As the months since the downfall of Ehud Barak go by, not only does the sense of loss increase, but so too the dilemma deepens in which the left wing finds itself – facing a government of the settlers that is pushing Israel closer and closer toward the insane margins of statehood.On the backdrop of the current struggle, the decision to pump huge additional sums of money into the territories, coupled with an explicitly-stated refusal to freeze settlement activities, rears up like a carefully-calculated strategic ploy, and not merely an attempt to placate the masses.
As a result, the Palestinians have the right to view this government initiative as a deciding factor in favor of continuing the conflict. Implementation of the initiative would certainly bring about an escalation in the resistance and violence, together with a louder call for international intervention as the only solution both to the severe distress of the Palestinian population and to Israel’s inability to keep itself in check.
Nevertheless, this government – as cruel, if not criminal, as its behavior toward the occupied population may be – is a government that was democratically elected.
Hence the following simple question, as biting as it is, must be asked – does the fact that a government enjoys a stable majority in the Knesset afford it the authority to demand that the minority accept the law it lays down, at all times and under any circumstances?
It should be noted immediately that expressions of this kind have never once tickled the conscience of the settlement-oriented right. When Barak was in power and was conducting negotiations with the Palestinians on fundamental principles, to which we will have to return to in the future anyway because, after all, there is no other basis for peace, there was no doubt that the settlement leaders would use all means at their disposal to oppose any attempt to evacuate their communities.
It was the fear of violent resistance that kept the moonstruck settlements in the heart of Hebron, the Gaza Strip and the suburbs of Ramallah in place. The settler rightists have always made a point of clarifying that as far as they are concerned, any decision on the evacuation of Jews from their homes is morally invalid and tantamount to treason.
In the past decade, it was this fear of a rupture that could have ended in bloodshed that paralyzed Rabin and Peres and later prevented Barak from unequivocally presenting his withdrawal map. Now comes the practical question: If the right is allowed to aim a loaded pistol at the heart of any government in Israel, why does the left have to submissively accept dictates that threaten turning Israel into a country that could be held accountable for war crimes?
The left has been debilitated not by the Intifada, but by the Palestinian demand for the right of return. The Palestinian leadership, one can safely assume, failed to properly assess the Israeli reaction to such a demand or understand the magnitude of its error in raising it. After all, the top officials in the Palestinian Authority know that a right of return to within the Green Line (the pre-1967 borders of Israel) will never be realized; yet they don’t dare tell the truth to the residents of the refugee camps.
Presumably, this last barrier will also be lifted in the not-too-distant future. The Intifada is serving both as an attempt to delay the outcome and, at the same time, an opportunity to construct another stratum of bravery and sacrifice on which to lay the foundations of independence.
Many in Israel, perhaps even the majority of the voters, do not doubt the legitimacy of the armed resistance in the territories themselves. The Palestinians would be wise to concentrate their struggle against the settlements, avoid harming women and children and strictly refrain from firing on Gilo, Nahal Oz or Sderot; it would also be smart to stop planting bombs to the west of the Green Line. By adopting such an approach, the Palestinians would be sketching the profile of a solution that is the only inevitable one: The amended Green Line will be an international border and territory will be handed over to compensate the Palestinians for land that has already been or will be annexed to Israel.
In the immediate term, however, there is a pressing need to adopt a position on the proposal to send international forces to Israel – a suggestion that is gaining momentum, and not only in Europe. After all, if there is reason to oppose a U.S. infantry battalion stationed in the Sinai, if it is a good idea to allow UN observer forces to take up positions on the Golan Heights and along the border with Lebanon, why is there such a fierce rejection of their proposed presence in the PA?
If we have nothing to hide; if our behavior is exemplary; if we aren’t shooting at children or stopping pregnant women at roadblocks; if we aren’t starving entire villages, why don’t we allow U.S. officers to report this to the entire world? If we are only defending ourselves against the forces of evil, fighting terrorism with the purest of intentions and arms, and, it goes without saying, upholding signed deals and international law, why don’t we allow the truth to be revealed?
This hypocritical government, which has little regard for the life of a non-Jew, appears to be on the verge of setting a new record and persuading its citizens that truly someone else must save us from ourselves. When Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir held the reigns of power, even their most bitter enemies knew that there were red lines that the two former prime ministers would not cross, at least not consciously or intentionally. This confidence in the moral considerations of the veterans of the Etzel and Lehi pre-state, underground militias has now disappeared altogether. The human dimension that characterized the members of that fighting elite is a stranger to the Pinchas Wallersteins, Benny Elons and fanatics from Hebron and isn’t understood by them and their like.
Ariel Sharon has yet to finally decide whether he wants to be like Menachem Begin or the leaders of the settlers. For now, all the signs seem to indicate that imperviousness, evil and shortsightedness are gaining the upper hand.
Published in Ha’aretz on 11th May, 2001