A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto
A collection of the week's news from Israel
February 16, 2001 - 23 Shvat 5761
Issue number 313
Baruch: "But maybe the election defeat was a failure of his policy, not just of the man himself?"Zvilli: "Yes, I agree that the public voted against the way in which the negotiations [with the Palestinians] were held, but we must not think even for a moment that it was a vote against the pursuit of peace itself. The talks were, in fact, waged wrongly, after we repeatedly destroyed our deterrence power... He made such far-reaching concessions... which were translated by the Palestinians into weakness that led them to think that they could ask for even more. This was Barak's basic mistake..."
Baruch: "When do you think he crossed the red line?"Zvilli: "When he went to Paris [to meet with Arafat, only a few days] after the intifada started, and he continued to be willing to pay ever-increasing prices in exchange for an agreement that he had no chance of achieving. On the day the intifada started, he should have stood on his hind legs and made it clear that there would be absolutely no talks until the violence stops. Instead, he continued talking even during the violence, and this was seen as weakness, and from there the situation deteriorated and went out of control..
Zvilli then said that the Labor party would be advised to re-arrange its priorities, in light of the crushing election defeat: "What the public wants now is a national-unity government, even if it doesn't progress as fast as we would like in the peace process. The peace process today is not our top priority; instead we need some time to repair the social splits amongst us and find a broad consensus - even if the peace process does not advance as fast as the left-wing would like. We need to stabilize our political system - people are sick and tired of the politics and the fighting..." (arutzsheva.org Feb 11)
"Palestinian Authority forces are in complete control of the situation in the territories"- Jibril Rajoub, head of the West Bank PA Preventive Security apparatus, in an interview with Israel Radio. (jpost.com Feb 12)
So I'm at the Davos World Economic Forum two weeks ago, and Shimon Peres walks by. One of the reporters with him asks me if I'm going to hear Mr. Peres and Yasir Arafat address the 1,000 global investors and ministers attending Davos. No, I tell him, I have a strict rule, I'm only interested in what Mr. Arafat says to his own people in Arabic. Too bad, says the reporter, because the fix is in. Mr. Peres is going to extend an olive branch to Mr. Arafat, Mr. Arafat is going to do the same back and the whole love fest will get beamed back to Israel to boost the peace process and Ehud Barak's re-election. Good, I'll catch it on TV, I said.
Well, Mr. Peres did extend the olive branch, as planned but Mr. Arafat torched it. Reading in Arabic from a prepared text, Mr. Arafat denounced Israel for its "fascist military aggression" and "colonialist armed expansionism," and its policies of "murder, persecution, assassination, destruction and devastation."
Mr. Arafat's performance at Davos was a seminal event, and is critical for understanding Ariel Sharon's landslide election. What was Mr. Arafat saying by this speech, with Mr. Peres sitting by his side? First, he was saying that there is no difference between Mr. Barak and Mr. Sharon. Because giving such a speech on the eve of the Israeli election, in the wake of an 11th-hour Barak bid to conclude a final deal with the Palestinians in Taba, made Mr. Barak's far-reaching offer to Mr. Arafat look silly. Moreover, Mr. Arafat was saying that there is no difference between Mr. Peres and Mr. Sharon, because giving such a speech just after the warm words of Mr. Peres made Mr. Peres look like a dupe, as all the Israeli papers reported. Finally, at a time when Palestinians are starving for work, Mr. Arafat's subliminal message to the global investors was: Stay away.
That's why the press is asking exactly the wrong question about the Sharon election. They're asking, who is Ariel Sharon? The real question is, who is Yasir Arafat? The press keeps asking: Will Mr. Sharon become another Charles de Gaulle, the hard-line general who pulled the French Army out of Algeria? Or will he be Richard Nixon, the anti-Communist who made peace with Communist China? Such questions totally miss the point.
