Palestinian Authority Chair-man Yasser Arafat and his colleagues have been repeating, with triumphant smiles on their faces, that the polls have consistently demonstrated a high percentage of Israeli public support for the peace process. They thought they had penetrated the Israeli mind and succeeded to bind it to a process that will deliver Palestinian aspirations under the cover of the magic word "peace."
But they have misread the polls. The overwhelming majority of Israelis want peace, real peace, not the "peace process" to which Arafat clings so fondly. The election results have finally put to rest any doubts on this score. More, much more than just a rejection of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Tuesday's election results have broadcast a resounding no to the Oslo "peace process."
Rabin needed the Arab votes to secure approval of the Oslo accords. Ironically, it was the Arab votes that delivered a resounding slap in the face of the architects of the same accords.
In retrospect, we should be thankful to Barak for having demonstrated to the Left in Israel and to the entire world, that no limit of Israeli concessions can satisfy the PLO.
Now the new government will have to convince the Palestinian leadership that the peace process has moved back to the starting point. It will take some doing. Israel will have to rehabilitate its deterrent power. It will have to convince the Palestinians, without a shred of doubt, that violence, stone-throwing, shooting and any type of intifada does not pay. It will have to undo almost eight years of attrition of Israel's credibility, eight years of a na•ve venture into a realm of dangerous self-delusion.
The challenges facing the new government are mind-boggling. They are far more complex and dangerous than those we faced in May 1967. Then, the Right demonstrated responsibility. It joined in establishing a Government of National Unity and refrained from political bargaining.
The brilliant victory in the Six Day War was not only a military feat. It was a result of the exceptional sense of national unity that pervaded all sectors of the population. How will the Left conduct itself this time, in the face of the looming national emergency?
No one expects Meretz to admit it had followed a suicidal path of endless concessions to the PLO. The Labor Party is a different story. Aside from the few architects of the Oslo Accords, who will cling to their misguided faith to the very end, the Labor Party has more level-headed people in its leadership. They should rise above personal and party politics and respond to the challenge the country is already facing.
If they have any reservations regarding Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, they should ask themselves if it wasn't Barak who started the process that elevated Sharon to the prime ministership. They should make an honest reappraisal of the course they have been following, painful as it may be.
They should ask themselves whether the morally correct step to take today, is to make the best of their defeat by joining a government of national unity. The immediate task is regaining security for all Israelis. The end result of the peace process - which is extremely controversial - is not relevant at this point. Let us cross that bridge when, and if, we reach it.
Hopefully, Sharon will learn from the mistakes of his predecessors. The prime ministers who followed Yitzhak Shamir all made grave mistakes that cost us a heavy price. They did not seek counsel and advice from a wide spectrum of opinions. They did not make sure their decisions reflected the will of a solid majority of the people and the Knesset. They acted with too much self-confidence. They made hasty declarations and commitments, which they soon found to be beyond their capacity to carry out. They mistakenly thought Israelis have a short memory. They spent too much time and energy in trips to Cairo, Washington and other capitals, instead of listening first to the man in the street and tending to his needs.
They realized early on that Arafat is not a man of peace, but lacked the courage to say so and to draw the necessary conclusions therefrom. Most important, they paid homage to the god of peace, knowing all along that it was a false idol, because peace was beyond reach.
(The writer is a former director-general of the Prime Minister's Office.)
©2001 - Jerusalem Post