The Real Hypocrites

Under the inflammatory headline “Sharansky’s Hypocrisy,” Hussein Ibish accused me of deploying the “rhetoric” of human rights in order to “rationalize Israel’s occupation and denial of Palestinian human rights” and mask my true nature as an “expansionist Jewish nationalist.”

All this is news to me. It is true that I opposed Israel’s signing of the 1993 Oslo agreements with Yasir Arafat. The wave of enthusiasm for those agreements was still cresting when I wrote my first article against them—or, to be more exact, against the cynical rationale for them espoused by Israel’s prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. It was good, Rabin said, for the problem of Palestinian terrorism to be transferred out of Israel’s hands and into the hands of the arch-terrorist Arafat, who could act unhampered by the restrictive rulings of Israel’s supreme court, the interventions of human-rights organizations, and the protests of bleeding-heart liberals.

Under these conditions, I wrote in the Jerusalem Report (October 21, 1993),

The Palestinian society that will emerge . . . will inevitably be based on fear and on unlimited totalitarian authority. Totalitarian regimes cannot maintain stability without an enemy. Once they finish off their internal rivals, they inevitably look for outside enemies. If we really want to give the rosy picture of peace a chance, we must try to ensure the building of democratic institutions in the fledgling Palestinian society, no matter how tempting a solution without them may be.

Over the next seven years, Western democracies were united as one in helping Arafat to construct one of the world’s most corrupt and primitive dictatorships—all in the name of bringing peace and preventing the emergence of Hamas. In the end, inevitably, Hamas prevailed. So who was being hypocritical?

In 2005, I resigned from the government of Ariel Sharon, protesting the decision to undertake a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. In my letter of resignation, I reiterated my conviction that “the key to building a stable and lasting peace with our Palestinian neighbors lies in encouraging and supporting their efforts to build a democratic society,” and that therefore “any concessions in the peace process must be linked to democratic reforms within Palestinian society.” Since the disengagement plan pointedly ignored such reforms, I concluded, it was “a tragic mistake that will exacerbate the conflict with the Palestinians, increase terrorism, and dim the prospects of forging a genuine peace.”

In those days, mine was decidedly a minority view. Today, it is difficult to find an Israeli politician who doesn’t think that disengagement sanctioned the terrorism that continues to plague the people of Israel. So whose was the hypocrisy?

Throughout the years, my position vis-à-vis the Palestinians has been simple. I do not want to control their lives. I want them to have all the rights in the world, except for the right to destroy me. And that is precisely why I believe that the road to peace lies not through agreements imposed from the top down but through the creation and nurturing of the institutions of a free society. One can agree with this position or disagree with it. To call it hypocrisy is not only defamatory but ludicrous.

There is indeed no lack of hypocrisy in the world. You can find it in speeches and articles evoking human rights even as they erase every distinction between fear societies and free societies; even as they paint dictators in the guise of actual or would-be reformers; even as they lambast a flourishing democracy as a violator of human rights while keeping a fourth generation of Palestinians incarcerated in refugee camps.

A few days after the 2005 disengagement, I posed a question to the chief of staff of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority: with all of Gaza under your control, and with not a single Jew left, can we hope that, a year from today, there will be fewer or no refugees in the camps? Of course not, he replied; we will not start dismantling the camps until a comprehensive solution has been reached for the conflict between us. Translation: the refugees will remain shackled and bound, hostages to their rulers’ aim of achieving final victory in the war against the Jews.

I am accused of hypocritically “lecturing” Arabs about human rights. My speeches and writings are in fact directed elsewhere: at the democratic West and particularly at Western leaders who believe that freedom and human rights are the exclusive property of their own societies and cannot take root elsewhere. For my own part, I have always tried to help the Arab world’s true believers in human rights, the beleaguered democrats who struggle, against often unimaginable odds, to be heard. In this way, I try to repay my debt to those Western defenders of freedom, like the late Senator Henry Jackson, who went out of their way to help us, the dissidents and democratic activists of the Soviet Union, and thus to pass on to others the gifts of hope and courage that he and others gave us. If this is hypocrisy, I’m proud to plead guilty as charged.