Why? Because Israel just had its de Gaulle. His name was Ehud Barak. Mr. Barak was Israel's most decorated soldier. He abstained in the cabinet vote over the Oslo II peace accords. But once in office he changed 180 degrees. He offered Mr. Arafat 94 percent of the West Bank for a Palestinian state, plus territorial compensation for most of the other 6 percent, plus half of Jerusalem, plus restitution and resettlement in Palestine for Palestinian refugees. And Mr. Arafat not only said no to all this, but described Israel as "fascist" as Mr. Barak struggled for re-election. It would be as though de Gaulle had offered to withdraw from Algeria and the Algerians said: "Thank you. You're a fascist. Of course we'll take all of Algeria, but we won't stop this conflict until we get Bordeaux, Marseilles and Nice as well."
If the Palestinians don't care who Ariel Sharon is, why should we? If Mr. Arafat wanted an Israeli leader who would not force him to make big decisions, which he is incapable of making, why should we ask whether Mr. Sharon is going to be de Gaulle and make him a big offer? What good is it for Israel to have a Nixon if the Palestinians have no Mao?
The Olso peace process was about a test. It was about testing whether Israel had a Palestinian partner for a secure and final peace. It was a test that Israel could afford, it was a test that the vast majority of Israelis wanted and it was a test Mr. Barak courageously took to the limits of the Israeli political consensus — and beyond. Mr. Arafat squandered that opportunity. Eventually, Palestinians will ask for a makeup exam. And eventually Israelis may want to give it to them, if they again see a chance to get this conflict over with. But who knows what violence and pain will be inflicted in the meantime?
All we know is that for now, the Oslo test is over. That is what a vast majority of Israelis said in this election. So stop asking whether Mr. Sharon will become de Gaulle. That is not why Israelis elected him. They elected him to be Patton. They elected Mr. Sharon because they know exactly who he is, and because seven years of Oslo have taught them exactly who Yasir Arafat is. (New York Times Feb 8)
For more than a decade now, Israelis have been fed sweet morsels that were irresistibly delicious to many of them. Popular Israeli leaders, the American government - their most cherished ally - and the local and international press lectured them: Here, eat this. If you agree to a Palestinian state within Israel's borders and give it money and trade - and weapons for a small, controllable police force - peace will come for Jew and Arab, which we know is the dream of your hearts. But inside the candy was a poison that Israel and its foolish foreign instructors could not or would not detect, so strong was the Israelis' dream of peace. The dream of soldiers safe at home. The dream of walking the streets of their own country without fear of death by mangling bomb.
The poison was the reality that Palestinian leaders had no intention of making a full and lasting peace. They were pursuing a step-by-step plan they expected would lead to the elimination of a free Jewish state.
Yasser Arafat snapped terrorist gangs to work whenever he wanted to kill more Jews, whether negotiations were taking place or not. How astounded he must have been, and gleeful, that the Jews still gobbled the poison candy, and that even the two leaders most important to Israel kept urging Israelis to eat. Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Bill Clinton and their squads of cloned advisers allowed their fatuous egos and career lust to convince them that they were wiser than the Israelis and Palestinians put together. We know now that every day more and more Israelis were getting sick of their Labor prime minister, his eternal evasions and changes of mind, his neurotic compulsion to meet Arafat's demands with more fat concessions, ignoring the insane Jew-hatred and the Palestinians' failure to keep promises.
Although he was a good general, Barak was a prime minister who never even achieved mediocrity. He was a danger to Israeli safety. He allowed Arafat to launch a still-continuing war against Israel from within its borders and from the Palestinian-ruled West Bank. Arafat continued this war even after Barak offered to break what is a religious covenant to almost every Israeli Jew - Jerusalem shall be one, the capital of their nation.
While the guns were firing and despite the blood shed by Palestinians and Jews, the prime minister pursued Arafat like a little boy his daddy. So in an election that Barak himself called a referendum, Israelis dropped him, thump. They elected Ariel Sharon of the right-center Likud, a man everybody had said would never be elected prime minister. Too tough, "the archhawk," as Reuters called him in three separate stories within a few hours.
