In its short history, Israel has dealt with its enemies along the lines of two very different doctrines.
From 1948 until about 1993, it discouraged opponents from taking hostile steps by threatening painful retaliation. This doctrine has a well-known name: deterrence. Deterrence worked well for Israel, winning it the grudging acceptance of its enemies over a 45-year period. But deterrence also had many drawbacks, being slow-moving, expensive, and passive. It was also harsh and internationally unpopular.
Around 1993, Israelis tired of deterrence in favor of a doctrine that had the attractions of being faster, cheaper, more activist, gentler, and more acceptable around the world. Rather than threaten foes, this new policy has three main elements, which are basically the same whether Labor or Likud is in charge.
First, it bestows on the Arabs what Israel deems they legitimately can claim. In this spirit, the Lebanese were handed a complete evacuation of Israeli forces from their territory; the Palestinians already have autonomy and look forward to a state of their own; Syrians need only say "yes" to find the whole Golan Heights under their control.
Second, although Israel formally requires its negotiating partners to sign agreements, it barely insists on their fulfillment. It has taken no serious steps to enforce the ban on jihad rhetoric, to have terrorists handed over, or to restrict the size of the Palestinian arsenal.
Third, there must be an indication that no more violence will be tolerated.
A subtle logic underlies this doctrine: Israel's generous - indeed, nearly unilateral - fulfillment of Arab wishes, plus the ignoring of provocative acts and aggressive statements, is done with an eye to establishing economic growth and a friendlier atmosphere, thereby inculcating Arabs with a less radical and more settled outlook, leading, in turn, to improved relations with Israel.
The old doctrine was called deterrence; does the new one have a name? Well, yes, it does. It is called appeasement.
Lest this characterization seem unfair, here - from the authoritative Encyclopedia of US Foreign Relations - is an objective description of appeasement as the term was used before the mid-1930s. Until then, we learn, it "primarily referred to timely concessions to disgruntled nations whose grievances had some legitimacy, in the hope of defusing difficulties and promoting peace and goodwill. Acting from a position of strength, the appeasing power was motivated not by fear or weakness but by a sense of statesmanship and a perception that limited concessions would not endanger its vital national interests."
Sound familiar? The doctrine describes Israel precisely - the sense of strength, the one-way transfer of assets, the perceived non-vital nature of the concessions.
But wait, there's more. The encyclopedia goes on to explain what happened in the 1930s. The leaders of Great Britain and France, faced with aggressive regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan, and haunted by terrifying memories of World War I, "sought to reduce tension by a new type of appeasement that included overlooking blatant violations of the peace settlement." That too describes Israel to a tee.
And more yet: Concessions by Britain and France "invariably resulted in increased demands, heightened tensions, and threats of war." Israel knows about that too - think of Hizbullah's blood-curdling threats in recent weeks, subsequently echoed by Hamas.
Some of the specifics from the 1930s are also uncannily close. Here are three: Britain's prime minister Ramsay MacDonald declared that security must be sought, "not by military but by moral means." Shimon Peres, father of the Oslo process, couldn't have said it better.
A later British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, seeing Hitler's insistence on a part of Czechoslovakia as "the Führer's last demand," agreed to his taking over that valuable piece of territory. Shades of Israeli policy toward Syria and the Golan Heights.
Chamberlain tried, writes the eminent historian Donald Kagan, "to win German good will and good behavior by offering economic incentives." That pretty much describes Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.
And the future? According to the same encyclopedia, "As successive failures strengthened the determination of the appeasers to succeed through intensification of their efforts, a policy that was conceived with honorable objectives degenerated into one of intrigues and machinations, and, at length, humiliating surrender."
Fortunately, Israel is far from a humiliating surrender and at any time can improve its prospects by abandoning the doomed doctrine of appeasement and reverting to that old standby, deterrence. To be sure, the latter is slow, harsh, and unpopular. But it does work.
Jan. 28, 2003 update: For a more general assessment of appeasement's appeal in the West, see my column today, "[Appeasement and] Why Europe Balks."