Time for fateful decisions

Many treat the second Lebanon war as though it were a direct continuation of the 1973 October War. That includes the voices decrying the government and blaming the generals, and those defending the generals against the politicians, all the way to the reservists’ protest movement.

But the main conclusions of the October War were not drawn after the Agranat Commission, but rather through negotiations with Egypt and the willingness to return territories conquered in 1967. That was the primary conclusion from the war — and not changing the behavioral pattern of Military Intelligence, which then began to warn about the danger of war at every Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, lest it be deemed complacent by some future review board.

There were elections in 1974, and an alignment government was voted in, and only in 1977 did a political upheaval occur; by means of elections, not an investigative committee. From there it was a short way to Camp David with Egypt.

The protest against those who have erred, politicians or generals, held to be responsible for the present fiasco, originates not just in good citizenship and the justified fury of taxpayers and reservists, and in the demand for an inquiry committee; it also stems from an assumption that Israel is supposed to go to war to hurt and not be hurt; that it must threaten its Arab neighbors and not be threatened, deter and not be deterred; and that the Arabs are incapable of developing human and material infrastructures that make resistance possible.

That being the case, it doesn’t take an inquiry committee to grasp that these assumptions are based on error; some might say, on racism. Even if Israel were not to make a single mistake, it would impossible to bombard an entire country, raze the ground of a quarter of a country, and conquer parts of it without paying a price. And maybe an inquiry committee is needed to investigate the creation of the mind-set, which imprinted in the Israeli consciousness a picture of the Merkava tank conquering the center of Ramallah on its own and trampling in its path the cars along the sides of the road.

A state commission of inquiry does not have the tools to examine a political failure and reach political conclusions: How a peace agreement with Syria that was in reach in 1999-2000 was wrecked, and how Israel and the Palestinians were brought from a discussion about implementing agreements, the Oslo Accords with Yitzhak Rabin, and the Wye Accord with Benjamin Netanyahu, to the Camp David adventure and declaration that “we have no partner” and the birth of the unilateral doctrine, the disengagement and disastrous convergence.

And as if unilateralism were not enough, signifying for the future not only a unilateral disengagement, but unilateral dictates — 9/11 came along and turned all of this into a detail in the United States’ global war on terror, and took the peace negotiations file and the decision on Israeli negotiations with the Arabs out of Israel’s hands and placed them in those of the U.S.

That is what gave rise to the recent Lebanon war, which was an American war by Israeli means. Had it not been for the U.S., Israel might have reacted harshly to the soldiers’ abduction, but would not have entered a war.

The conclusions from this quagmire can only be political. There may be technical, operational and military conclusions, but that is not the crux of the public political interest. Politics, public opinion and the citizenry are supposed to be preoccupied with the question of how to change direction and take advantage of the opportunity that exists now for a comprehensive peace that was missed.

Whoever thinks that Israeli public opinion is not ready for major steps and fateful decisions on a comprehensive peace is in for a surprise. If public opinion becomes convinced that a comprehensive peace with Syria and Lebanon and a permanent solution to the Palestinian question is possible, it will support it. It will be easier to obtain an Israeli majority for a comprehensive peace than for disastrous unilateralism or for phased plans in the Oslo mold. That requires a decision by the Israeli leadership, following which it would appeal to public opinion. There is willingness on the Arab side, according to the Arab peace initiative.

The problem is that this time it’s not the U.S. that has to persuade Israel, as George Bush Sr. and James Baker dragged Yitzhak Shamir to Madrid, but the opposite. Israel must explain to the U.S. that Israeli mothers will not send their sons to war so that this or that Arab regime will be on America‘s side. and that the desire in Israel for stability, peace and growth is not supposed to be a minor negligible detail in the “global war on terror.” And that war already has proved helpful spreading the phenomenon it is supposed to combat and in which greater numbers of civilians are killed than in terrorist acts.

The writer is a Knesset member and chair of Balad (National Democratic Alliance).


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