But he was exactly the right man ? a politically astute general with a passion for Israel's safety that goes with him every step he takes. Walk with him along the borderland that Arafat claims but Sharon fights giving him. Sharon becomes the very maps that stuff his pockets - this much land is necessary to mobilize a division, this much to move it and its weapons. Here is a hill that cost us this many dead soldiers to take and will cost us this many more if the nice little Palestinian police force, now grown into an army, attacks with its Iraqi and Syrian allies.
He seeks a long-term, interim peace agreement, not the final solution that Oslo and Arafat have made impossible. But first, he must leap over the special obstacle Israel has created for itself: a cockamamie political system tacked together to cause as many governing difficulties as possible - right now, there are 17 parties.
Every new prime minister has 45 days to put together a coalition government with parties and leaders that loathe him ? except when he hands them cabinet posts ? and to get a new budget approved. If he fails either test, out he goes, and a new election is called and a new national punching festival begins.
I hope and think Sharon will survive the booby traps of Israeli politics. I know - not think, but know - that what he wants for Israel, his children and grandchildren is not more bloodshed, but an end to the ceaseless war the Arabs have waged against Israel in the half-century since it was formed. He wants peace, but without the surrender of critical borderlands, without the division of Jerusalem, without a Palestinian army growing beyond the agreement that created it, without warfare in the streets and without the influx of millions of Palestinians who would turn a Jewish Israel into an Arab vassalage before it disappeared as a sovereign state.
With Ariel Sharon, Israel will not be disappeared. (NY Daily News Feb 9)
The greatest fear of Palestinians and the international community is that Ariel Sharon, elected prime minister of Israel by a landslide on Tuesday, won't play by Oslo rules. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's strategy -- a velvet hand inside a velvet glove -- has been massively repudiated. Sharon's Likud Party could have run a pork chop against Barak and won.
At Camp David, Barak offered concessions which were previously unthinkable (92 percent of the West Bank, shared sovereignty of East Jerusalem, acknowledgement of a limited Palestinian right of return). Yasser Arafat responded by unleashing the Arab street, using children with rocks to provoke bloodshed and ordering sniper attacks on Jerusalem.
Osama bin Laden's twin brother thought he could get away with it. Since Oslo, the ironically misnamed Middle East peace process has taken on the aspects of a formalized dance consisting of the following movements: -- Palestinians riot. Israelis say they won't negotiate under duress, then submit.
-- Palestinians lynch two unarmed Israeli reservists. Israel bombs empty buildings, after a warning to evacuate. -- Palestinians demand East Jerusalem as their capital. Israelis say Jerusalem is non-negotiable, then offer to negotiate away control of some neighborhoods.
-- Israelis insist Palestinians keep past commitments (disarming Hamas, ending anti-Semitic incitement, limiting the size and arms of their security forces) before new concessions are made. Then Jerusalem proceeds to ignore its own conditions and concede more.
-- The Palestinians kidnap and murder a rabbi, destroy Jewish shrines, blow up a school bus, lay siege to settlements and lure a 15-year-old boy to the West Bank for ritual slaughter. The Israelis declare that this is intolerable, walk away from the bargaining table, sulk for a few days, then resume negotiations.
Arafat's disdain for past Israeli governments was similar to Hitler's contempt for the West after Munich (another land-for-peace fiasco). But now, he confronts a man who won't play by Oslo rules, including the overriding axiom: Whatever past Israeli governments have put on the bargaining table can never be withdrawn.
The retired general, hero of almost every war his nation fought, wounded in battle, decorated, politically exiled for the courage of his convictions, is a rare breed among Israeli politicians -- what he says, he means.
Sharon has said he wants a peace based on Israel's security interests and national honor, that other than minor concessions he won't give up any more of the West Bank, that the settlements are vital to Israel's defense and that Jerusalem will remain the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish people.
The old warrior has several daunting assignments -- putting together a governing coalition in a badly fragmented Knesset, persuading the Arabs that he ain't just a whistling "Hatikva," and convincing the Bush administration not to follow the course of its predecessor in trying to force the process by pressuring Israel to roll over on cue. The last is crucial. Forget world opinion. If Washington gives Sharon breathing room and lets him follow his instincts based on a lifetime of strategic thinking, all will be well.
