Israeli Leaders’ Perceptions of the Arabs, the Arab–Israel Conflict, and Peace: Formative Generation, 1948–77
Perceptions of the Arabs, in particular the Palestinians, of their conflict and the prospects for peace, expressed by the first generation of Israeli leaders in their behavior, writings, and speeches, and in extensive interviews with the author in the 1960s and 1970s, reflected two basically incompatible conceptions of their principal adversary. A “hard-line” view of the Palestinians and, more generally, of the Arabs was expressed by Israel’s founding figure and first Prime Minister–Defense Minister, Ben-Gurion. In essence, the Arabs would understand only force. Only after 20 years of Israel’s demonstration of its ability to survive all Arab attempts at its destruction would the Arabs, perhaps, be ready to make peace. Golda Meir and, later, Eshkol, the third and fourth prime ministers of Israel, adhered to the Ben-Gurion line. So too did the two leading figures of the second generation, Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres. The principal advocate of the contrary perception was Israel’s first Foreign Minister and second Prime Minister, Moshe Sharett, who persistently urged a moderate, conciliatory policy toward the Arabs, emphasizing that the Arabs were not only enemies but also humans, with whom accommodation was preferred and peace was possible. Among the Israeli leaders discussed in this chapter, only Abba Eban, Israel’s most prominent diplomat and foreign minister, adhered to the Sharett perception of the Arabs and the possibility of peace.