Interesting Reading: “Why Hawks Become Doves: Shimon Peres and Foreign Policy Change in Israel”

May 10, 2015 by

Clipart_Interesting ReadingBy Dr. Alex Grobman

In this book, published by the State University of New York Press, author Guy Ziv, an assistant professor in the Washington-based School of International Service’s US Foreign Policy Program, asks what motivates some once-rightwing Israeli leaders to “become dovish” once in office, leading them to pursue dramatic changes in foreign policy.

This is not a broad-brush accusation. He notes than there are hardliners who remain faithful to the status quo, while a few others, once in office, revise their dovish positions and recognize that recourse to military actions are their only options.

But since the 1990s, a significant number of Israeli leaders have changed their positions about making peace with the Palestinian Arabs. The most dramatic example was the Rabin government’s decision in 1993 to negotiate the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—breaking Israel’s long established policy of not negotiating with terrorist organizations.

Without then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, the Oslo Accords would never have been signed. The question posed by Ziv is: Given their longstanding opposition to the PLO, what precipitated this change?

Finding an explanation, Ziv believes, should increase our understanding of how Israeli foreign policy is forged.

Ziv concludes that a leader’s personality characteristics, such as an openness to new ideas and the ability to see multiple dimensions of an issue, allow the individual to adapt to new circumstances. This, he says, explains why Peres and Rabin altered their positions in light of what they perceived to be a more conducive environment for peace. Peres, who, while serving as Israel’s Director-General of the Ministry of Defense, is credited with establishing the Jewish state’s Dimona nuclear reactor, reached the decision to negotiate with the Arabs five years before Rabin did.

While signing the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, Peres, a former tough-minded security hawk, waxed poetic: “I could almost sense the breeze of a fresh spring, and my imagination began to wander to the skies of our land that may have become brighter to the eyes of all people, agreeing and opposing. On the lawn, you could almost hear the heavy tread of boots leaving the stage after a hundred years of hostility. You could have listened to the gentle tiptoeing of new steps making a debut in the awaiting world of peace.”

His Utopian dreams continued: “A higher standard of living is a precondition for mitigating the tensions among the Middle Eastern countries,” he said, adding that he wanted to fight poverty in the region “as if it were a military threat.”

Thankfully, not all Israeli leaders were as naïve.

For Ziv, an unapologetic leftist who recently Tweeted that those who share his views are “neither welcome nor safe in Netanyahu’s Israel,” Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin were less inclined to change and remained “unreconstructed hawks” throughout their lives. In Ziv’s view, they were too rigid and not open to clear signs of change in the air.

According to Ziv, another factor in a leader’s willingness to change policy is how it affects the state’s security. Rabin, he says, was deeply influenced by the first Intifada, which forced him to reconsider Israel’s security without achieving peace with the Palestinian Arabs. Shamir, who witnessed the same conditions, did not view the challenge to Israel’s security as a reason to give legitimacy and territory to the terrorist PLO, which, to this day, is bent on destroying Israel.

Even Ziv agrees that domestic politics can influence policy decisions. Until the 1970s, Peres was a hawk whose positions placed him in the right-wing flank of his Labor Party. But, in February 1977, when he was about to challenge Rabin for leadership of the party, he agreed to a territorial compromise and an end of expansion of homes in Judea and Samaria.

“Peres, a seasoned bureaucratic infighter, understood that he had little choice but to soften his stance on the Palestinian issue. Had he stuck to his hardline positions, it would have made him less competitive with Rabin in terms of gaining the chairmanship of a party that was committed to territorial compromise; this was, after all, a concept that essentially marked the key difference between the two major parties, Labor and Likud,” says Ziv.

In other words, Peres was motivated by political expediency rather than, as Ziv would have the reader believe, a “relatively high degree of cognitive openness and complexity.”

Contrary to Ziv’s intentions, his study shows that Yitzhak Shamir, Menachem Begin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ronald Reagan and others whose political actions were and are guided by principles, are the historically successful leaders. Rabin and Peres are not.

Hundreds of Jews have been murdered as a result of the Oslo Accords that Rabin and Peres irresponsibly and recklessly signed. Their failure to recognize the true nature of the Arab threat, which was so blatantly obvious in the 1990s, is the problem Rabin and Peres share with those (thankfully decreasing numbers of) Israeli leaders who continue to advocate this pathological ideology.