And the key to Washington is building a groundswell of grass-roots support outside hopelessly divided, old-line Jewish organizations. A major mistake of Benjamin Netanyahu, the last Likud prime minister, was not cultivating a U.S. constituency for his approach to negotiations.
Even before the general assumes command, Sharon's people should work to develop such a base among Zionists, Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians prepared to lobby Congress and the administration on behalf of a recognition of Middle East reality.
In creating such a coalition, a good place to start would be a rally in Madison Square Garden, sponsored by groups like Americans for a Safe Israel and the Zionist Organization of America, but drawing on the support of Christian friends of Israel like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
Celebrating in Tel Aviv Tuesday evening, some Sharon supporters carried signs that read, "Oslo is dead." From their placards to God's ear. Only with Oslo safely buried will Israel live. (townhall.com Feb 8)
Imagine General Douglas MacArthur, come back to life in, say, 1980, defeating Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination and going on to become president, crushing President Jimmy Carter more resoundingly than either George McGovern or Barry Goldwater had been beaten. Well, the equally improbable has just happened in Israel, minus the resurrection.
To be sure, Ariel Sharon, who won the prime ministership in a landslide, did not quite rise from the dead. After his disgrace in the Lebanon war in the early 1980s, he slowly worked his way back to political viability. Within a few years, he had been appointed to minor ministerial posts in various Israeli administrations. His final rehabilitation came when he was appointed foreign minister by Benjamin Netanyahu in 1998 and participated in the Wye River negotiations with King Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and President Clinton.
But he was still considered unelectable. Not only because of his age (72) but because of his history. As a young commander in the Suez campaign of 1956, he sent his paratroopers into the Mitla Pass against orders; 38 of his men were killed, a terrible toll in a war in which total Israeli casualties were only 231. Sharon's military career was seriously damaged.
In 1973, he redeemed himself on that same peninsula. With Israel reeling from the surprise Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal, he led a courageous and risky reverse-crossing of the canal that encircled the Egyptians and led to their surrender. True to his bold and erratic form, however, just a decade later he was disgraced again, leading Israel on its ill-fated Lebanon invasion and found indirectly responsible for a massacre carried out by Lebanese Christians. In fact, one of Barak's campaign slogans stressed that he was the man who had gotten Israel out of Lebanon, while Sharon was the man who had gotten Israel in. The problem for Barak, however, is that while he got Israel out of Lebanon, he also imported Lebanon into the heart of Israel: The endless guerrilla warfare, the daily killings, the roadside bombings, the drive-by shootings, the constant fear that had been the life of the soldiers rotating through Lebanon is now the life of all Israelis who live anywhere near their Palestinian neighbors.
Sharon's accession to power was the direct result of this catastrophic political failure by Barak. It began last July with the diplomatic debacle at Camp David. Barak surprised not only the Palestinians but the American mediators, and indeed his own close associates, with his astonishing concessions: offering to divide Jerusalem; to give up Israel's sovereignty over its holiest site, the Temple Mount; to yield more than 90 percent of the West Bank, including the strategically crucial Jordan Valley. Not only were these concessions unprecedented, they were in direct contradiction to the campaign promises he had made just a year earlier. Why, even Leah Rabin, widow of Barak's mentor, said that Yitzhak would be "turning in his grave" upon hearing what Barak had offered on Jerusalem. But unlike his mentor Rabin, who also betrayed his campaign promises but at least brought home a piece of parchment signed on the White House lawn, Barak brought home nothing. Worse than nothing. Sensing Barak's weakness and desperation and pressing for even better terms, Arafat soon launched the low-level guerrilla war now plaguing Israel.
The betrayal of his allies, the humiliation at Camp David, and finally the ongoing war—which led a wobbly Barak to offer even greater concessions—totally undercut whatever support he had in the public and in parliament. By late 2000, his government had collapsed. Going into this election, he had the support of a mere one-quarter of the Knesset.
