By Yossi Klein Halevi
Editor: While in Jerusalem recently, I spoke with Yossi who we met in ’82. He is a senior writer for The Jerusalem Report. This article appeared in the Detroit News 3/12/02. His well-expressed perception of events, as an Israeli, is an important asset to our readers and gives a balance to understanding. Get his book, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land, at Amazon.com.
Even for those of us living in the belly of the Arab-Jewish war, attack and counterattack tend to blur into one more awful Middle East day. It’s probably inevitable, then, that outsiders would be tempted to dismiss this conflict as a bloody tantrum thrown by both sides.
Yet maintaining clarity about the causes of the latest phase of the 100-year Middle East war is crucial because what’s at stake is whether terrorist blackmail will be resisted or indulged.
Palestinian leaders insist that this is a war of liberation against occupation, a desperate act of last resort.
But the Palestinian terrorist offensive that began 18 months ago is a calculated attempt to win additional concessions through violence rather than negotiation. The horror isn’t a struggle for Palestinian freedom but for a few percentage points of contested territory or worse, a gambit to force Israel back to the 1967 borders without offering reciprocal concessions, such as accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish state in any borders.
The tragic irony is that a majority of Israelis were ready to accept almost any territorial concession in exchange for peace – real peace.
A decade ago, during the first intifada, many Israelis came to realize that the occupation was untenable and that the Jews hadn’t returned home after a history of suffering only to oppress another people. We began a painful re-examination of the history of the Middle East conflict and gradually conceded that the Palestinians too had a case.
I learned those lessons as a soldier in Gaza’s refugee camps, from which I emerged convinced, along with many others, that maintaining the occupation would poison Israel’s soul. The result of that collective awakening was the Oslo process, which Israel itself initiated.
Israelis swallowed hard and empowered their most brutal enemy, Yasser Arafat, who’d become a pariah even in the Arab world for his support of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.
The premise of the Oslo process was that Israel would gradually trade territory for Palestinian promises of peaceful intent – land for words. The more reassurance the Palestinians could offer, the more Israelis would feel safe enough to yield additional territory. Instead, Arafat incited a culture of violence and hatred and death. Perhaps worst of all, he continued to teach his people that the Jews were aliens without legitimate claim to any part of the land. And he did so at a time when Israel’s prime minister wasn’t Ariel Sharon but Yitzhak Rabin.
After seven bitter years of Oslo, most Israelis were forced to concede that we’d been tricked. The result was that a despairing electorate turned to Sharon.
With the current wave of violence, Arafat has exposed himself as the same terrorist leader whose Palestinian Liberation Organization in the 1970s specialized in hijacking airplanes and targeting school children. His goal is straightforward: to terrorize Israelis into a unilateral withdrawal from the territories.
One left-wing Israeli columnist recently wrote that we should surrender to Arafat’s “legitimate demands” and thereby test whether that “will bring us closer to the end of this conflict.” Those Israelis who oppose fighting this war are right when they insist that ultimately there is no military solution to the Palestinian problem. Neither is it worth the bloodletting if the goal is to retain settlements and biblical territory.
But this isn’t a war for settlements but for the inviolate principle that the Middle East dispute can be resolved only through negotiations, not suicide bombings.
Withdrawal under fire will only draw greater fire. In the post-Sept. 11 world, there should be no place for indulging terrorism, even when it speaks the beguiling language of national liberation.
It is precisely those of us who believe in reconciliation with the Palestinians and who are prepared to make the necessary concessions for real peace who must resist the temptation to surrender to blackmail. A nation ready to compromise must also be ready to fight. Otherwise, the longing for peace becomes appeasement of terror. -