Effective economic sanctions are the best way to make it impossible for the regime to govern, and to create a revolutionary situation in Iran.
Wasting time with futile talks, with gestures to the ayatollahs, will pull the rug out from under the feet of moderates in the Middle East. Policies that postpone confronting the danger that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel and other American allies in the region will bring about a nuclear arms race or make a military operation against Iran unavoidable.
I remain firm in my belief in the necessity of Israeli-Palestinian peace. But I also believe that achieving peace requires a willingness to stand up to the enemies of peace.
Ephraim Sneh has served as Israel’s minister of health, minister of transportation and deputy minister of defense. He is the author of “Navigating Perilous Waters: An Israeli Strategy for Peace and Security” (Routledge, 2005).