Here is where Sharon got lucky. Polls showed Barak trailing very badly against Benjamin Netanyahu, who had come back from a self-imposed political exile and was preparing to run for prime minister. Barak was 30 points behind. Barak knew he didn't have a chance. But he thought he might have a chance against caretaker Likud leader Ariel Sharon (who took over the party when Netanyahu resigned after his 1999 defeat), since Sharon's checkered past had for decades made him politically unacceptable to a large number of Israelis.
Barak maneuvered. He resigned, calling a snap election. Netanyahu would be legally excluded from running on a technicality, because he was not a member of parliament. Even the jaded Israeli political system could not stomach so cynical a move. The Knesset quickly moved to change the law to allow Netanyahu to run, but Netanyahu wisely decided not to because the Knesset would not dissolve itself, and the current Knesset is so fractured as to be ungovernable. Netanyahu stepped aside. Sharon became the improbable challenger. He then won by the largest margin in Israeli history, an unheard of 25 points.
He won because of Barak's incompetence and cynicism. He won because of Netanyahu's caution. But most of all, he won because of Yasser Arafat.
Arafat made a fool of Barak. He proved, even to much of the Israeli left, that the entire theory of preemptive concessions, magnanimous gestures, rolling appeasement was an exercise in futility. Israelis were shocked by how far Barak had gone. Dividing Jerusalem was something that no Israeli government even considered for 35 years. Equally unthinkable was giving up the Jordan Valley, Israel's buffer against tank attack from the east. Barak's own Labor party for 35 years maintained that it should never be given up. Barak's own army chief of staff said giving it up threatened Israel's very existence.
It didn't stop there. By the end, just days before the election, Barak was offering 94 percent to 96 percent of the West Bank—plus pieces of Israel proper to make up the full 100 percent. He was prepared to give the Palestinians not only their own state but control of the border crossings with Egypt and Jordan. Previous Israeli governments had refused to countenance that because there could then be no controlling the flow of weapons into Palestine and thus no possibility of a Palestinian state being demilitarized.
Working with an equally lame-duck Bill Clinton, Barak tried desperately in the final weeks of his administration to wrap up a deal and save himself politically. Arafat reacted with characteristic cunning (always misinterpreted in the West as indecision): He equivocated, pocketing concessions, offering nothing, letting Barak twist in the wind. Arafat did all this knowing that it would bring on Sharon. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority broadcast instructions to Israeli Arabs to boycott the election, thus assuring Sharon's victory, even had the election been close. With Sharon, Arafat will meet resistance. And that resistance may spark international pressure on Israel and, perhaps better, a regional war.
As pointed out by Ehud Ya'ari, a leading Israeli journalist who has known and studied Arafat for over 30 years, a regional war has long been Arafat's fondest dream. He knows the Palestinians will always be too weak to fight the Israelis head on. And he knows that the best he can get from any peace agreement is a small Palestinian state, perhaps with part of Jerusalem. The only way to achieve the real dream of conquering all of Palestine, which would make him Saladin, would be to trigger a replay of 1948 with five Arab states invading Israel, but this time with modern armies, modern weapons, modern leadership, and massive oil wealth behind them.
That is his ultimate strategy. But he has more limited interim strategic objectives as well. These less cataclysmic calculations center on the new administration in Washington. The Arabs have a rather romantic view of George W. Bush, remembering that his father, and particularly his secretary of state James Baker, were quite tough on the Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir in the early 1990s. What they see now is the perfect alignment of the stars: a hard-line Bush administration clashing with a hard-line Likud administration. No Israeli government can long afford a breach with America. Tension between Israel and its one ally would undermine its international position and make it far more susceptible to Palestinian demands.
