Arabs, Benzion Netanyahu, cultural essentialism, Guns Germs and Steel, Israelis, Palestinians, why nations fail
Professor of History Benzion Netanyahu recently died, and because his son is the Prime Minister of Israel, his work has been revisited in many places. I recently read on the blog +972 excerpts from a 2009 interview with Prof. Netanyahu. See the excerpts below.
I’m most interested in his belief in cultural essentialism, which I believe is inaccurate. Acemoglu and Robinson’s Why Nations Fail argues powerfully against cultural essentialism, as does Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. As a teacher, I wonder how pervasive cultural essentialism is in the schools, or to say it more positively, what kind of work is being done to question, complicate and problematize that worldview.
On the “essence” of Arabs
Prof. Netanyahu: The Jews and the Arabs are like two goats facing each other on a narrow bridge. One must jump to the river – but that involves a danger of death. The strong goat will make the weaker one jump … and I believe the Jewish power will prevail.
Q: What does the Arabs’ “jump” entail?
A: That they won’t be able to face [anymore] war with us, which will include withholding food from Arab cities, preventing education, terminating electrical power and more. They won’t be able to exist, and they will run away from here. But it all depends on the war, and whether we will win the battles with them.
Q: I suppose you don’t believe in the peace process.
A: I don’t see any signs that the Arabs want peace. … We will face fierce attacks from the Arabs, and we must react firmly. If we don’t, they will go on and Jews will start leaving the country. … We just handed them a strong beating in Gaza, and they still bargain with us over one hostage. … If we gave them a beating that would really hurt them, they would have given us Gilad Shalit back.
Q: Operation Cast Lead was one of the worst beatings we ever handed on a civilian population.
A: That’s not enough. It’s possible that we should have hit harder.
Q: You don’t like the Arabs, to say the least.
A: The Bible finds no worse image than that of the man from the desert. And why? Because he has no respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as he pleases. The tendency toward conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war.
Q: Is there any hope of peace?
A: Out of an agreement? No. The other side might keep the peace if it understands that doing anything [else] will cause it enormous pain. The two-state solution doesn’t exist. There are no two peoples here. There is a Jewish people and an Arab population. … There is no Palestinian people, so you don’t create a state for an imaginary nation. … They only call themselves a people in order to fight the Jews.
Q: So what’s the solution?
A: No solution but force … strong military rule. Any outbreak will bring upon the Arabs enormous suffering. We shouldn’t wait for a big uprising to start, but rather act immediately with great force to prevent them from carrying on. … If it’s possible, we should conquer any disputed territory in the Land of Israel. Conquer and hold it, even if it brings us years of war. We should conquer Gaza, and parts of the Galilee, and the Golan. This will bring upon us a bloody war, since war is difficult for us – we don’t have a lot of territory, while the Arabs have lots of space to retreat to. But that’s the only way to survive here.
There is valuable experience [on this matter] we don’t pay notice to. I mean the Ottoman rule over the Arabs. The Turks ruled over the Arabs for 400 years, and there was peace and quiet everywhere. The Arabs hated the Ottomans, but every little thing they did brought mass killings and hanging in towns squares. They were hanging people in Damascus, and Izmir … every town had hanging posts in its center. … The Arabs were so badly beaten, they didn’t dare revolt. Naturally, I don’t recommend the use of hangings as a show of force like the Turks did, I just want to show that the only thing that might move the Arabs from the rejectionist position is force.
On the peace process
Prof. Netanyahu: The problem with the Left is that it thinks the war with the Arabs is like all the wars that nations around the world are conducting. These wars end with a compromise after one side wins or after both sides get tired from war and understand that victory is not possible. But in the Arabs’ case, their nature and character won’t allow any compromise. When they talk of compromise, it’s a way of deceiving. They want to make the other side stop giving its best efforts and fall into the trap of compromising. The Left helps them with that goal.
Q: If compromise replaces war, what is the damage?
A: Compromise is not realistic. It weakens our positions and brings us to a state of limpness, of false believes, of illusions. Every illusion is weakening.
On Arab citizens of Israel
Prof. Netanyahu: We don’t have a real partnership with them. The Arab citizens’ goal is to destroy us. They don’t deny that they want to destroy us. Except for a small minority who is willing to live with us under certain agreements because of the economic benefits they receive, the vast majority of the Israeli Arabs would chose to exterminate us if they had the option to do so. Because of our power they can’t say this, so they keep quiet and concentrate on their daily life.
I think we should speak to the Israeli Arabs in the language they understand and admire – the language of force. If we act with strength against any crime they commit, they will understand we show no forgiveness. Had we used this language from the start, they would have been more careful.
I am talking about strength that is based on justice. They should know that we will maintain a just attitude toward them, but a tough one. You don’t kill or hurt people or deny their right to make a living just like that. In the villages that we rule, we need to grant them all the rights – infrastructure, and transportation and education … but they have to give things in return. If the teachers are inciting the students, we should close the schools and expel the teachers. … We should preserve their rights, but also ours.
On his son, Israel’s prime minister
Prof. Netanyahu: Benjamin, or Bibi, is, in several aspects, a great man. He can influence and motivate people to do what’s necessary. … He is loyal to his people, and has a sense of responsibility. … He is not one who prefers the comfort of compromise just to rid himself of pressure.
Q. Is he influenced by your opinions?
A: Sometimes I feel Bibi is influenced by them from a very early age, and sometimes I don’t. We don’t always have the same opinions…
Q: And still, how much do you think you’ve influenced his opinions today?
A: I have a general idea. Bibi might aim for the same goals as mine, but he keeps to himself the ways to achieve them, because if he gave expression to them, he would expose his goals.
Q: Is that your wish?
A: No, I just believe that this could be the case. Because he is smart. Because he is very careful. Because he has his ways of handling himself. I am talking about tactics regarding the revealing of theories that people with a different ideology might not accept. That’s why he doesn’t expose them – because of the reaction from his enemies as well as from the people whose support he seeks. It’s an assumption, but it might be correct.