Confessions of a Stone-waller
The Woodstock Road Editorial (Michaelmas 1992)
Having spent the early
part of his career in the underground, as a member of the Irgun, leader
of the Stern Gang and worker in the Mossad, Yitzhak Shamir has been in
the limelight over the last decade as leader of the Likud, foreign
minister and prime minister. Yet despite his prominence in public
life, Mr Shamir remains something of an enigma. During the Gulf
War, he performed with consummate skill the task of keeping Israel out
of the conflict and keeping a low profile. For this policy of
saying nothing and doing nothing, Shamir earned numerous commendations
and American gratitude. After the war, however, when America
started pressing Israel to engage in a dialogue with the Palestinians,
Shamir's record was rather more ambiguous.
accepted the American invitation to the Madrid peace conference in
October 1991, his speech at Madrid and his government's position in the
five successive rounds of bilateral talks with the Palestinians gave no
hint of any willingness to trade land for peace. On the contrary,
before, during and after the mother of all peace conferences at Madrid,
the Israeli leader seemed to be stone-walling. Two rather
different explanations were advanced to explain Shamir's
behaviour. One view, popular among American Jews, saw Shamir as a
very tough bargainer, a Jewish Asad. According to this view,
Shamir's speech in Madrid represented only his opening gambit in what
was bound to be a protracted process of bargaining but he was genuinely
interested in reaching an agreement with the Palestinians and he was
saving his concessions for a later stage. The other view held
that Shamir was totally committed to keeping the West Bank and Gaza in
Israeli hands and that he had no intention of engaging in any
territorial compromise. According to this view, Shamir's
rejection of the formula of trading land for peace at Madrid
represented his basic, fixed and unalterable position. The
American-sponsored peace process, according to this view, was simply
used by Shamir as a smokescreen for consolidating Israel's grip on the
West Bank and Gaza.
It is rare for debates of this kind to be settled decisively but in
this particular instance there can be little doubt that the second view
concerning Shamir and the peace talks is the correct one.
Moreover, it was Shamir himself who settled the debate in favour of the
second view. Only a few days after his defeat at the polls in
June 1992, Shamir confessed to the charges of stone-walling in an
interview of blinding candour that he gave to the Israeli newspaper
In this interview Shamir stressed that in his view the Likud must be
guided by ideology because no political movement can survive unless it
is driven by an ideology. The centre-piece of his party's
ideology, he said, is the Land of Israel and on this there could be no
compromise. `Moderation,' he explained, `should relate to the
tactics but not to the goal. That is how I acted as prime
minister. In my political activity I know how to display the
tactics of moderation, but without conceding anything on the goal - the
integrity of the Land of Israel. In my eyes, anyone who is not in
accord with this, does not belong to the national movement.'
Shamir disclosed his secret agenda for the peace talks when asked what
he regretted most following his fall from power. `It pains me
greatly,' he replied, `that in the coming four years I would not be
able to expand the settlement in Judea and Samaria and to complete the
demographic revolution in the Land of Israel. I know that others
will now try to work against this. Without this demographic
revolution, there is no value to the talk about autonomy because there
is a danger that it will be turned into a Palestinian state. What
is this talk about "political settlements"? I would have carried
on autonomy talks for ten years and meanwhile we would have reached
half a million people in Judea and Samaria.' When reminded that,
judging by the results of the recent election, there is no majority for
a Greater Land of Israel, Shamir retorted bluntly: `I didn't believe
there was a majority in favour of a greater Land of Israel. But
it can be attained over time. This must be the historic
direction. If we drop this basis, there would be nothing to
prevent the development of a Palestinian state.'
Shamir's interview was widely reported in the international media and
caused outrage among Americans, Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis
alike. The comments angered some of Shamir's ministerial
colleagues, who felt they had been tainted by his confession.
Moshe Arens, who decided to leave politics in the wake of his party's
humiliating defeat, described Shamir's remarks as `a mistake.'
Arens added in a parting shot: `A part of the public does not see the
slogan `Greater Land of Israel' as an adequate response in grappling
with the complexity of problems associated with the Palestinians and
the territories.' It was an inelegantly expressed but a frank
admission of the Likud's ideological bankruptcy.
Privately, peace negotiators expressed dismay at Shamir's
statement. Some of them felt deceived by Shamir and said they
would not have participated in the talks if they had known that he was
not serious. Eliakim Rubinstein who headed the Israeli delegation
to the talks with the Palestinians declared publicly that he had
received no such guidelines from Shamir and that he conducted the
negotiations with a sincere intention of reaching an agreement with the
Labour party leaders joined in the universal condemnation of
Shamir. Former Justice Minister Chaim Zadok said that Shamir's
statement violated international law and asserted that it proved that
the Likud's election propaganda on the peace issue was `nothing but an
act of deceit.' Relations between Jerusalem and Washington were
strained not only because of legitimate differences of opinion but also
because `President Bush believed Shamir had no intention of serious
negotiation,' wrote Zadok. Shamir's remarks, he added, had proved
that Bush was correct.' In Washington eyebrows were raised,
particularly in the State Department where long-standing suspicions
that their ally was wasting their time appeared to be confirmed.
Under pressure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which had been
inundated with protests, Shamir's office expressed surprise at the
interpretation of his remarks and denied any lack of commitment to the
idea of autonomy on his part. Shamir's remarks, it was claimed,
referred only to the negotiations on the final settlement and not to
the negotiations on autonomy during the transitional period.
But this lame explanation could not erase the impression that Shamir's
real aim had been to obstruct and delay the peace process rather than
to advance it. Israel's neighbours, who had little enough reason
to trust him, now had it on the highest authority that, from the very
start, and despite all the peace rhetoric emanating from Jerusalem, her
prime minister had secretly hoped to ensure that the peace talks would
go nowhere slowly it was remarkable confession by Israel's stone-faced
 Interview with Josef Harif, Ma'ariv, 26 June 1992
 Guardian, 27 June 1992.
 Ha'aretz, 10 July 1992.
 Yediot Aharonot, 30 June 1992.
 Ha'aretz, 10 July 1992.