Throughout most of their conflict,Arab and Israeli leaders have tended to oscillate between two,and only two,worldviews: I am weak; how can I compromise? I am strong; why should I compromise? Israel today is very much in the second mode. For Israel,these are the best of times and the worst of times. Globally,the campaign to de-legitimise Israel has never been more virulent,while locally the beaches and restaurants of Tel Aviv have never been more crowded as suicide-bombing and rockets from Gaza and Lebanon seem like a distant memory.
In noting this contrast,Ari Shavit,a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz ,reported that the number of Israeli millionaires soared by 43 per cent between 2008 and 2009,with 2,519 new ones joining the 5,900 we already had,for a total of 8,419 Israeli millionaires. … Never has life been so good here for so wealthy an elite,as the country is poised at the brink of the abyss.
Israels newfound sense of security,though,was bought at a very high price and it is not a steady state. The history of Israeli-Arab relations since 1948 can be summarised in one sentence: War,timeout,war,timeout,war,timeout,war,timeout,war,timeout… What differentiates Israel from the Arabs and the Palestinians is how much more productive Israel has been during its timeouts.
Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.
What is different about these three wars,though,is that Israel won them using what I call Hama Rules which are no rules at all. Hama Rules are named after the Syrian town of Hama,where,in 1982,then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighbourhoods,killing more than 10,000 of his own people.
In Israels case,it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets,but nested among local civilians,and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.
The brutality of the Israeli retaliations bought this timeout with Hezbollah and Hamas,and the civilian casualties and troubling TV images bought Israel a UN investigation into alleged war crimes.
This is important: For its first 30 years…
Israel bought its timeouts with conventional wars against conventional armies of nation states. But now that Israels primary foes are nonstate actors who deploy rockets nested among homes and schools,the cost of buying its timeouts has gone up dramatically. Now they include potential UN indictments of generals and political leaders for war crimes and corroding relations with democrats everywhere.
That is why it is vital that Israel use this moment of strength,this timeout,to do precisely what Defence Minister Ehud Barak suggested to the cabinet the other day offer a daring and assertive political initiative to advance the peace process with the Palestinian Authoritys president,Mahmoud Abbas,and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
If only… Bibi Netanyahu has been Israels prime minister now for 15 months. If he retired tomorrow,this term in office,like his first,would not merit a footnote to a footnote in Israels history. Yes,Netanyahu gave a speech in which he grudgingly accepted the idea of a two-state solution,but it was a speech addressed to Barack Obama to get him off his back. It wasnt to the Palestinian people to get them on his side.
Bibi thinks the negotiations are not about the future of Israel,but the future of US-Israel relations, Moshe Halbertal,the Hebrew University philosopher,told me when I visited Israel last week.
Which brings me to the surprise. Israeli defence officials were clear with me: The Palestinian security forces built by Abbas and Fayyad in the West Bank are the real deal,and their effectiveness is a vital stabiliser of the current timeout.
But Abbas and Fayyad will not be able to sustain this timeout if Netanyahu resumes settlement-building in September,when the partial freeze expires,and if Israel doesnt soon start gradually transferring control of major West Bank Palestinian towns to the Palestinian Authority.
Bottom line: Israel needs to try to buy its next timeout with diplomacy,which means Netanyahu has to show some initiative.
Because the risks to Israels legitimacy of another war in Gaza,Lebanon or the West Bank in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms will be staggering.
The New York Times
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