True. Nonetheless, Arafat is probably misreading the younger Bush. Baker is not back. The Bush team is hardly eager to get near the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, the chief objective of Bush's national security advisers is to extract themselves as much as they can from the negotiating morass into which Bill Clinton, with his frenetic legacy-hunting, inserted the United States. And ironically, the one Israeli George W. Bush probably knows best is the man who took him on a helicopter tour of the territories in 1998 and whom he subsequently lavishly praised: Ariel Sharon. Whether intended or not, Arafat will now face Sharon. And he is counting on Sharon's reputation, his very name, to cast Israel as the heavy in the inevitable coming crisis. Sharon carries baggage, most famously Sabra and Shatila, the Palestinian villages that suffered a massacre at the hands of Christian Phalangists during the Lebanon war. An Israeli commission found Sharon, Israel's defense minister at the time, "indirectly responsible" for not anticipating and thus preventing the massacre.
Sharon's indirect responsibility, however, is often inflated into more. For example, consider a front-page article by Lee Hockstader in the Washington Post (February 3, 2001): "At the time, Sharon was leading Israel's invasion of Lebanon and made no attempt to stop the militiamen from attacking the refugees." This implies that Sharon knew that the massacre was taking place. The fact is that he did not. Allegations that he had discussed it in advance with Phalangist leaders led Sharon to file a libel suit in New York City. The court unequivocally found the allegation to be false.
Moreover, it is remarkable that Sharon's indirect responsibility for a massacre that occurred 18 years ago should be constantly cited and held up as a disqualification for leadership, while Arafat's direct responsibility for a myriad of terrorist massacres both predating and postdating 1982 (including the cold-blooded execution of the U.S. ambassador in Sudan) seems to concern no one. It has been consigned to the memory hole. Israelis have accepted Arafat as a negotiating partner. Americans too. Bill Clinton had him to the White House more often than any other leader on the planet. Yet Sharon, uniquely, is considered damaged goods.
Moreover, this is the same Ariel Sharon with whom the Palestinians negotiated quite freely at Wye River in 1998. Everyone seems to have forgotten that Sharon, then Netanyahu's foreign minister, helped negotiate the agreement, ending in a White House ceremony in which a dying King Hussein spoke movingly about peace and the progress they had just made. Abu Mazen, Arafat's number two, subsequently gave a rather favorable Thatcher-on-Gorbachev assessment of Sharon as interlocutor.
The other charge against Sharon is that his visit to the Temple Mount at the end of September 2000 is responsible for the current fighting. It was a phony excuse at the time and it remains a phony excuse today. Abu Mazen himself said on Palestinian radio that the visit was "only a pretext." It was after the Camp David summit—when Arafat refused Barak's offers and President Clinton publicly blamed Arafat for the failure of the talks—that the Palestinian leadership decided it needed to renew the conflict to regain its international footing. "We decided on this [the intifada]," explained Abu Mazen, "to demonstrate our rejection of the ideas and plans offered by Israel at the Camp David summit."
Ironically, it is Sharon's very reputation as a tough and ruthless warrior that gives hope in some quarters that he can be the man to make peace. Sharon was important in securing peace with Egypt. He is the defense minister who forcibly evacuated and destroyed the Israeli settlements in the Sinai in compliance with the Egyptian-Israeli treaty. Is he going to be Nixon in China?
No. And not because he might not want to. Sharon has a history of unpredictability. He might be tempted. The problem is, there is no China to go to. If the Palestinians rejected the abject appeasement Barak offered them, where is there for Sharon to go? After the Israeli electorate spoke so resoundingly in repudiating Barak, no one in his right mind, not even what is left of the Israeli left, will go much farther.
What Barak demonstrated for all but the most deluded is that there is no partner on the other side. The Palestinians don't want a final peace, because, being the weaker party, they would at this point in history achieve only half a loaf at most, and they have been raised from infancy to consider that surrender. Arafat's strategy is clear: continued agitation, continued unrest, continued guerrilla war that over time will either (1) demoralize Israel into caving in, or (2) spark an Israeli military reaction that will, at the least, alienate the United States, and, at the most, ignite a regional war that the Arabs might once and for all win.
In a recent campaign meeting with "Russians," as the million new immigrants from the ex-Soviet Union are known, Barak justified his concessions as having unmasked the true face of Arafat. At which point an audience member said, "Yes, you unmasked him, but then you continued with appeasement as if you had not."
Barak never faced the logical consequence of the unmasking. He wavered and equivocated. He issued his Yom Kippur ultimatum—stop the violence within 48 hours or else—then withdrew it. He called "time out" in the negotiations when the Palestinians did something particularly hideous—like lynching two Israelis in Ramallah—and then returned to negotiations as soon as the dead were buried. He proved a negotiator with no red lines, no point beyond which he wouldn't go.
The most astonishing fact about Barak's year and a half of negotiations is that Arafat never made a counteroffer. The talks were always about Israeli concessions. By the end, Barak had moved the goal post 90 yards down the field to the other side. Arafat had hardly moved an inch from the original maximal demands enunciated when the Oslo peace process began in 1993.
Sharon's election was a referendum on precisely this "peace process" and constitutes a national rejection, by an overwhelming majority, of Barak's new and supremely dangerous concessions. The day after his election, Sharon declared he was not bound by any of them.
Nonetheless, the damage is done, and it is lasting. Israeli policy can change, but the change Barak wrought in American policy may be irreversible. For 35 years it was American policy to support an undivided Jerusalem. That support is now in ruins. In his final speech on the Middle East, President Clinton called for the division of Jerusalem. Can the Bush administration turn back the clock? Can it be more pro-Israel on Jerusalem than a recent Israeli government?
The Palestinians are well aware of the gift that Barak has bequeathed them. Within hours of Sharon's election, the Palestinian Authority issued a statement after its weekly cabinet meeting in Gaza calling on the new government in Israel "to resume the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations from the point they have reached."
Fat chance. Sharon's election is a decisive statement by the Israeli people that they reject the new baseline. Sharon's task is to resist the inevitable pressure—diplomatic pressure from abroad, violent pressure in the territories—to pick up where Barak left off. His mission is not to get a final peace. There is no final peace to be had, unless it is the peace of the grave. His mandate is to restore the relative stability and security of the Netanyahu years—there's no hope of returning to the comparative nirvana of the pre-Oslo years—when Arab expectations were kept low, and negotiations were about the margins.
Above all, his mandate is to restore Israel's deterrent. Barak responded to Palestinian violence by continuing negotiations and offering more concessions. Not surprisingly, a recent poll of Palestinians found that an overwhelming majority believed that the additional concessions Israel made at the last-ditch preelection negotiations at Taba, Egypt, were a result of the violence. The Palestinians also look at Barak's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and conclude: If the Lebanese could get all they wanted from the Israelis by violence without negotiation or compromise, why can't we?
Sharon needs to give them an answer: For Israelis, Lebanon was not home. Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley and the Galilee are home. Restoring Israel's deterrent does not mean an all-out war with the Palestinians, but it does mean making the Palestinians pay a higher price for violence: No negotiations without a cessation of violence; no lifting of the closure of Palestinian territory; no work within Israel. (It is rather odd for people to claim that, while they are making war, the enemy is obliged to give them employment.)
Deterrence also applies, even more dangerously, to the Lebanese front. When Barak evacuated Israeli troops from Lebanon, he warned that any cross-border attack would be met by Israeli retaliation not just at Hezbollah and Beirut but at the puppet master itself, Syria. True to form, he flinched. Hezbollah is now dug in all along the northern Israeli border, with Katyusha rockets capable of reaching the suburbs of Haifa.
It will be Sharon's job to make good on Barak's threat if and when Hezbollah tests his resolve. And that is where the danger lies. An emboldened Hezbollah could easily trigger an Israeli retaliation that could in turn bring Syria actively into war—that could spark a regional conflagration.
Fear of such escalation made Barak helpless in the face of Lebanese cross-border provocations and attacks. Sharon understands that Israel cannot sustain this position of non-deterrence because in the end it is only deterrence—not goodwill, not pieces of paper, not even the friendship of the United States—that keeps Israel secure.
For the last quarter-century, the general Arab consensus was that any attack on Israel would render the Arabs worse off. That consensus has dangerously eroded. It is Sharon's task to restore it.
Following Barak in the prime ministership is a blessing and a curse. It is not hard to follow the act of the worst leader in Israel's history, probably the worst leader in the West since Chamberlain. On the other hand, Barak has left his country in a condition of insecurity and vulnerability not seen since 1949. Given the instability of the Israeli political system, and the narrow majority he'll have in parliament, Sharon's tenure may not be long. But it could be one of the most decisive in Israeli history. (The Weekly Standard Feb 19)
Now that some of the dust of the recent election for Prime Minister has settled, I would like to offer my two bits worth of political analysis on the matter. I am not an expert on political analysis, but then again I am not an expert on many other matters about which I have written newspaper opinion columns, so why should political analysis be different? Ariel Sharon won the election by twenty-five percentage points. To the best of my knowledge there has never been a majority of such proportion in a fairly held election in any country in the world, certainly in recent memory. Can it be that Sharon was so popular? That Barak was so unpopular? I don't think so. My heart tells me that there is a deep underlying call that motivated these election results.
There is a Hassidic story about a Jew who was in the midst of a very demanding task on a Friday afternoon and did not notice as the time passed that the Sabbath was fast approaching. This Jew was known to be a mild-mannered, soft-spoken person. As darkness began to fall, he suddenly realized that it was time for the Sabbath. He ran out of his workshop to the synagogue and arrived there, dirty and disheveled, not wearing his Sabbath clothes and breathless from exertion. Upon arriving at the synagogue he heard that the introductory prayer welcoming the Sabbath had already been completed and that the congregation was already standing to pray the first Sabbath prayer itself. The Jew, beside himself in anguish at having been late for the Sabbath, shouted a great shout of agony and frustration. The congregation, knowing him to be so mild-mannered and soft-spoken, was in shock at his behavior. But the great Hassidic Rebbe who witnessed the scene said: "It was not his own shout that we heard. It was the shout of the Jew within him that reverberated in our ears!"
This past election gave voice to the great Jewish shout that resides within the broad Israeli public. It was a shout about Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, about Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of Machpela in Hevron. It was a shout that said that even if many of us are not necessarily observant, we still are Jewish. We might not be strict Sabbath observers but we don't want Saturday to be just like Tuesday. We may be turned off, and perhaps correctly so, by the Orthodox political and bureaucratic establishment in this country, but we are not interested in “secular revolutions.” We may be late at arriving at conclusions, just as that Jew was late in arriving at the Sabbath prayers, but once realizing how late we are, a mighty shout emanates from deep within us. We are not willing to abandon our Jewish dreams of Zion and Jerusalem, of being a special people and being responsible to Jewish history, of attempting to create a just and fair society for all, in favor of the false allure of economic globalization and American pop culture and so-called intellectual democratic values.
In 1891, Achad Ha'Am, hardly an Orthodox Jew, visited Jerusalem for the first time in his life. Jerusalem was then a small and dusty town, with Jews suffering under the yoke of the Ottoman and Arab oppressors. Mark Twain, visiting Jerusalem at the same time wrote that he found the place appalling. But Achad Ha?Am nevertheless wrote home to his family: "I am now in Jerusalem. I cannot express to you, even in a small way, my emotions at being here. Every step, every stone speaks to me of our history. Mount Zion, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives. Only when one is here does one realize how foolish it is of our opponents, the Arabs, to think that we will ever give up on Jerusalem. It is the heart of the Land of Israel, the heart of the Jew. I am convinced that every inch of Jerusalem is not less worthy than the most developed settlement that we have built in the Galilee." Achad Ha'Am did not write those words. It was written by the Jew within him. The Jewish shout that though late in coming reverberates within all of us and does not allow us to forsake our past and future, no matter how tempting and soothing is the siren call of peace, security and international approval. The results of the past election did not come from the Israeli electorate. It was rather the Jewish shout within us that was heard in great strength. (IsraelNationalNews.com Feb 11)